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Pickleball tournaments — and the anticipation of competition — is exhilarating for most players. Tournaments provide a great opportunity to play and compete against people who you typically don’t see. A pickleball tournament also, in many cases, provides an opportunity to watch the pros and even make new friends.
However, a successful pickleball tournament doesn’t just happen on its own. There is much planning and work that goes into running a pickleball tournament.
Todd and I have attended and have run many pickleball tournaments. Actually, Todd enjoys running tournaments even more than playing in them. I also enjoy organizing events.
We have attended tournaments over the years that were both local and out-of-state, large and small, good and not as good. Each event has been memorable as they each provide their own unique flavor.
Before Running a Pickleball Tournament, Consider…
If you are considering organizing a pickleball tournament, here are 13 questions to answer. Honestly, there are more than this, but it will give you a good start.
1. How Many Players Are You Expecting?
If you are planning on a tournament for fewer than 100 players, two directors along with game-day volunteers should be sufficient to run a successful tournament.
However, if you are planning a larger event, you will need directors, teams of people to help organize before-hand, and volunteers on game day to make it successful.
2. When Will Your Tournament Take Place?
It is important to schedule a tournament date far enough in advance (months) so you have enough time to plan it and market it.
It’s also important to give players an opportunity to schedule it into their calendars so it doesn’t conflict with other tournaments that will subsequently be scheduled at the same time.
3. Will Your Tournament be Indoors or Outdoors?
There are pros and cons to having your event indoors or outdoors.
Be sure to take the time of year into consideration when making a decision. While winter months for most of the country are cold, of course, an indoor venue works best. Similarly, if you are planning to hold a tournament in a scorching, hot summer month, or during a rainy spring season, it might be best to plan on an indoor venue with air conditioning and a roof.
There are additional considerations when it comes to choosing the venue. Cost is a significant factor. While an indoor venue might be preferable, it might be too costly. Court time is usually the most significant cost when organizing an indoor tournament.
While outdoor venues are typically free, there might not be an adequate number of courts (or courts which are maintained well enough) for a tournament. Also, consider restroom availability at outdoor venues. If you have to arrange for onsite restrooms, you will need to factor that into the cost.
Other Venue Considerations
You will need to factor in space constraints for the venue. Is there room near the courts for tents with tables for food, vendors, or additional information you want to provide. If you are planning on an indoor venue, do they have their own cafe, or will they allow you to bring in your own food?
Consider players’ preferences as well. Do the players prefer outdoor courts? Will they not want to play on an indoor gym floor with taped lines, or on cement?
Whether you choose an indoor or outdoor venue, will there be adequate parking? Having adequate parking close to the courts is paramount. We have been to too many tournaments that didn’t account for parking. Getting a big workout before the first ball is served because it’s a long walk from the courts to your car is one thing, but having to walk that distance after playing many games is another.
Take all of these questions into consideration when deciding on an indoor or outdoor venue.
4. How Many Courts Will You Need?
When determining a tournament location, you will need to consider how many courts you will need.
Factors that go into determining the number of courts you will need include:
- How many players will register
- Venue time constraints
- Game format
If playing indoors and there is room to tape a couple of additional courts (find court dimensions here) — it might make sense in order to move the games along. You might also want to offer practice courts.
Make sure all of the courts are numbered appropriately, so the players can easily find the courts they are assigned.
5. Will You Use Tournament Software or Manage Registration and Game-Day Manually on a Spreadsheet?
Pickleball tournament software makes managing registration and game-day significantly easier. However, as you can imagine, there is a fairly steep learning curve to the software.
Personally, we have hosted and attended tournaments that have done it both ways. Some prefer to run the tournament manually while others love using software.
>>READ MORE: Why Pickleball Tournament Software is so Beneficial<<
There are pros and cons to each. In this section, we’ll take a look at game-day management since registration is addressed in a different section.
As previously mentioned, learning new software takes time. How tech-savvy are you and your team? If you have time to dedicate to learning software, it can make your game-day run smoothly. However, in order to use software for your tournament, you will need a laptop and a reliable internet connection with a power outlet nearby. You can also choose to have a printer and scanner on-site.
In the planning stages, tournament software can help give you an idea of how long each tournament day will go given the constraints of the courts, number of teams, and match formats. On game-day, the tournament software will help facilitate court assignments, bracket advancement (results), and just generally make the day go smoothly.
Speaking of facilitating court assignments, Pickleball Brackets, as an example, even has a texting feature alerting players of their current court assignments and a confirmation of their match results.
Running a tournament manually minimizes the risk of technical difficulties or internet problems. However, if you choose to run it manually, then you will need to keep close track of which teams are next scheduled to play and you will have to manually enter results and fill out the brackets manually. After doing both, I recommend using software to run a tournament.
6. Will Your Tournament be USAPA-Sanctioned?
Before planning your tournament, you will need to decide if it will be sanctioned or not.
By sanctioning a tournament through the USAPA, you need to meet sanctioning requirements in order to get sanctioning designation and benefits. Some of the benefits include:
- Supplemental Insurance
- Free listing on the USAPA calendar
- Matches officiated by referees
- Match results automatically factored into player ratings
With sanctioning, there is a sanction fee and you are required to use the pickleballtournaments.com software. You will also be required to have referees and line judges, which means additional volunteers.
Finally, in order to participate in a sanctioned tournament, players must be USAPA members.
