Let's explore today's kitchen myths and why there are no hard and fast rules depending on circumstances in this Pickleball Passion Myth Buster #9 of 10 [Picture courtesy of a Toronto Ontario CA household with a new portable net being tested before deployment; some content from Pickleball University and USA Pickleball Association :) ]
We are going to assume that we know what the kitchen (non-volley zone) is and where the term came from? Just in case not, first the name: probably from shuffleboard where a section called the "10-off" area is behind primary scoring zones where you can lose points and like Pickleball, is not a good spot to be in (can't find any other reference and perhaps the founders also played shuffleboard in their vacation cabin, so let's go with that). Then the size: 7' (2.13 meters) extending from both sides of the net and 20' (6.1 meters) from sideline to sideline.
Also we are going to assume that you know all the kitchen rules but just in case here are some of the major ones: no volleying allowed while standing in the kitchen or on its line; its OK to stay or go into the kitchen anytime, but the ball has to bounce before you can return it (hence the reference "no volley zone"); striking outside the kitchen behind or outside the court sideline is OK unless momentum takes you there after a shot, then fault!; Bert and Erne's do technically "override" this no-volley rule and are becoming more popular in pro games (jumping to the backhand or forehand side over the sideline of the kitchen corner to slam a high ball over the kitchen); and, if a player drops anything in the kitchen while volleying, opponent receives a point. Finally if you are in there, before you can hit a volley both feet have to be on the playing surface outside the kitchen - OK then even if your partner is still in there cleaning up!!
Net rules are quite complex (like what happens when a ball hit over the net with back spin and wind comes back untouched) and long winded (so to speak) so will be the subject of another Blog.
So now to the point: what are some suggestions about deciding on time spent dinking in the kitchen vs banging away?
Is the slow game necessary? A popular golf saying is that you "Drive for Show and Putt For Dough" that may apply equally to a winning 2022 Pickleball strategy. Most newcomers try to bang every ball starting with the 3rd shot (affectionately called a "banger"), mostly because it's fun and not realizing that a majority of time in a Pickleball match is spent at the kitchen (like at home). Estimates are as much as 80% of the time is spent in kitchen play on average (US Pickleball Association). They will realize this in short order.
More advanced players will up at the kitchen as soon as they are able, waiting for the drive and will block (and aim) the return just over the net, while the banger who may be hitting deep from the opposite court is still at the baseline and will be compromised. So 2022 popular opinion says that we return drop what is described as an "unattackable" 3rd shot, go to the kitchen and dink with the opposing team until someone speeds up the play or makes a mistake with a high ball that can be put away. There are always exceptions and times when we will mix it up and bang away unexpectedly (especially if our opponents are out of place), but this is generally what is suggested we think about as strategy for the next set of placements.
In between rallies, it's helpful to think about the traffic light example when deciding whether the point should be sped up and if a ball is attackable or not. Pickleball University describes the yellow, green and red zone approach to deciding generally when and if a ball is attackable. Simply put it goes like this: yellow zone is between your knees to your waist where you can probably make a decision to reset (drop ball), lob or attack. Green is above your waist (at the kitchen a hard shot above your shoulders is probably going out) where most of us, all things remaining equal, should attack. Red zone is below your knees and you can probably guess what it indicates - a careful return. Sounds easy but just try to make these split second decisions and do this consistently!
Hitting the ball hard - the hard thing to remember about hard shots, is that they are not always the right thing to do, but always fun until you miss. So for us power-seekers we should remember another old adage: "With great power comes great responsibility". When hitting hard shots it's easy to miss your target and placement, in my estimation, is more important than power. And this is especially true when we are adding topspin to encourage the fast travelling ball to dive over the net and stay low - making it even more difficult to return but harder to hit consistently well.
Examples of a good time to unleash your envious power include but are not limited to: green zone returns as discussed above; popped up returns, especially at the net; deep court returns when your opponents may expect a drop or defensive lob; and times when you see an opening on the court and want to take advantage with a hard shot while you can. Places to hit include your opponents feet, body shot, chicken wing (paddle side shoulder), down the middle ("solves the riddle"), open court, cross courts from the opposite side, or taking advantage of your opponent(s) weaknesses. Obviously avoiding strengths is on the flip side. Enough for this Blog as you probably get the point (or hope to get the point)!
As always its the exception that proves the rule (I must be into adages today sorry), so these suggestions are to be modified as always with such variables as: the partners' strategy in the match; the level of competition; your particular state of play that day, game or match; and location or movement of your opponents at each shot.
Last word...do not become predictable and remain focused on the task at hand - have fun and win every so often!!