Playing in your first pickleball tournament

When should you start thinking about playing in your first pickleball tournament?

Jaclyn Brandt

pickleball tournaments


March 4, 2024

Once you feel comfortable with your level of play, when should you start thinking about playing in your first pickleball tournament?



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Venturing into new hobbies can be scary, so if you have started playing pickleball recently — congrats on that big step! But once you feel comfortable with your level of play, when should you start thinking about playing in your first pickleball tournament?

Choose a tournament within your pickleball rating

One of the great things about the sport of pickleball is the rating system. Although not always 100 percent accurate, it is a great guideline to track your skills and progress.

When looking for your first tournament, try to find one that matches your rating level. If you can find a tournament that includes a beginner level (2.5-3.0), this is a great way to get your first taste of the tournament experience. But if you cannot find a beginner tournament, then you should work to improve your skills during league or open play so you can find a pickleball tournament near you that matches your current skill level.

Make sure if a tournament is a 3.0 level (for instance), that is not a minimum but a rule. You do not want to end up playing with a 4.5 player who is there to beat all the 3.0 players they can.

Things to bring to your first tournament

Although you won’t need to bring much to your first pickleball tournament, here are a few things you may have not thought about:

  • Refillable water bottle.

  • Snacks in case you need them, like protein bars, trail mix, or fruit.

  • Emergency first aid kit.

  • Clean tennis shoes.

  • Sport-ready clothing.

    • A wicking shirt will help you stay dry throughout the day.

    • Consider bringing a second shirt as a backup.

    • A hat or headband will keep your hair and sweat out of your eyes.

  • A second pair of clean socks in case you need to change them.

  • Your pickleball paddle.

    • No one expects you to be a pro at this point, including having a pro paddle, so just bring the paddle you feel most comfortable with.

  • A towel to dry your face or body.

  • Consider bringing a camp chair in case the facility runs out of chairs.

  • A bag to hold all of your gear.

How to prepare for your first tournament

Before your first pickleball tournament, the best thing you can do to ease your nerves is to be as prepared as you can. Here are some tips on preparations you can take for your first tournament:

  • Learn all the rules, both the official rules of pickleball but also any variations the tournament may impose.

  • Learn the format of the tournament.

    • Is it a round-robin or bracket format?

    • This may make a difference in how many games you get. If you lose all your games, for instance, you may only get 1 or 2 games in a bracket format.

  • Practice based on the tournament venue.

    • Is it indoors or outdoors? Hard court or tennis court? If you can, practice in the same type of venue as the tournament.

  • The day before your tournament, remember to eat well, drink plenty of water, and try to refrain from drinking alcohol.

  • After you arrive at the tournament location and meet your partner, you can start to warm up and learn your partner’s playing style and how you work together.

  • Start to watch your competitors and learn their level of play and play style.

How to choose your tournament partner

Many tournaments will choose your doubles partner for you, which is a great option for beginners who do not yet know many people in the sport. But if you are required to find your own partner, here are a few tips:

  • Find someone who is at a similar rating level.

  • Find someone you have played with before, to assure you get along and play well together.

  • Most importantly, find someone who has the same mindset as you. Are you super competitive or just having fun? Going into your first tournament with the same mindset as your partner will be important to enjoying the experience.

What to expect on the day of the tournament

When you arrive at the venue, you can expect a few things to be similar at every tournament you will ever play at.

  • A check-in or registration desk welcoming you to the tournament.

  • At the registration desk, you will receive your schedule and court locations, at least for your first game.

    • Your additional games may be determined by that first game.

  • If the tournament matches you up with a partner, you will meet them when they arrive and start to plot your strategy and you may be given time to warm up with them.

    • Be sure to discuss your playing style, experience, and expectations.

  • If you arrive with your own partner, you may be given time to warm up before your first match.

Playing in your first tournament

More importantly than any of these tips, remember to have fun! If you are a beginner and at a beginner’s tournament, no one is at this tournament to become a professional. They are all at the same level as you, and looking to enjoy a pickleball event.

Congratulate your partner and competitors, don’t take anything too personally, and don’t be so competitive that it ruins the experience for others. This is your first tournament of what could be many, so take it all in and enjoy the experience.