7. How Much Should You Charge?
When preparing to host a tournament, the registration and event fees are important considerations. There are many costs that go into hosting a tournament and they should be appropriately budgeted. Make sure to account for everything, including:
- Food / Snacks / Water
- Tournament Software
- Awards / Medals
- Outdoor Restrooms
- Gift Cards
- Director and more
Should You Find Sponsors?
In order to offset costs and make the registration fee more appealing for the players, you may want to search for sponsors from local businesses. Offering a sponsor a “complementary” booth or their logo on a banner, website or in a program are examples of some of the benefits you can offer.
8. Registration and Deadline. Refunds. Rain Policy
If you intend to use software such as PickleballBrackets.com, you will have players register directly online via their software/website.
>>READ MORE: My review of PickleballBrackets.com<<
>>My review of PickleballDen.com<<
If you do not use online software, you will have to “manually” accept registrations. You may want to create a “tournament” website and link directly to PayPal for payment. You might accept registrations through email or by phone. If you take registrations through email or via phone call, you will have to figure out the method of payment, whether it is through an online merchant or doing it “old school” by taking a check or cash.
Refunds and Rain Policy
If you are hosting your tournament at an outdoor facility, there are additional factors to consider. One huge factor is the weather. For the safety of all players, you cannot hold a tournament when the courts are wet. Therefore, you should have a contingency plan.
- Will you cancel the event?
- Will you have an indoor backup facility?
- Will you provide a rain date?
- Will you provide a refund?
These are things to consider ahead of time so you’re not “that tournament” which is complained about on the Pickleball Forum:).
In addition to a rain policy, you also should have a refund policy. No matter how many tournaments we have planned, there have always been people who have had to cancel “at the last minute.” You will need to consider if (and how much) you will give a refund up to a certain number of days before the event.
9. Game Format
The format of play is a hugely significant consideration — particularly for the players. The factors that go into determining the precise format are how many teams are signing up in each respective division, time constraints you may have at the venue each day, and how many games you want to guarantee the players in each event.
- Single Round-Robin or Double-Round Robin?
- Pool Play, Single-Elimination or Double-Elimination?
- One game to 15 points, or two-out-of-three games to 11?
These are all factors to consider. You will want to have that finalized before the tournament so the players will know what to expect.
10. Where Should You Advertise?
There’s no need to go to all of the work of organizing a great tournament if you don’t have players attend. Once you schedule a date for your event, it’s time to start marketing it. There are many places to market. Some are free and some will come with a cost.
If this is your first tournament, you might first want to announce it to your local, pickleball group or post it on Facebook to gauge interest before you spend too much time planning. Once you have an interest and have secured a venue, scheduled your date, and firmed up your registration process, you will want to begin marketing it.
If you use online software, your tournament will be listed on their website. In addition, you will want to post it on social media and announce it to the local media.
11. Food / Snacks on Game-Day
Will you have food and snacks at your tournament? Having food requires more work, but it is very appreciated by the players and volunteers.
If you are holding the event at an indoor facility, check to see if they have an onsite cafe/cafeteria — or, alternatively, if they will allow food to be brought in. If they have a cafe, your life will be much easier! Players can either be given a coupon for their food or you can have players buy their own food.
If you are at an outdoor facility or bringing food into an indoor facility, you will need to plan accordingly.
- Will you be providing meals or just snacks?
- Will you have the food catered in?
- Will you bring a food truck on-site?
- Will you purchase all of the food ahead of time?
- Will you expect the players to buy their own food, or will the food be included with their registration fee?
Whether you offer meals, or not, you should at least provide snacks for the players. Players need to stay hydrated for optimal play. At the very least you will want to provide water, bananas (or other fruits), granola or protein bars, or other snacks that provide protein.
In addition, if you are providing food, don’t forget to purchase all of the miscellaneous items such as plates, cups, napkins, etc.
You will also want to have volunteers on hand to help with the food set up, maintenance and tear down.
12. Awards and Swag
If you are playing in a tournament, you are competing for a chance to stand on the medal stand and receive an award. You will need to decide what type of award to provide. There are many different options. Many tournaments give out medal awards (that hang around your neck) for first, second, and third places.
Some tournaments have an overall theme or are being played at a unique location. You can be creative with your awards and tailor it to that theme or location.
Some tournaments are offering cash prizes. That is especially nice if you can afford it. You might even get some of the pros to participate!
>>READ MORE: It’s Not the Medals. It’s the Memories<<
When purchasing your awards, make sure you have enough for each division and each player for first through third place.
In addition to handing out awards, you will need to decide if you want to hand out a gift bag to all registrants or offer a tournament shirt, hat, or some other memorabilia. All of this takes planning and work. You will also need to factor this cost into the tournament cost or find sponsors for the gifts.
13. What Ball Will You Use?
Deciding on a ball may not seem like a huge issue, but it is. Trust me! Which ball you use at your tournament might determine which players are willing to attend. Players are used to playing with certain pickleballs. If you are using a Franklin ball, but certain players only like playing with a Dura ball, that will factor into their decision to participate.
The color of the ball also matters. If you are playing on indoor courts that have green background walls, playing with a green ball might not be best.
Take these things into consideration when choosing a tournament ball. You need to make that decision early on so you can include it on the registration page so players know the ball you plan to use before they register.
There you have it! Thirteen questions to consider when organizing a pickleball tournament. As previously mentioned, there are more than these items to consider, however, it will give you a start in your tournament preparation.
Organizing a successful pickleball tournament is a huge undertaking. If you would like help with your event, please contact us. It’s one of the things PickleballMAX does best!