By: CJ Johnson | October 10, 2020 |

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)