“What’s my pickleball rating?” This is a question that I get “all-the-time” – whether it’s asked by someone at the local, community center who wants to make sure they know which court they’re “assigned” – or someone from one of my pickleball clinics who is interested in playing their first tournament.
When this pickleball rating question is posed, in all honesty, the answer depends on who is asking it. Those who are simply playing pickleball for social reasons and to get physical exercise are looking for a “beginner / intermediate / advanced” type of answer. Those wanting to play in tournaments, however, are looking for an actual, two-digit number – one that ranges from 1.0 to 5.5+.
What are the Pickleball Ratings?
“Official” pickleball ratings are intended to take “relativity” and “politics” out of the equation. And, yeah, there is politics – even in ratings! Official ratings, on the other hand, are significantly more objective – but still not without limitations.
Pickleball ratings are seen as a 2-digit or 4-digit number. Each skill level is assessed by the ability to perform different shots such as the forehand, backhand, serve, dink, third shot, and volley in addition to understanding strategy.
- The 2-digit rating is a legacy rating. The rating is typically used for club and league play.
- The 4-digit rating was adopted in 2019. It is based on the Elo rating system and is used for tournament play. The rating changes after each game.
According to USA Pickleball, the 2-digit breakdown is as follows (for the complete skill rating definition, click here):
- 1.0 – 2.0 A player who is just starting to play pickleball and has no other sports background.
- 2.5 A player who has limited experience and can sustain a short rally.
- 3.0 A player who understands fundamentals and court positioning.
- 3.5 player who can acknowledge the difference between a hard game and soft game. They move quickly to the non-volley zone. They understand when stacking may be effective.
- 4.0 A player who is able to identify and attack their opponents’ weaknesses. They are aware of their partners’ position on the court and are able to move as a team.
- 4.5 A player who understands strategy and has good footwork. They are able to communicate and move well with their partner.
- 5.0 A player who has mastered pickleball strategies. They have efficient footwork and can easily adjust their game to their opponents’ strengths and weaknesses. They rarely make unforced errors.
- 5.5+ A player who has mastered pickleball. They are a top-caliber player.
Pickleball Self Rating
If you have never played in a pickleball tournament previously you need a “benchmark” (starting) rating. As such, you will be required to self-rate – so that you compete in the appropriate skill division in tournaments.
When self-rating, first review the USA Pickleball (pickleball’s official governing body) “Player Skill Rating Definitions.” This document outlines the specific skills needed to achieve each level of player rating.
Using a combination of the Player Skill Ratings Definitions and guidance from others will most likely get you very close to an accurate pickleball rating.
The “Official” Pickleball Rating (UTPR) that is Continuously Updated
Going forward, once you compete in tournaments that use PickleballTournaments.com, the official sanctioned tournament software of the USAPA, your “official” rating will begin to adjust automatically based on tournament results. The more tournaments you play, the more accurate your rating will become.
If you are a member of the USAPA, you can access your 2-digit and 4-digit USAPA Tournament Player Ratings (UTPR) in your USAPA.org member profile.
Pickleball Skill Level at the Local YMCA & Community Center
YMCAs and local community centers – at least those that attract large groups during their “open” pickleball times – will generally rate and segregate play according to skill levels so that similarly skilled players are playing together.
Pickleball ratings, at these venues, are often classified as “novice/beginner,” “intermediate” and “advanced.” These skills classifications are very “unofficial” and relative as few, if any, will have previously played in a pickleball tournament.
It has been my experience that those rated as novice/beginner players are those whom have never previously played pickleball or, perhaps, have only played a couple of times. At this point, they don’t know how to keep score, where to be positioned on the court and they typically rely on others to “help” them get through the game.
Intermediate players will likely represent the biggest of the three buckets of skill ratings. Most intermediate pickleball players will not want to play with beginners. Yet, the intermediate players are generally a bit “intimidated” by the advanced players who can hit the ball hard and “target” the weaker of the two players on the other team.
Finally, those rated as “advanced” players at the local YMCA or community center are generally those players who hit the ball hard, have better mobility and make fewer errors than the others at that particular venue.
These “ratings” (skill level distinctions) at the YMCA or local community center are generally relative and subjective. For example, the player categorized as “advanced” at the YMCA – while better when compared to others at the YMCA – is likely not really an advanced player relative to tournament players or even those players that play more “competitively” at their local pickleball club.
Although these “advanced” players probably do a bit of dinking, they likely don’t hit drop shots, reset volleys or play with “higher level” strategies.
Now keep in mind, there are certainly exceptions as I have seen 5.0 players play at the local Y. I am making a broad generalization. It just depends.
Final Thoughts About Pickleball Ratings
Pickleball skill levels for players can be very subjective – particularly at local venues, YMCAs, and community centers. As you play tournaments, however, your ratings will become much more objective – and a useful tool for comparing skill levels with others. Just like all systems, however, there are limitations with respect to accuracy.
This post is intended simply to provide you with an overarching summary of pickleball ratings and their importance – not a deep dive into the history of ratings or their calculations.
See you on the courts!