“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 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 for social reasons and to get physical exercise are merely looking for a “beginner / intermediate / advanced” type of answer.
Those wanting to play in tournaments and leagues, however, are looking for a more sophisticated, unbiased number that they can take to their tournament or league commissioner for proper placement.
Why Are Pickleball Ratings Important?
Pickleball ratings are important because they provide a natural grouping of similarly-skilled players which makes for competitive games in rec play, league play and tournament play.
Without accurate ratings, there may very well be a wide disparity of skill on the court at a given time which makes for games that are just not competitive, nor fun. Inaccurate ratings also encourage sand-bagging – purposefully playing at a level below one’s actual skill level in the interest of winning a $5 medal.
How are Pickleball Skill Ratings Calculated?
Pickleball ratings can be calculated in a variety of ways – some of which are subjective in nature and others that are more objective. The most common methods to “calculate” pickleball ratings include:
- Player Self-Assessments Using Player Skill Level Definitions
- USA Pickleball Tournament Ratings (UTPR)
1. Player Self-Assessments Using Player Skill Level Definitions
If you have never played in a pickleball tournament or league previously, you likely need a “benchmark” (starting) rating to enter either. As such, you will be required to self-rate – so that you compete in the appropriate skill division for that tournament or league.
When self-rating, first review the USA Pickleball (pickleball’s official governing body) “Player Skill Rating Definitions.” This document outlines the specific skills, shots (forehand, backhand, serve, dink, third shot, volley, etc.) and strategies needed to achieve each level of player rating.
According to USA Pickleball, their 2-digit breakdown of skill ratings 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.
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.
2. USA Pickleball Tournament Ratings (UPTR)
UPTR is the official USA Pickleball rating for sanctioned tournament play – based on USA Pickleball sanctioned tournament win/loss results. Your UPTR rating is of both a 2-digit or 4-digit variety – with the 4-digit UPTR only used for tournament seeding purposes. If you are a member of the USAPA, you can access your 2-digit (the rounded down version of the 4-digit number) and 4-digit USAPA Tournament Player Ratings (UTPR) in your USAPA.org member profile.
Matches used in calculating UTPRs come from USA Pickleball sanctioned tournaments using PickleballTournaments.com – USA Pickleball’s approved tournament software. Rec matches/games do not factor into one’s UPTR nor do tournaments that did not use PickleballTournaments.com.
PROS: More accurate than self ratings.
CONS: Score of the match doesn’t matter (only win/loss result). UPTR only factors in USA Pickleball sanctioned tournament results. Does not take into account rec play results. Does not update in real time (calculated weekly). May have age/regional bias.
Developed in 2021 by Steve Kuhn, founder of Major League Pickleball (MLP), DUPR stands for Dynamic Universal Pickleball Ratings and is an effort to bring a more-accurate, unbiased, global rating system to the sport of pickleball.
With overall member disillusionment and frustration with USA Pickleball’s UPTR rating system, DUPR has attempted to fix the shortcomings. The DUPR algorithm gives each player a rating based on results – regardless of event type, location or software provider.
One’s DUPR rating is then continually updated based on how well you performed to expectation. It factors in the following criteria: Did you win? How many points did you score? What type of match was it (rec game, tournament match, league match)?
You’ll, no doubt, hear more-and-more about DUPR in the coming year as they continue to host major and minor league pickleball events as well as DUPR Waterfall events throughout the country.
PROS: More accurate than self ratings. Rec match results do, indeed, factor into DUPR ratings. The score of the match also factors into your DUPR rating.
CONS: DUPR is relatively new and it takes time for players to “adopt” a new rating system. Currently updates weekly.
In November, 2022, it was announced that the APP Tour would partner with Tennis’ UTR (Universal Tennis Ratings). Many consider UTR to be the gold standard for tennis and the best rating system available. It’ll be super interesting to see how effective UTR will be in adding pickleball to its “menu.” This will surely give UPTR and DUPR some high-level competition. Stay tuned for updates.
PROS: The “Gold” standard for tennis.
CONS: Has yet to be integrated into pickleball.
Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced Skill-Level Designations
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. However, most players will not have an official UPTR or DUPR rating.
Pickleball skill level designations at these venues are typically much more subjective in nature with players generally being classified as “novice/beginner,” “intermediate” or “advanced.”
The following pickleball skill level classifications are very “unofficial” and relative.
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. Various rating system platforms – including UPTR, DUPR and UTR – desire to remove that subjectivity.
Having an objective and accurate rating system is a useful tool for comparing skill levels with others and allows you to play with similarly skilled players in tournaments and leagues. As with all systems, however, there are certain limitations to each.
See you on the courts!