There are myriad questions and details you will need to work out before you set out to organize and run a successful pickleball tournament. Below are a series of questions and guidelines that will lead you to start creating a solid plan for your tournament.
Work your way through each one.
And then you will have a huge head start on launching a fantastic tournament!
It takes a lot of work to get a tournament off the ground, let alone executed successfully so that everyone has a great time. Some project management skills are definitely beneficial as you work through this process.
1. What type of pickleball tournament do you want to run? Why are you doing this?
One of the most powerful ways to kick off great tournament planning is to get clear on exactly why you are running a tournament.
Is it a friendly local gathering of people you mostly know? Is it more serious?
Do you want to limit it to a small number or really blow it out to large tournament?
Are you aiming to raise money for a charity, break even or trying to make a profit?
Your decisions will flow from your conception of what you want. And it’s so much easier if you start making decisions from a place of clarity.
2. Who will help you run it?
Your tournament director or commissioner (probably you if you’re reading this article!) will bear the brunt of a lot of the work and delegation.
You won’t be able to do it alone.
You’ll need at least a few volunteers and possibly a volunteer coordinator to help with a whole host of tasks such as set up, breakdown, post scores, man tables.
Again your needs will expand with the size and complexity of the event, but you might want to write up a proto-org chart placing people at the head of various “departments”. People might be listed in multiple roles which is fine.
Once you have a rough idea of the size of the event, you can start to get a good sense of how many people you’ll need for each type of role. Regardless, as with planning and executing any event or project, you should have clear roles and responsibilities across the board for everyone involved.
And make sure each “department head” knows what they are responsible for and make sure they take ownership of ensuring they have their sphere organized and staffed correctly.
You’ll need people for the registration table, scorekeeping, scheduling, announcing, player wrangling, food tables, set up and clean up, refereeing and other work throughout the day.
3. Key Dates: When Will Your Tournament Take Place? What are the registration deadlines?
The date is the first thing everyone will ask about, so it’s key to nail it down early in the process.
Double check that the date of the tournament doesn’t have any major conflicts such as other nearby pickleball tournaments or big events in the area of the tournament that could be disruptive or decrease attendance.
Work backwards from the tournament. Will you set an early bird registration deadline with some benefit like a cheaper registration fee? When is the final registration deadline?
Make sure your deadlines give you plenty of time to get everything in place, organized and ordered. Remember you’ll need lead time to get things set up, then time to promote and get the word out, then time to allow people to plan for any travel and accommodations that they might need to actually attend the tournament.
And finally you and your tournament team will need to get all the last details in place, so I would recommend having the final registration be at least a few days – perhaps a week or so — before the tournament.
Before you finalize the date, you may need to skip to #4 below first because your venue may dictate which dates will work.
4. The Venue: Decide on a venue for your pickleball tournament
Will it be indoors or outdoors? (For the time being, you might want to focus on planning an outdoor tournament to avoid pandemic issues.)
How many players are you expecting? How many courts will you need?
Obviously if it’s outdoors you risk having to deal with the elements on game day. So you’ll need a contingency plan if the tournament is rained out – will you change the date? cancel it altogether? issue refunds?
What is the layout of the venue and does it have enough room for or can they provide enough:
- Parking – if the venue doesn’t have enough parking directly available is there a lot or field nearby that you could rent out?
- Bathrooms and locker rooms
- Registration table
- Rest area
- Hydration, refreshments and food
- Electrical outlets
- Sound system
- First aid
- Cooling stations
- Room for any tables and vendors that need to set up
- Nearby hotels
- Permanent or portable nets (Preferable that they be permanent)
Visit the venue to imagine where you’ll set up tables and various stands and how people will flow through the event from registration to playing to breaks.
If the venue is on board with the plan, get them to provide you with some possible dates.
Be sure it’s clear what the venue will take care of and what you will take care of, don’t assume anything.
Look back at what you decided on question 1: Does the venue’s vibe match the one you want to create for the tournament? Is it a pristine, high class place or more casual?
If the venue doesn’t have quite enough courts, is there room to set up temporary courts with tape and a portable pickleball net?
Keep in mind that the venue will need to be close enough to players to make it worth their time to travel to it. If you’re setting one up in the middle of nowhere and not near a pickleball hotspot, you’ll need to temper your expectations in terms of the size of the tournament.
And finally — crucially — how much will the venue cost?!
5. What should players bring to your pickleball tournament?
Encourage people to bring paddle, water, towel, shoes appropriate for outdoor or indoor pickleball play, and sun tan lotion if you’re outside.
It’s key to pre-plan and communicate early and often with your players, volunteers, vendors and anyone working on the tournament. Everyone should be clear about who should be where, by when and how things will run.
6. What will the schedule look like?
You can budget about an hour per match. Start there.
Figure in time for breaks and bringing everyone together at the end for awarding prizes to the winners.
Then factor in setup time and tear down time. This will be largely driven by the venue you are working with.
7. What will the format and type of tournament be?
Want to run the tournament as a round robin, single elimination or double elimination, or pool play?
If you have fewer than 4 teams in a bracket, that suggests a double round robin. If you have a bracket with 8 or 10 teams or more, you might want to split up the bracket into smaller sets of teams.
Will games be played to 15 for one game per match-up or best two out of three to 11 points?
8. How are you going to handle bracket assignments?
You’ll need to figure out the mix of:
- Mens, womens, and mixed
- Singles and doubles.
- Age brackets
- Player ratings
Obviously if you start combining these categories you could end up with dozens and dozens of brackets, so you’ll have to decide the best way to split up the brackets based on the size and type of tournament you are running — remember questions number 1!
