A Beginner's Guide to Pickleball Tournaments, Everything You Need to Know

pickleball tournament

From Maine to Arizona, pickleball tournaments are popping up all across the U.S. Many local pickleball tournaments have open registrations, giving you the opportunity to join in on the fun. To help you get started, we created this handy guide to pickleball. Read on for answers to common questions like "what pickleball is used in tournaments?" and "how do pickleball tournaments work?" 

Before We Get Started, What Is Pickleball? 

If you're completely new to pickleball, learning about the game is a great starting point. Pickleball is a paddle sport typically played on a modified tennis court indoors or outdoors. You can play solo or in pairs. During a game, one side serves a pickleball, and the opponent attempts to return it. When you miss a volley or commit an infraction, the other player or team scores a point. 

Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the U.S., and many neighborhood clubs and local leagues are now organizing tournaments across the country. You can even stream professional PPA pickleball tournaments on ESPN almost every weekend during the summer months! 

How Is a Pickleball Tournament Played? 

Now, let's dig into the basics of pickleball tournaments. 

Basic Rules 

A pickleball court is divided in half horizontally by a net containing two rectangular sections on each side. The area close to the net is known as the kitchen, a non-volley zone that players can't enter unless their opponent hits a shot that lands there. 

Each point in a pickleball game begins with a serve, delivered from the right side of the court. The paddle must come in contact with the ball below waist level and must land on the other side of the net in the section of court diagonal from the serving area. 

After the serve, game play goes on continuously until there is a fault. Faults occur when a serve lands in the kitchen, a shot goes out of bounds, or a shot hits the net. 

Tournament Format and Structure 

Organizers must decide how to run a pickleball tournament when putting together the event. There are two main formats: 

  • Single elimination: With this type of tournament, the winner of a match advances, and the loser doesn't play again. This type of format is most common when there are a large number of entrants. 
  • Round robin: During round robin pickleball tournaments, every player or team faces off against every other player or team. This format tends to work best for smaller events. 

Court Dimensions and Equipment 

A standard pickleball court has the following dimensions: 

  • Overall dimensions: 44' long by 20' wide 
  • Distance from baseline to the net: 22' 
  • Distance from the non-volley line to the net: 7' 
  • Distance from the centerline to the baseline: 10' 

The only piece of equipment present on the court during a game is a net, which must be 36" high at the sidelines at 34" high at the center. Players use pickleball paddles and a pickleball. 

Player Positions and Rotations 

With a doubles pickleball tournament, you'll need to understand how serving rotations work. This is the sequence of events during a serving turn: 

  • The player on the right side of the court is server 1. They begin the turn by serving. 
  • If there is a point scored, server 2 switches places with player 1 and serves from the left court. 
  • Whenever server 1 loses a rally, server 2 serves from whichever court they are in. 
  • If server 2 scores a point, they switch places with player 1 and serve again. 
  • The turn continues until server 2 loses a rally. The other team then gets to serve. 

When you serve in a game of pickleball, you yell out three numbers: 

  1. Your team's score 
  2. Your opponents' score 
  3. Your server number 

 For example, if you're server 2, your team has 1 point, and your opponent has 3 points, you would yell out, 1-3-2 when you serve. 

How Is the Pickleball Tournament Scored? 

A pickleball game ends when one team or player gets 11 points, but you must have a two point lead to be the winner. Pickleball tournaments can be scored in one of two ways: 

  • Best of three games: With this approach, you play until one player or team wins two games. 
  • Point system: Popular for round robin tournaments, a points system awards a point for each game that you win. At the end of the tournament, the player or team with the most points wins. 

Are There Cash Prizes for Pickleball Tournaments? 

Whether there are cash prizes for pickleball tournaments varies. Professional tournaments typically do. For example, the PPA Tournament has awarded more than $298,000 in prizes with the winners of each match receiving $10,000 for first place, $5,500 for second place, and $3,250 for third place. 

Amateur pickleball tournaments may sometimes offer cash prizes. The winnings may come from a portion of the entry fees paid to play or from a sponsor like a local business. In some cases, tournaments are charity events, where players make a donation to a nonprofit. With these events, there may or may not be a cash prize. 

What Should I Bring to a Pickleball Tournament? 

To be ready to play, be sure to bring the following to a pickleball tournament. 

  • Pickleball paddles: It's a good idea to bring two pickleball paddles: one to use and a spare to have on hand just in case. 
  • Pickleballs: Typically, pickleball tournaments use USA Pickleball-approved balls and provide them for players. Still, it can be a good idea to bring one or two along. 
  • Comfortable clothing: Dress to stay cool and focused on the court, and bring a change of clothes in case of emergencies. Check out our guide on what to wear when playing pickleball for ideas. 
  • Court shoes: Court shoes are generally best for playing pickleball. Learn more about them by reading our write-up on pickleball shoes. 
  • Paperwork: You may be asked to show photo ID when you arrive for the event. Be sure to bring any registration documents that are required. 
  • Towel: You'll likely work up a sweat on the court, so bring a towel to dry off after a match. 
  • Sun protection: Wear a hat and bring along sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun during outdoor pickleball tournaments. 

You may also want to bring the following: 

  • Pickleball bag for storing your gear 
  • Protective gear like sunglasses, wristbands, or knee pads 
  • Water bottle 
  • Snacks 

Gear Up for Pickleball Tournaments 

Pickleball tournaments can be a fun way to develop your skills, meet people, and get some exercise. Check out local events pages to find tournaments in your area and shop the Devereux pickleball collection to stock up on the clothing, accessories, and equipment you need to look and feel your best on the court. 

Still Looking for Tips to Get Tournament Ready? Check Out Some of Our Featured Pickleball Posts: 

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