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Pickleball Glossary: Common Pickleball Terms Explained

Low view of a neon green pickleball positioned at the corner of a dark green pickleball court.

Demystify pickleball terminology. Discover the definitions of commonly-used pickleball terms like dink, kitchen, Erne, and more.

Pickleball is full of unique terminology and phrases that aren’t used in any other sport. When you first started playing pickleball, you probably asked questions like, “what the heck is a ‘dink?'”

That’s the challenge we’re here to solve. In this post, we’ll define some of the most commonly-used terms in pickleball. After reading, you’ll understand the meaning of terms like dink, kitchen, pickle, stacking, and more.

Ready to level up your pickleball knowledge? Let’s dive in.

Ace

In pickleball, an “ace” is when a player hits a serve that is not touched by the returning player, resulting in a point for the serving team. Aces are rare in pickleball due to the smaller court size and power limitations imposed by legal serving mechanics.

Bert

In pickleball, a “Bert” is when a player crosses in front of their partner, jumps over their side of the kitchen, and volleys the ball. This technique is similar to the “Erne” shot, but it is performed on the other player’s side of the court. The Bert is named after Bert from Sesame Street, while the Erne is named after Erne Perry, the pickleball player who invented the shot.

Body Bag

In pickleball, a “Body Bag” is when a player hits the ball and it hits an opposing player’s body, causing them to lose the point. Historically, “Body Bag” was more of a verbal jab during gameplay, but the term has become more prominent in regular pickleball terminology.

Carbon Fiber

“Carbon fiber” is a popular material for the face, or the hitting surface, of a pickleball paddle. It creates a gritty, sandpaper-like surface that grips the ball, allowing players to hit with spin and control. The rough surface is achieved with thin strands of carbon, oftentimes woven together.

Carbon fiber is known for its strength-to-weight ratio. When a carbon fiber pickleball paddle strikes the ball, the material absorbs the energy and distributes it across the paddle’s face. This results in less deformation at contact and greater control of the shot.

Many pickleball players opt for carbon fiber pickleball paddles over options like fiberglass, composite, and wood paddles. This includes players at the professional level, where spin is critical for the modern game.

Carry

In pickleball, a “carry” is when a player hits the ball in a way that it doesn’t bounce away from the paddle, but instead is carried along the paddle’s face (or hitting surface). A carry typically looks like the player is throwing or launching the ball instead of hitting it. Per the official rules of pickleball, a player cannot deliberately carry or catch the ball in play on the paddle.

Champion Shot

In pickleball, a “Champion Shot” is when you win the point after the ball bounces twice in your opponent’s Non-Volley Zone (or Kitchen). A Champion Shot is difficult to achieve in pickleball, as it requires a high degree of skill, precision, and usually a healthy dose of misdirection.

Erne

In pickleball, an “Erne” is when a player jumps over the Non-Volley Zone, hits the ball out of the air down toward the opponent’s feet, and lands beyond the sideline.

When executed properly, the Erne shot is an effective tactic. It can be used in both singles and doubles pickleball, but it is more commonly used in doubles. In most cases, the Erne is most effective in response to a straight-ahead dink, when the ball sits in the air for a brief moment.

While most players jump over the Kitchen when hitting an Erne, players can also run through the Kitchen to execute the shot. Before striking the ball, however, the player must re-establish their feet outside of the Non-Volley Zone.

The Erne shot is named after Erne Perry, the pickleball player who was known for his exceptional skill with this technique.

Fiberglass

“Fiberglass” is a common material for the face, or the hitting surface, of a pickleball paddle. It is a composite material that has less stiffness than other materials like carbon fiber. The surface of a fiberglass paddle is more flexible on contact, resulting in greater power off of the paddle’s face.

While carbon fiber has become the most popular paddle face material, many players achieve success with fiberglass pickleball paddles. This includes pickleball players at the professional level.

Hindrance

In pickleball, a “hindrance” is an activity or element that interferes with the game, but is not caused by a teammate or opponent. Hindrances include things like balls rolling into your court, foreign materials, flying insects, or players or officials from another court inadvertently entering your court.

In official gameplay, the referee must agree that the hindrance impacted the player’s ability to make a play on the ball for the point to be replayed.

Kitchen

In pickleball, the “Kitchen” is the 7-foot zone on either side of the net where the player cannot enter and hit the ball out of the air. The Kitchen is marked by a horizontal line that spans the entire width of the pickleball court known as the “Kitchen line.”

This area is more formally known as the “Non-Volley Zone” (NVZ). “Kitchen” is the more common and casual term.

The Kitchen plays a strategic role in both singles and doubles pickleball. If a player enters the Kitchen, they must allow the ball to bounce before returning it. This restriction leads to long, drawn-out dink rallies at the Kitchen, especially in doubles.

If a player enters the Kitchen (i.e., any part of their body or equipment enters the NVZ or touches the Kitchen line) and contacts the ball in the air, that is considered a Kitchen fault and will result in a lost point.

Nasty Nelson

In pickleball doubles, a “Nasty Nelson” is when a player intentionally serves the ball toward the non-returning player (who is usually positioned near the Kitchen line) in attempt to hit them with the ball before it bounces. If the serve hits the opposing player before it bounces, by rule, that player commits a fault, and the serving team wins the point.

