What makes pickleball different from every other sport? The two parallel lines we stand on that define the no volley zone. This is what neutralizes players and creates the opportunity to dink and set up the point. Within the no volley zone is 7 feet from line to net, and a minimum of 14 feet from player to player. When players get comfortable with their position at the no volley line, it creates opportunities to take the ball earlier and take time and space away from opponents.
From a tactical side, we talk about player positioning on the court and paddle positioning. These contribute to our ability to stay offensive. Often players move too much and lose their position on the line. This affects their ability to take balls out of the air—as well as having to adjust with every shot.
A high-level player is going to be as close to the line as possible to get a more consistent shot and to reach into the no volley zone to cut down the 14 feet player separation.
In an ideal world, when positioning yourself on the line, you want to be one step away from the outside of the court and one step from the inside. You also want the ability to step forward and cut off the balls when needed. If you’re moving around with every shot, you’ll lose this advantage.
A simple thing to do is to turn your toes in the direction of the ball instead of shuffling from side to side. This allows your knees to bend in the correct way and, more importantly, helps you maintain your position at the no volley line.
We are witnessing taller and taller players join the sport. For them, it means a huge advantage to the space in the no volley zone...but they do need to position themselves correctly. The advantage comes with the ability to reach into the space in front of them.
If I stand directly behind the no volley line and extend forward with my paddle, while still maintaining balance, I can gauge what’s reachable in the air. Try this. Next, stand a few inches back from the no volley line. Pay attention to the difference. When the ball is coming back quickly from the short distance, those few inches can make a huge difference—the difference between cutting the ball off or backing up on your heels. For a second example, try standing at the line and look over at your opponent’s feet. You should be able to see over the net where they are standing. Now take a step back and notice that you’ll have to look under the net to see your opponent’s feet.
To utilize your position at the no volley line, the ability to see over the net to get a higher contact point on the ball is ideal. If you’re a few inches back—and you have to look under the net—this will create a defensive position, causing you to make contact with the ball lower and closer to your feet.
I’m 5’ 5”—not exactly tall. Having the correct position at the no volley line is key to efficiency and consistency with my shots. In the above image, notice a 6’ 7” male in relation to my height. When using proper positioning, the time he can take from an opponent with an early contact, as well as range of motion, is insane! Imagine if the no volley zone was smaller. Having people using their range correctly in something smaller than 7 feet is scary!
The no volley zone is what makes pickleball the chess-like sport it is, as well as what makes our attacks more difficult and creative. Proper positioning is what allows us to take ownership of this space. Getting consistent with what you’re comfortable with in a forward motion, along with the ability to cut off the corners, will make you more consistent at the no volley line.
Five-Time National Pickleball Champion Sarah Ansboury is Education Consultant and Lead Clinician for Professional Pickleball Registry (PPR) as well as a 5.5 tennis player and former NCAA women’s tennis coach. She is a two-time US Open Pickleball Champion and a sponsored HEAD Pro Player. Sarah is currently the Touring Professional and Director of Pickleball Instruction at Palmetto Dunes Resort on Hilton Head Island, SC.