Paddle UP! column: Pickleball ‘kitchen’: stay out of it

Bob Atherton hits from behind the orange kitchen line.

Courtesy photo

Bob Atherton hits from behind the orange kitchen line.

In the past three years, pickleball has grown 130 percent in places to play to more than 4,000 locations. Part of this growth has to do with the idea that it is more a game of strategy, finesse and control than one of power.

The paddle used in pickleball is not, as the name suggests, a racquet, as used in tennis or racquetball. Less than one-third the size of racquets and about three times larger than a ping-pong paddle, the pickleball paddle has a required smooth surface and little gripping ability on the ball. More control and less power.

The ball used in pickleball is akin to the Wiffle ball hit with a bat. It is basically a plastic, hollow ball with small holes for outdoor play and larger holes for indoor play. Both balls can be used indoors or outdoors. The ball travels about two-thirds the speed of a tennis ball since it catches air as it moves. In high winds outdoors, its flight produces some laughable moments.

A pickleball court, however, is one-third the size of a tennis court and exactly the same size as a doubles badminton court. That is, a ball traveling two-thirds the speed of a tennis ball on a court one-third the size of a tennis court. As a result, a lot of balls can fly out of bounds if control is not a more important idea than power.

Then there is the serve. It must be underhand, not overhand as in tennis. That takes a lot of power out right there. It must land in a quadrant much smaller than tennis and the ball has to bounce in the quadrant before the opponent can hit it. We’re not done yet. The ball, when returned anywhere to the opposite side, must bounce on that side before the server or his partner in doubles can hit it. It is called the two-bounce rule. No one has volleyed yet!

Here is what is really unique about pickleball. On the court, there is an area seven feet back on both sides of the net where the ball has to bounce before you can legally hit it. It is called the no-volley zone or more commonly called “the kitchen.” So, if a player steps into the kitchen and hits a volley, it is a fault.

Less power, more control and more patience is needed.

As a matter of fact, five of the seven basic shots in pickleball are set-up shots. The serve, return, a drop, dink and lob set up player for a put-away shot. Not every shot in the well-rounded game is a potential winner, although more beginning players see it that way until they start getting better at the game.

This basic combination of equipment, court size and rules makes it possible that “youngers” can play with “olders.” That is why we have a Youth pickleball club at Willow Hills Baptist Church, for ages 10-15 playing with older people in their 80s. Long-time racquetball player and pickleball coach Jerry Northwood, who also is an ambassador for the national pickleball association, teaches young people for no charge. Young people can call him at 928-713-7283.

Right now there are two places to learn the basics of the game for young adults and older persons. The YMCA and the Willow Hills Pickleball Club, both in Prescott, welcome the public and charge nothing for lessons. Those interested can contact me using the information below and I’ll give you locations and contacts.

Bob Atherton is a pickleball coach and the Northern Arizona District Ambassador for the United States Pickleball Association. He can be reached at bobca39@gmail.com or 928-499-2498.