This rule applies to both singles and doubles pickleball, but the Nasty Nelson is almost exclusive to doubles. A Nasty Nelson is easiest to execute when the non-returning player is positioned near the centerline and not paying attention to the serve.

Pickle

In pickleball, a “pickle” is when a doubles team or singles player wins a game 11-0. For example, if a team loses a game 11-0, that team is considered “pickled.” Some call winning a game 11-0 “pickling” the opponent.

Poaching

In pickleball doubles, “poaching” is when a player crosses the court’s centerline, and in front of their partner, to hit the ball. Most poaching is done near the net, behind the Kitchen line. When executed properly, poaching is an effective tactic to catch the opponent off-guard and hit a powerful volley.

Rally Scoring

In pickleball, “rally scoring” is a scoring system where either side can score a point, regardless of whether they are serving or returning. Rally scoring is different from traditional “side out scoring,” where only the serving team can score a point after winning a rally.

With rally scoring, since either team can score points, pickleball games tend to end much quicker. That said, rally scoring is not heavily utilized in recreational and official gameplay, and is usually implemented for special events.

Scorpion

In pickleball, a “Scorpion” is a counter-attack shot where the player squats low and raises their paddle above their head to defend a fast-paced shot. The player then hits the ball down toward the opponent’s feet or into the open court.

The shot is called the “Scorpion” because it resembles a scorpion raising its stinger to attack its prey.

Shake and Bake

In pickleball, “Shake and Bake” is a doubles strategy where one player hits a third shot drive while the other player runs to the net to hit a powerful volley or put-away. It’s a popular strategy among aggressive players to win points quickly.

The Shake and Bake strategy has two parts:

  • Shake: One player hits a third shot drive toward the serve returner while they’re running to the net. The goal of the drive is to force the returner to pop the ball up into the air. At the same time, the other player runs to the net.
  • Bake: After the ball is popped up, the net player crosses over and hits a powerful volley down toward the opponent’s feet or into the open court.

Side Out Scoring

In pickleball, “side out scoring” is the scoring system where only the serving team can earn a point by winning a rally. Side out scoring is the predominant scoring system in pickleball, used at all levels of the sport.

A “side out” occurs when both players on a doubles team have served and lost a rally. The serve then goes to the other team for their “side.” The only times this changes is during the first point of a doubles game (where the first serving team only gets one server) and during singles games (where the player only gets one serve per “side”).

Slice

In pickleball, “slice” (also called “backspin”) is when the ball spins backward after being struck by the pickleball paddle.

Slice is a strategic technique in pickleball that provides many benefits:

  • Slice slows down the trajectory of the ball, making it helpful as a defensive shot or to get to the Kitchen.
  • A ball hit with slice tends to stay low after the bounce, making it difficult to return.
  • Many players hit dinks with a small amount of slice to keep the ball low and unattackable.

To execute a slice shot in pickleball, carve under the ball at contact using a high-to-low motion. Be careful not to open the paddle face – the ball will likely pop into the air.

Slice shots can be executed using either forehand or backhand strokes, especially for dink shots. On groundstrokes, however, the backhand is the more popular option for a slice shot.

Stacking

In pickleball, “Stacking” is a doubles strategy where players stay on the same side of the court regardless of who is serving or returning. The purpose of this formation is to maximize players’ strengths. For example, on a doubles team with two right-handed players, the player with the stronger forehand will typically be positioned on the left side of the court. This “stacked” formation gives the left-side player more opportunities to hit powerful forehands, putting pressure on the opponent.

Tomahawk

In pickleball, a “Tomahawk” shot is a type of backhand overhead smash that resembles the player swinging down with an axe or tomahawk.

When presented with a high backhand volley, here are the steps to execute a Tomahawk shot in pickleball:

  1. Hold the pickleball paddle with your grip of choice; continental, eastern, and semi-western grip techniques work for this shot.
  2. Raise your paddle high over your non-dominant shoulder, like you would for a normal high backhand volley.
  3. Flatten the paddle face relative to the ball. You don’t want the paddle face to be angled at contact; you will lose power and control.
  4. Strike the ball down toward your opponent’s feet or into the open court. Finish the stroke with the paddle down near your dominant side’s hip.

Topspin

In pickleball, “topspin” is when the ball spins forward after being struck by the pickleball paddle.

Topspin provides many benefits in pickleball:

  • Topspin causes the ball’s trajectory to dip, allowing players to hit powerful shots with control and confidence.
  • The dipping trajectory also makes topspin passing shots and other strokes more difficult to return while at the net.
  • Topspin usually causes the ball to stay low and launch forward after it bounces, making it difficult to return.

To execute a topspin shot in pickleball, brush up on the ball with the paddle’s face while striking the ball. Using a low-to-high motion will help achieve this “brushing” effect. Certain equipment, like carbon fiber pickleball paddles, can also help with generating topspin.

Winner

In pickleball, a “winner” (also sometimes called a “clean winner”) is a shot that is not touched by the opposing player, resulting in winning the rally. Players can hit winners from the baseline with groundstrokes, at the Kitchen line with sharply-angled dinks, or out of the air with volleys or overheads. Hitting a winner requires a strong combination of power and control.

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