CJ Johnson Headshot
CJ Johnson
Tony Roig
Tony Roig

Advanced Non-Volley Zone Strategy//Soft Shot Attacks

Is your only attack from the kitchen a hard-hit shot? If it is, you’re missing out on this advanced attack strategy.

Some of you might be thinking, “a soft shot as an advanced non-volley zone strategy?” YUP! It’s an underutilized NVZ attack tactic.

There is no doubt about it that the non-volley zone, or the kitchen as we lovingly call it, is the most misunderstood place in pickleball. I have heard some pretty strange myths about the NVZ from beginners and experienced players alike.

Things like you can’t step into the kitchen BEFORE the ball bounces. (Not true) Anytime you step into the kitchen after hitting a volley to end the rally results in a fault. Also not true, unless……

If you need a rules refresher or you’d like some basic information on how to position yourself at the non-volley zone, check out this video I did with Tony from In2pickle. We reviewed the basic rules, and Tony shares his insights on the proper body position for aggressive kitchen play.

In this post, we’ll focus on an advanced non-volley zone strategy, specifically how to attack from the NVZ without having to hit it hard.

As we become better pickleball players, our rallies go beyond four shots, which means that all four players have gotten to the non-volley zone, and players are in a dinking game.

Unfortunately, what I see happen often, way too often, is that players dink aimlessly. Either they’re focused solely on getting it over, or they’re moving the ball around without thought. They don’t understand the strategy of the dink.

The objective of a dink is to place it in such a manner creating an error from your opponent. What type of error? Either they hit it in the net, or more likely, the apex of the shot is above the net, giving you an attachable shot.

Utilizing a solid dinking strategy at the non-volley zone is an advanced tactic that can force your opponent to make an error and give your team an advantage.

How do you attack at the kitchen without having to hit it hard?

The objective is to create stress for the other team. I like to think of it as allowing them to make a mistake.

What creates stress on the pickleball court?

One would be hitting balls; in this case, the dink shot at their feet. Another would be making them move in some way, shape, or form. Movement creates stress and disrupts rhythm, and it doesn’t require a hard-hit shot. Soft, well-placed shots can serve up a juicy pop-up (above the net) for you to attack.

Let’s take a look at the Pickleball court. When you’re standing at the NVZ, your body should be right next to the NVZ line. Reach your paddle out in front of you, and without allowing it to go behind the kitchen line, make a semi-circle. Anything within this semi-circle is your strike zone. If you hit a pickleball inside the player’s strike zone, except at the feet, the player doesn’t have to move much, and it’s an easier shot to return or attack.

If you make a player move to the side or short of this imaginary semi-circle, you increase the possibility they’ll make an error.

Remember, movement leads to errors.

I’m either trying to get this ball at somebody’s feet or to their sides, creating an off-balance position from where they make a mistake. I don’t have to overpower them. A well-placed shot is all that’s required.


Tony from In2Pickle, uses something he calls a Zorro drill to show players how to move the ball around and create stress thoughtfully. This drill teaches you patterns, all while keeping the pickleball out of your opponent’s strike zone.

If you’re not sure of the proper position at the NVZ, make sure to check out this other video.

CJ Johnson

Hey there — I’m a professional three-sport athlete and coach who has spent my entire adult life earning a living from playing and coaching sports. Since I started coaching more than three decades ago, one thing has remained the same: My commitment to see students not as they are but as what they can become and to move heaven and earth to help them realize their untapped potential. You should know that when it comes to helping pickleball players over 50 live their best lives on and off the courts, I'm an expert. Good pickleball is not just technique; it's the mind and body working holistically. That's why I'm also a personal trainer and weight management specialist. When I’m chillin', you'll find me watching Star Trek with my husband John and our two fur babies, Shirley and Ralph. (Yes, Happy Days)


  1. Avatar photo Wally on October 10, 2020 at 3:36 pm

    I thought if you go into the nvz after hitting the ball it was a fault.

    • Avatar photo Steve C on October 10, 2020 at 7:05 pm

      In the case where you’ve just played a volley (hitting the ball before it bounces) you can’t go into the NVZ. If your momentum carries you into the NVZ after playing a volley that’s a fault. If anything in your possession (glasses, hat, etc. falls into the NVZ its a fault after hitting a volley. I think the point that CJ was making is that you can camp out in the NVZ all you want without committing a fault. You just can’t hit a volley from there. And if you’re in the NVZ you must get both feet touching the area outside NVZ portion of the court before playing a volley.

    • Avatar photo Cathy Jo Johnson on October 10, 2020 at 8:18 pm

      Yes Wally, if you go into the NVZ after hitting a volley it is a fault, but only when hitting a volley.

  2. Avatar photo Yvonne Hubbard on October 10, 2020 at 5:06 pm

    I thought if you are in the NVZ when you hit a ball it is a fault..

    • Avatar photo Cathy Jo Johnson on October 10, 2020 at 8:15 pm

      If you hit a volley(ball in the air) while inside the NVZ it is a fault. Make sure to check out Tony’s video for further explanation.

  3. Avatar photo arthur novom on October 17, 2020 at 2:18 pm

    Then I am to assume you can step into the NVZ after or before hitting a ball as long as you are not hitting a volley If you step into the NVZ while your partner is hitting or you hit a short dink that has bounced in the NVZ you can then step into the NVZ as you hit?

    • Avatar photo Cathy Jo Johnson on October 18, 2020 at 7:25 am

      Hi Arthur, yes you can be in the non-volley zone at any time for any reason other than hitting a volley.

  4. Avatar photo Kathryn Chin on May 22, 2023 at 5:46 pm

    I am 60, petite female, and often feel intimidated with much taller, bigger men as my opponents. Hence, I found your message “I don’t have to overpower them. A well-placed shot is all that’s required.“ very encouraging. I will use that as my mantra! Thank you very much, CJ.

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