pickleball ladder leagues

Pickleball Ladders — Are they Popular at your Club?

If you’re a member of an “official” pickleball club, play at your local YMCA or Community Center, or have simply been playing pickleball at your local courts, you’ve likely heard of ladder leagues. Perhaps you’ve even seen a flyer for them posted at your favorite venue. But unless you have actually participated and competed in one, you likely have questions about how they work.

Structure vs. Chaos

As you know first-hand — or can intuitively assume — pickleball is most fun when similarly skilled players play together and compete against each other. Unfortunately, in rec play that doesn’t always happen.

Playing non-competitive games is generally fun for nobody and can be incredibly frustrating for all involved. For the lower-rated players, it can be demoralizing and confidence-sapping. For the higher-skilled players, it just isn’t challenging.  Pickleball ladders may be the answer.

What is a Pickleball Ladder?  What’s a Ladder League?

Ladders leagues are generally organized leagues in which players with relatively similar skills compete against each other in a competitive, structured, and, typically, weekly format. Think of a pickleball “ladder” as a graphical representation of a player’s ranking (by skill and performance) over a period of time (10 weeks, for example). The rungs on the ladder represent a player’s current position (ranking) on the ladder relative to the other players — with the top rung of the ladder being the individual or team currently ranked the highest (the best winning percentage) and the bottom rung being the lowest-ranked individual or team.

How does an Individually-Ranked, Round-Robin Pickleball Ladder Work?

There are various formats for pickleball ladder leagues.  One of the most popular ladder league formats is that of an individually-ranked, round-robin — many may refer to this format as a “shootout.” In such a format, those participating in the pickleball ladder will be placed in groups of four in the order of their position (ranking) on the ladder each week.  In this format, all players will play three doubles games in a round-robin format with the other three players in the foursome. After the scores are tallied for each of the three matches, players may be individually moved up or down the ladder the following week — of course, depending upon their performance in those 3 round-robin games. The ultimate goal is to climb the ladder to the highest rung.

Are there Multiple Ladders? Can People Move from One Ladder to the Next?

As we just illustrated, one moves up (and down) the ladder each week depending upon their performance on the courts the previous week. If you win, you go up the ladder. If you lose, you go down the ladder. What if you’re stuck each week on the highest (or lowest) rung? To address this, many leagues have multiple ladders — with each ladder being 8-16 rungs high — depending, of course, on the number of similarly skilled players. For this example, let’s assume 4 different ladders (with 16 players per ladder) are organized at your club. The first ladder is for 2.0-rated players. The second ladder is for those rated 2.5 – 3.0. The third ladder is 3.5 – 4.0.  The final ladder is 4.5+.  If one person is dominating the top 1 or 2 rungs of their respective ladder each week, that person should potentially be moved to the next higher-skilled ladder (on the lowest rung). Likewise, if one person is perpetually stuck on the bottom rung, perhaps that person needs to be moved to a lower-skilled ladder.

There are many different ways to organize ladder leagues — with an equal number of different ways to manage and administer the league. If you are ready to create a pickleball ladder, you may want to check out Global Pickleball Network. They offer a feature-rich, ladder software and it is completely free to use.

We would love to hear your feedback. Has your club organized a ladder league or something similar? What has worked? What hasn’t?

See you on the courts!

Coach Todd
About Todd

Todd is the talent behind PickleballMAX. He knows pickleball and demonstrates it on the court as a 4.5 – 5.0 player. In addition to creating content and running the PickleballMAX business, Todd is IPTPA Level II certified. As an instructor at the Ohio Pickleball Academy, he instructs students and runs adult and youth clinics. He also manages tournament desks throughout the tri state for tournaments ranging from 100-500 participants.

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25 Comments

  1. Quick question, how long does your league run? (6 weeks, 8 weeks, etc…) After each night of competition (6 games Round Robin style on each court) is it only the top player that moves up and the bottom player that moves down? Then the middle two players stay on the same court for the following week?

    How do you determine a winner at the end? For instance, if seeded on the ladder with your “best guess” someone who started at the bottom court (bottom of the ladder) but worked their way to the top court (top of the ladder) may not necessarily be better than someone who started at the top and has been able to stay there or near there the whole time. The level of competitive play generally should increase as you move up the ladder, so do you have a play off game amongst those who end up on the top court after a duration of time? Or are there other factors you weigh in with (like weighting the games won based on which court), hmmm.

