The best, most effective place to be on the pickleball court is at the kitchen (Non Volley Zone) line. However, when serving or receiving we must move from the baseline through the court to get to the kitchen line.
The area approximately four feet from inside the baseline to four feet from the kitchen line is often called the ‘transition zone’, ‘mid-court’ or ‘no man’s land’. In the past players were told to rush through this area. Get to the kitchen as quickly as possible and stay put.
This strategy is flawed for many reasons. Here are two to start with. Rushing from the baseline to the kitchen line at the cost of properly setting up for and playing an incoming ball causes errors, mishits, and a loss of accuracy. Planting yourself at the kitchen line rather than moving back to defend against a ball that is about to be attacked robs you of critical time needed to not just get a paddle on the ball but to control the response.
I tell students and players I mentor, that ‘no man’s land’ should be known as ‘the land of opportunity’. Hitting a successful drop shot from the transition zone is far easier than from the baseline. Defending and resetting an attacked ball from mid-court is preferable to standing at the kitchen line and hoping to react quick enough. If the incoming ball is slow and/or high, attacking from the ‘land of opportunity’ can be very effective. Whichever type of shot you play from this area it is important to be ready to move forward if your drop shot, reset or attack is well-played. Keep in mind that if the mid-court is the ‘land of opportunity’, being at the kitchen line is still ‘paradise’ for a pickleball player.
A key to hitting quality shots is to have your feet set prior to striking the ball. This is especially true when you are trying to get to the kitchen. Avoid running through shots. As your opponent is about to hit the ball, pause your forward movement, adjust to the incoming ball, get your feet set, stroke or block the ball and then resume forward. Repeat as often as necessary to get to the kitchen line.
Most of the good players I know, spend a lot of time practicing resets from the mid-court area. It is easy to do if you have a practice partner. To start, simply take up a position in the mid-court with your partner on the other side of the net hitting easy balls that bounce just in front of you. Your primary objective is to get the ball back over the net. Once you can accomplish this ninety percent of the time or more, try to drop the balls into the kitchen. As you become more skilled the feeds should become more aggressive. This drill can be done straight ahead or cross-court.
Another drill I quite like begins with both players dinking at the net. Designate one player as the attacker and one the defender. Every third or fourth ball is intentionally popped up by the defender, who then quickly moves backward and tries to reset the incoming ball. This can be a difficult drill to master, so the attacker should ease up the attacks until the defender can successfully return most balls. The goal for the defender is to get a ball back across the net that is not attackable, then quickly move back to the kitchen line and resume dinking. Aiming at the defender’s feet makes the drill good practice for the attacker, as well.
To keep drills fresh and to add realism, make up games and keep track of points. A fun drill is for the defending player to start in the mid-court and move forward once they have made a successful drop into the kitchen, then play out the point. The defending player earns two points when they win a rally, the offensive player one. Play to six or eleven points and then switch roles.
Once the mid-court area becomes your ‘land of opportunity’ the game will be even more fun and you’ll win more points.
Party on, my pickleball friends!