Pickleball tournament formats vary widely from tournament to tournament if you have played in any tournament for any length of time.
The two most common formats of play at tournaments are round-robin and pool play, while double-elimination is preferable by others. When it comes to game format, there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
In this article, we will examine the different pickleball tournament formats available to tournament directors.
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Pickleball Tournament Formats
You might be wondering what those pickleball tournament formats are now that we know there are four types. Every pickleball tournament format has its own rules and norms, as each type of tournament is simply a different way of organizing tournament play.
There are four different formats you may encounter when you play pickleball:
You may see the double-elimination format for pickleballtournaments for the first time because it is also one of the most popular. APP Tour and PPA Tour used it as their only tournament format, though the latter has experimented with single-elimination tournaments (see below).
Pickleball tournaments often use double-elimination scoring, and it works well when there are six or more teams. All players begin their matches in the main bracket and continue until one loses. The reason why this bracket is sometimes called the “winners bracket”.
You are only eliminated from the tournament if you lose twice in the consolation bracket.
Playing in the consolation bracket continues to advance you through the tournament as long as you win games. There are some tournaments where the winner of the consolation bracket (or losers’ bracket as it is also called) can still qualify for the championship round.
Single-elimination tournaments are similar to double-elimination tournaments, except you only have one chance. In other words, the losing team of each match is automatically eliminated from the tournament without a chance of continuing.
Throughout the tournament, only the winning team plays, and each head-to-head match results in elimination. Because of the faster format and shorter length of the tournament, some teams may only play one match (e.g. if they lose their first game).
The round-robin tournament format is likely to be the fairest of all pickleball tournament formats. A round-robin tournament is a tournament where every team competes against every other team, with the winner determined by the most wins.
There will be a tie-breaker to determine the ultimate winner if there is one. Whenever there are fewer than six teams taking part in a tournament, round-robin will usually be the preferred format due to its simplicity.
Also, pickleballtournaments often feature round-robin play. Each team plays an equal number of games, which creates a more positive experience overall. Since nobody has any unfair advantage, everyone has an equal chance of winning.
There are several pickleball tournament formats, and the pool play format is essentially a combination of all of them.
During the first round of games, two or more groups play round-robin matches. During the next round, the doubles teams are seeded into either a single-elimination or double-elimination format based on the results of this group stage.
Matching teams this way is a great way to ensure fair competition, especially in larger tournaments. Pickleball tournaments can, however, take longer because of this rule.
Types of Pickleball Tournaments
Supporting our governing body has always been important to me as a player and ambassador for this sport. Pickleball tournaments are very important to the USAPA. Pickleballtournaments fall into two categories:
The USAPA or other governing bodies sanction sanctioned tournaments. USAPA or other governing bodies must establish specific rules and regulations for these tournaments. Unsanctioned Pickleball tournaments usually have fewer players than sanctioned tournaments because sanctioned tournaments are more well-known. In addition to offering prize money, these tournaments also attract more competitive players.
There is no governing body that approves unsanctioned tournaments. There may be rules and regulations for these activities, or there may be none at all. An un-sanctioned tournament may have fewer prizes and be more casual. The Pickleball community can be a great place to meet other players and get involved.
Unsanctioned vs Sanctioned Pickleball Tournaments
There are two types of Pickleball tournaments that you may come across: sanctioned and unsanctioned. Pickleball tournaments differ in a few simple ways.
The purpose of unofficial tournaments is just to have fun. When participating in sanctioned tournaments, players must adhere to the United States Pickleball Association rules.
Among the requirements are the size of the court and the amount of space available. USAPA-sanctioned tournaments award tournament points to pickleball players. There is a possibility that these points could affect their skill level rating.
In addition to the doubles and singles categories, there will be a gender category as well. Playing against others with similar skill levels is required for picklers. A tournament may also separate participants based on their age.
You must compete at the level of your partner if you are playing doubles. You must also play in the category of the youngest player.
There will be 40-60 minute matches. Early matches will be shorter than later matches. There will be an increase in play length as the tournament proceeds.
Pickleball Tournament Events
A tournament with a large enough field will likely break down events based on age and skill level. Here’s how it goes:
- Events by Age
Creating brackets based on age intervals is one way to create competitive tournaments. This will ensure that players are competing against others who are in the same age group as themselves. A breakdown by age would be something like 19-34, 35-49, 50-64, and 65+. The tournament director can divide ages into intervals according to the player’s discretion.
For example, a team of 53-year-olds and 32-year-olds should register under the 19-34 bracket, not the 50-64 bracket.
- Events by Skill Level
Creating competitive brackets also involves grouping players/teams based on their skill level, irrespective of their age. For example, if one partner is rated 4.0 while the other is rated 3.5, then the team should register for the 4.0 event.
- Events by Age/Skill Level
Almost all large tournaments will have a breakdown of both ages and skill levels. It would be possible to create brackets for 3.0 (19-34), 3.0 (35-49), 3.0 (50-64), and 3.0 (65+). Having this breakdown of age and skill allows for more reasonable draws in these larger tournaments. These tournaments seem most fair when players compete in their age bracket against similarly skilled players.
All players participating in sanctioned pickleball tournaments are required to use approved pickleball balls. It is, however, possible to use any approved ball. US Open Pickleball Championships and USAPA National Pickleball Tournament use the Dura Fast 40 pickleball. Playing with this ball beforehand is a good idea if you are preparing for tournament play or other competitive games. Tournament directors may require you to use only approved balls in an unsanctioned tournament.
If you’re planning a pickleball tournament, you can structure it however you prefer. Round-robin formats and double-elimination formats are the most popular pickleball tournament formats.
Most pickleball tournaments are played to a maximum of 11 points throughout three games. It can vary between tournaments – especially in unsanctioned pickleball tournaments – but you will probably encounter the most common format.
US Open Pickleball Championship is one of the largest pickleball tournaments in the world. There is so much more to the event than just pickleball over a full week. There is live music, food, and a social element to the event in addition to the regular tournament. Pickleball enthusiasts should attend the US Open Pickleball Championship (even if they don’t play).
Choosing tournament formats is a very flexible process for tournament directors. Increasingly popular team pickleball tournaments and leagues will follow Major League Pickleball’s debut in November 2021. Choosing a format should be the result of careful planning that considers the players’ preferences as well as constraints such as time, venue, and court availability.
Please let us know what you think. Is there a format you prefer for tournaments?
Hope to see you on the courts.
I am a professional physiotherapist and the author of the BallSportsPro. I worked with athletes of all levels, from amateur to professional, and i helped them overcome injuries and improve their performance. I am a certified Pickleball instructor and has been playing the sport for over 10 years.