9. Will You Use Tournament Software or Manage Registration and Game-Day Manually on paper or a spreadsheet?
This comes down to personal preference and your ease of using any given software. Regardless, you’ll need some system to manage and track registration, brackets, game outcomes, and player fees.
A computer isn’t absolutely necessary by any means but it can sure make your life easier and help the day go more smoothly!
Also: what exactly do you need the software for? Just planning or on game day as well? If you’ll be relying on software on game day, you’ll need power sources to keep your devices charged and ready to go.
If you’re printing stuff out be sure you have a printer and computer available and with a power source.
Here are some software options to consider (these are recommendations just some of the options out there):
- Pickleballtournaments.com – If it’s a USAPA sanctioned tournament you’ll need to use this software. You can see the software fees here.
- Global Pickleball Network
Don’t forget to have all players sign a waiver of liability before the tournament begins.
Here’s a tool for making printable brackets.
10. How Many Referees Will you need to run a Pickleball Tournament?
Referees are required if it’s a USAPA sanctioned event. You need to have a referee for every medal match in a USAPA Sanctioned tournament.
As an additional benefit, they can lend legitimacy to your tournament and help keep the games flowing smoothly.
11. Will the Tournament be a USAPA promotional tournament, officially USAPA sanctioned or unaffiliated?
Obviously if you run a tournament that is unaffiliated you can make up whatever rules you want!
With a promotional tournament you do have to follow some guidelines from the USAPA and will get their support, but players do not earn points that apply towards their USAPA rating.
If it is sanctioned you’ll have less leeway in the way you run the tournament, — particularly because this will limit who players to only USAPA members — but players get the benefit of impacting their USAPA Tournament Player Rating with their participation.
Check out the complete set of rules provided by the USAPA.
In addition to paying the USAPA sanction fee, you do need to use pickleballtournaments.com software. The main thing you’ll need to do on game day will be to have a referee for every medal match and you’ll need to create different brackets for players based on their USAPA Tournament Player Rating Number.
And of course the pickleballs you provide will need to be USAPA approved and the paddles players play with will need to be USAPA approved as well.
One final benefit is that you can get a free listing on the USAPA tournament calendar if you are sanctioned.
12. Cost to play: How Much Will You Charge? What is your refund policy?
Odds are you’ll probably end up charging anywhere between $15 and $25.
Once you’ve worked out all of your costs, built in a bit of a buffer for any profit and contingencies you might encounter, you will have a rough sense of how much you’ll need to charge. I’d recommend figuring out a few different scenarios: from bad to great – vary the number of attendees, a few different price points and assumptions.
And don’t forget you can offset some of the costs by getting local and national sponsors.
You need a refund policy. Lay it out in terms of deadlines and amount to be refunded at each stage.
13. Get the Word out: Advertising, Social Media, Flyers, Website, Email – oh my!
Here’s where some creativity can go a long way.
Inventory your options and pick the best routes to go down to get the word out. Here are some ideas:
- Get help from the venue – post flyer physically, see if they have any newsletters or email lists that they can mention the tournament too
- Post flyers throughout the area – gyms, other pickleball venues, really anywhere with good foot traffic will benefit you and it doesn’t cost much.
- Add your tournament to tournament directories such as the USAPA site and PIckleballTournaments.com
- Post to local pickleball groups on Facebook
- Add pickleball related hash tags to twitter posts about the tournament
- Don’t forget to email people you know directly – ask them to spread the word too!
- Create a facebook page and event
- Pay for advertising! Facebook and Twitter are great for this because you can target specific groups and geographic locations to make sure you’re getting in front of the right people.
14. What Ball Will You Use?
This is a tough question to answer. In addition to being appropriate for indoor or outdoor, the best pickleball ball for your tournament should be the appropriate color for the court you are playing on (i.e. it shouldn’t match the colors of the surroundings or the walls if you’re inside).
Players care about which ball you will use, they might even avoid tournaments that use balls they don’t like!
It should be a USAPA approved pickleball if you are running a USAPA sanctioned event.
15. Will you try to get sponsors?
Sponsors can help with advertising, venue, merch costs, raising funds and profitability.
Remember sponsors don’t need to just provide money – they can provide in-kind donations such as merch, food, goodie bag swag, water, balls or services for you or your players.
16. Will you provide water or food?
What food and water options are there at the venue? If there isn’t a venue option it’s important to have at least some option for food and water. You could have the event catered out of the funds for the tournament or bring in a vendor like a couple of food trucks who can handle all of the logistics for you.
At the very least — in my opinion — you should provide some water and hearty snacks for players for free or cheap.
17. Do you want professional help?
It’s okay to feel overwhelmed if this is your first time organizing a pickleball tournament, and if you do, or if you want to run a tournament bigger than you alone can handle, why not call in some professionals?
Here are some folks who run pickleball tournaments for a living: Pickleball Is Great.
18. Will there be awards and prizes or paid or free merch?
Buy trophies, plaques and/or medals for first, second and third place in each event.. This is an easy one to forget about but also an easy one to take care of early in the process. You’ll likely need to special order these if you want to customize them, but there are myriad options for something here. Get creative!
One difficulty here is that you’ll need to know the number and types of brackets you’ll be running in order to order the right amount and type of awards.
Some options you could give to winners: custom gear, goodie bags, clothes, shirts, paddles, balls. Get some of your sponsors on that merch to subsidize it!
Pickleball central offers some tournament supplies you might want to consider.
One note on awards – if you’re going to run the tournament again in the future, don’t forget to capture the award winners via video and pictures. It’s a great tool to get the word out about the tournament – which will make it a bit easier to get people interested in the future.
19. How else can you make it a great pickleball tournament event?
Have the teams pick fun names.
Add other activities and attractions before, after and during the event for players, friends and family.
Make sure everyone can see the results posted somewhere either in person or online.
Get creative and have a great time!