So you want to get more serious about your pickleball play. Well you should definitely look into understanding the pickleball rating system to get a better idea of where you stack up in terms of pickleball skill level and what you need to do to take it to the next level.
Having a skill rating gives you the ability to sign up for specific tournaments but also helps to motivate you to improve your game.
You’ve likely heard two players talking to each other about how one is a three, and the other is a four, which can be confusing for beginners. Having a clear idea of pickleball player ratings can assist you with playing with people in the same range as your skills to make the sport more fun and fair.
So let’s dig into it.
First, you’ll find pickleball skill levels referred to when it comes to tournament grouping. As with any other sport, matches will be set based upon the capabilities of each player in order to make a match fair.
Without a ranking, you could play against someone who is far more or far less experienced than you. Some tournaments may only use your rank as a way to create groups, whereas others will take your age and level into account.
For example, if you’re between 65 and 70 at a four, you will play against other players aged 65 to 70 who are around the same rank.
So the skill level rating is key to enjoying your time in tournaments while still challenging you with similarly-skilled players. Some tournaments are rated (meaning your official rating will come into play) and others are not.
There are Two Different Pickleball Player Rating Systems
There are two central rating systems used to group players as of the beginning of 2019: the two-digit system and the four-digit system.
You can be grouped into these categories either by self-analysis or after playing in tournaments. (Officially, your rating may also be classified as Appealed, if you’ve appealed to the USAPA for a different rating due to a medical reason.)
Before January 22, 2019, you had to self-rate if you haven’t played in a tournament before OR if it’s been more than 3 years since you played in a tournament, be a member in good standing with the USAPA, get a letter of support. But now you don’t. You just have to add your self-rating to your profile on PickleballTournaments.com. For more details and guidelines: USAPA website.
Once you enter and play in an officially rated tournament, your self-rating will be adjusted based on you you do in the tournament.
1. The Two-Digit System – For Everyone
Also known as the legacy rating system, two-digit ratings may range from 1.0 to 6.0 and go up or down by 0.5 increments. This process is most commonly used by pickleball clubs and leagues, as well as casual players who want to describe their experience level.
When it comes to determining your pickleball levels via the two-digit system, it is done either by self-assessment or via tournament ratings.
2. The Four-Digit System – If you’re really serious
Professional pickleball players will instead have a four-digit system developed by the USAPA to explain their skill level. This process is also known as the USAPA Tournament Player Rating (UTPR).
Values in this system will range from 1.000 to 6.999 and go up or down in 0.001 increments. What makes this system particularly interesting is that it was adapted from the same Elo rating system used for professional chess.
With four-digit ratings, it is far more dynamic, as the values are determined based on the evaluation of both players and the outcome of their match. There are five main categories for rating: women’s singles, men’s singles, women’s doubles, men’s doubles, and mixed doubles.
The Definitions of Pickleball Player Ratings
So, how do you achieve a pickleball rating if you’ve never played in a tournament before? As new players don’t have any previous statistics to rely on, tournament directors typically use the two-digit method. This method, in coordination with self-assessment, can give you a general skill level. These levels are officially laid out by the USAPA here.
A 1.0 rating is generally given to brand-new players who understand the rules and regulations of pickleball. You usually won’t have any playing experience at this point (and you may not even have much experience playing other sports either), just a basic understanding of how the game works.
At this point, you should be learning how to serve, and you might have some difficulty with hitting easy-to-reach balls. Players with a 1.5 rating will also start to learn the more in-depth rules of the game, such as lines, side outs, and other basic rules.
With a 2.0, you will be able to make the most basic strokes, such as backhands, forehands, and volleys. You should also be ready to adequately serve a ball and be able to maintain a few short rallies with an opponent.
In terms of rules, those players with a 2.0 rating will know about court positioning and the rules for playing doubles.
A slight step above 2.0, a 2.5 rating means that you can maintain longer rallies at a moderate pace and be able to accomplish the majority of your easy shots. You will also be aware of dinks and have the ability to hit volleys.
Might be a good time to work on some pickleball drills to improve your game.
Generally speaking, at this point, you’ll have a clear understanding of pickleball rules but still have issues with covering the entire court.
Medium-paced balls are easy for people with a 3.0 rating, as are all of the basic strokes. You might still have issues with placing the ball and lobs, and dinks will still be a skill to be acquired.
With the ability to anticipate the shots of your opponent, as well as playing aggressively in the non-volley zone, you might reach a 3.5 rating.
Players at this skill level will also have better control over their ball placement and will maintain consistent control over medium-paced shots. One area of concern with a 3.5 rating is the variety of your shots.
Applying spin to your balls with some success is common for players with a 4.0 rating, as is their consistency with the backhand and forehand strokes. Third shot strategies are also a secure area of expertise for these players, as well as a full understanding of the rules.
With a 4.0 rating, though, you may still have problems with losing rallies due to under-activity or overactivity, and you can force errors when you are serving.
As the second-highest tier, those with a 4.5 rating have begun to master their third shot choices. They will also be proficient at adjusting their ball spin and placement. At this point, you should have a good selection of shots and be able to serve consistently with varying spins and speeds.
With every match, you will be able to anticipate your opponent’s shots, as well as adjust your play style to work with your opponent’s weaknesses.
By the time you reach a 5.0 rating, you will have mastered all of the critical elements of pickleball. This mastery includes shot types, shot anticipation, forcing errors, and accurately placing your shots.
You will also have a thorough understanding of different strategies, different playing styles, dinks, drop shots, and third shot strategies.
If you’ve reached this level, congratulations! You are now in the top echelon of the sport and are among the strongest players. You are extremely strong across all shot types, have a sophisticated understanding and application of strategy.
Converting Two- and Four-Digit Ratings
Even though both rating systems are still used to this day, it can be convenient to convert your two-digit rating to four-digit and vice versa. This process will give you a clear indication of your player rating for both tournaments and club pairings.
|4-Digit Rating||2-Digit Rating|
|1.000 – 1.499||1.0|
|1.500 – 1.999||1.5|
|2.000 – 2.499||2.0|
|2.500 – 2.999||2.5|
|3.000 – 3.499||3.0|
|3.500 – 3.999||3.5|
|4.000 – 4.499||4.0|
|4.500 – 4.999||4.5|
|5.000 – 5.499||5.0|
|5.500 – 5.999||5.5|
|6.000 – 6.499||6.0|
|6.500 – 6.999||6.5|