    Also, if a player finds a sub, do they get credit for what the sub accomplishes or do they automatically move down one or stay where they were?

    1. There are certainly lots of considerations when playing ladder leagues. Each venue that hosts leagues does things a little differently. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Do what works best at your venue.

  2. When playing a ladder and there are excess players, that is to say you are required to make 2 groups of 5, do they play to 7 or 9? Thanks kindly.

  3. I’ve played in ladder leagues and they have problems. The better players don’t get to touch the ball as the opponents attack the weaker players. The younger/better players that can poach every shot usually end up the winner. If you’re a better player but older and can’t move like a 20 year old, you’re screwed.

    1. Hi Dennis, Indeed, these are some of the challenges of pickleball ladder leagues. Hopefully, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Regardless, it’s good to mix things up at your club from time-to-time.

  4. Great ideas and a nice article! I am looking to implement a ladder league at my club and I was hoping to get your input on a couple of things?
    1. What is the policy you use for players that cant play their weekly match due to travel, illness, injury, etc.?
    2. When you start the ladder, do you seed the players or randomly place them in the ladder?

    Thanks for help!

    1. Hi Jeff, Thanks for chiming in. In leagues that I have played it is up to the player who cannot play their weekly match to get a sub from the approved sub list (similar skill level). When ladder leagues begin, we try to seed the players according to our “best” guess. That’s how we’ve done it, anyway. Hope this helps.

  5. Great idea! I’ve been trying to get one going where I play, for the exact reasons you cite at the start of the article. A ladder of enough length to be valid would help certain players that think they are much better than they actually are gain a sense of perspective. I Play WAY too many games where I, as a strong player, have to carry a weaker player, who then gets all the shots, we lose, and I have no fun at all.

  6. Hi there,
    We have a problem with the grading system. Is there a form you use to help grade the players over a period of a few weeks?
    Thanks,
    Bobv

  7. Good explanation of ladder leagues. Could you help me a little bit more, I’m trying to organize a ladder league myself.

    1. So a group of 4 players are grouped together. Let’s say I’m player A. The first game, I play with player B. The second game, I play with player C. Then the third game I play with player D. This is the round robin format you’re speaking of?

    2. How are points awarded and kept week by week to advance or drop on the ladder?

    1. Hi Drew, You’re exactly right on round robin format of playing with players B, C and D (assuming you’re player A). Each of the 4 players would keep track of their own team’s scores for each of the 3 matches. So if you scored 11 points with player B, 5 points with player C and 11 points with player D you will have scored 27 total points (11+5+11=27). Players B, C and D will all do the same. Hope that helps.

  8. Sounds awesome, frustrating as heck. I’m a solid 3.0 player- admittedly not great, but lost w weak partners and am now, for the unforeseeable future, stuck at the very bottom playing, playing w 2.5s who have no idea about court position or strategies. I’m trying to approach my weekly league w my own strategy now. Could use some help!

    1. Hi Lori, I certainly understand your frustration — as I’m sure many others do as well. All you can do is work to make your own game better — and encourage your partner(s) to do the same. Work on proper technique, shot selection and footwork and positioning. By doing so, your game will improve and you’ll, no doubt, begin to work your way up that ladder!

      1. Thank you for this perfect response!
        In reflection: wouldn’t it be nice to actually have ONE partner with whom to practice, learn and grow during a ladder league. But then there I go! Haha!! Reinventing the wheel.
        Started today consciously working on your suggestions. Thanks again.

        1. Lori Stevens I feel your frustration. I also joined a ladder league I have been “certified ” at 3.5 level. However, playing with weak players moved me down. This AM played , my partner never got ONE serve in the court!! I could have played singles with the other two when partnered up cause they wouldn’t move . I must say I have to drop this ladder league. I won the games but still not playing with my same level group. sad

  9. So I wonder how this will work at Mason Community Center.
    Maybe if we do it one day a week.
    Just need someone to run it.

  10. Nice article! We’ve been doing open play for the last 2 years so now I think we are ready for this. 😉

    Are there any places where you can print or get software that manages ladders easily?

    1. Thank you, Ernie. There are certainly some vendors that are in the business of assisting in the management/administration of pickleball ladder leagues. The USAPA may be a good start in the research process.

      1. Hi David, While that’s certainly an option, there are a host of other options for pickleball ladder software as well, including “Pickleball Global,” “Hold My Court,” “R2Sports Challenge Software” and more.

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