Tournament Play Isn’t for Everyone

I admit it. I haven’t played in a Pickleball tournament. I go to drop ins and play in round robins but I’ve never played in a Pickleball tournament.

The funny thing is that I’ve competed in hundreds of tournaments. It was just in other sports like basketball, volleyball, racquetball, tennis and soccer. So what gives?

When I was in high school and college, my teams played in a tournaments so naturally I did right along with everyone else. As an adult, I played in many racquetball tournaments and a few tennis tournaments but they were never my favorite thing.

Why is this? Racquetball and tennis tournaments meant lots of waiting. These were usually two day events where you played a match Saturday morning and then another one Saturday afternoon. If you kept winning the same thing would occur Sunday. Honestly I would just lose focus because the matches were so spread out and the tournament was usually too far away to go home in between.

The Pickleball Difference

The good news in Pickleball is that most tournaments are structured differently. You have blocks of time for play for different divisions. I’ve gone to watch my friends play at a few tournaments in Connecticut and they would schedule mixed doubles Saturday morning and women’s doubles Friday afternoon. This means the play was a round robin format and lasted for a few hours so there was little waiting between matches.

Physical and Mental Demands

Okay so it would seem I shouldn’t have an excuse for not playing in a Pickleball tournament. But remember I’m 55+ and Pickleball tournaments are grueling physically and mentally. Honestly, I’ve had so many injuries over the last few years, I’m not sure by body could withstand the rigors of a tournament. If I go to a Pickleball drop in and my knee starts hurting, I can leave anytime. A tournament means I’m going to have a partner who I don’t want to disappoint. In other words, I’m not leaving if my knee pain flares up and I may hurt myself even worse.

Not only are Pickleball tournaments demanding physically but also mentally. There can be a lot of pressure to perform well. I’m not sure this is holding me back from playing in tournaments because I always want to play well so I tend to put pressure on myself on a regular basis. However, tournaments are a different animal. I usually have some anxiety about playing in a tournaments that I do not experience during recreational play.

Your Motivation

If you are deciding on whether to play in tournaments, you should ask yourself what motivates you? Do you play Pickleball to get some exercise and socialize? Do you like it because it can be a great workout? Or do you like learning new things and it is a challenge?

If you decide you really want to compete in Pickleball, sign up for a tournament and see how you like it. If you have not already, here’s a few things which may help you to understand more about Pickleball tournament play.

Can I play in a tournament if I’m a beginner?

It depends on the tournament and what divisions they offer. Most larger tournaments start at a 3.0 level and many consider 3.0 and 3.5 to be intermediate play. So, if you see a tournament offering a 2.0 or 2.5 division then this is considered a beginner level. In smaller tournaments, you are more likely to have a beginner division and it may just be called beginners. The best thing to do is to check with the tournament director and see what they offer and if it is right for beginners.

What’s the difference between an age division and skill division?

Tournaments can offer age, skill, and age/skill divisions. An age division limits participants to an age range like 60-65. This means players of all levels can participate as long as they meet the age requirement. The difficulty with age divisions is you will have a wide range of skill levels so a low intermediate could be playing a very advanced player.

Divisions based on skill level means the participants should be similar in terms of their Pickleball play. However, some participants may be college students and the others can be retirees. Still, the level of play should be compatible despite the age differences.

Playing in a tournament using age and skill divisions means their will be a lot of similarity between players in the same category.

What is a sanctioned tournament?

A sanctioned Pickleball tournament is one sponsored by the U.S. Pickleball Association. As a player in a sanctioned tournament you must be a paid member of the association. You will be more likely to have a referee for sanctioned tournaments but this isn’t always the case depending on the type of sanctioning. Sometimes referees are only used for medal matches.

Do I Need an Approved Paddle?

Again, this depends on the tournament. National tournaments require an approved paddle along with sanctioned tournaments. Most smaller tournaments do not require an approved paddle.

Do I need to worry about being a referee?

It depends on the tournament. If a tournament has referees, they are normally volunteers except in cases of very large tournaments like the US Pickleball National Championships where they will be paying referees this year. Many smaller tournaments do not use referees.

How Many Matches Will I be Playing?

Tournaments vary in their format but most are going to be double elimination or round robin play. As an example, the US Pickleball National Championship is a double elimination tournament with games in the winners bracket being 2 out of 3 to 11 points. Games are to 15 points in the losers bracket.

Many tournaments, especially smaller ones, use a round robin format. If there are enough teams there may be pool play. This is still a round robin but you may have 3 pools of 6 teams. You would then play each team in your pool.

How Do I Know Which Division to Play?

That’s always a tough question if you have not played in a tournament with official rankings. Some first-time tournament players are highly skilled and really should not be playing in the 3.0 division. However, technically they can as they do not have an official ranking. Normally, I would look at the people I compete with and ask if they have played in a tournament and at what level. This should give you some indication of what division to enter.


In Summary, tournament play may or not be for you. I played yesterday at a new facility and one of the instructors asked if I played in tournaments. My response was not so far. Then again, they have a small tournament next month. So who knows?

Get Notified about Tournaments, Clinics & New Courts Near You
    Log In | Lost Password

Interested in Improving Your Game?
Sign Up for Weekly Tips:

    Log In | Lost Password