Watching Major League Pickleball (MLP) a few weeks ago got me thinking about “team” sports. Many of us played team sports in our youth. Basketball. Baseball. Volleyball. Soccer. At its core, participation in a team sport involves learning to work with others in order to achieve a common goal.
It builds camaraderie amongst teammates. And friendships. It involves rooting for one another. And encouraging each other when the chips are down.
An Individual Sport that’s also a Team Sport
Prior to my foray into pickleball, I played tennis in both high school and college. While the strategic, tactical, and executional in-match adjustments were individual (it’s an individual sport) and rested solely on me (or me and my partner, if playing doubles), high school and collegiate tennis still had a critical team element to it.
As a team, we were trying to reach 5 match wins first. These 5 match wins could come from any combination of the 6 singles matches or 3 doubles matches.
And then, when the matches were over – win or lose – we celebrated together and simply enjoyed being a part of something bigger than ourselves. A team. It was so much fun!
World Team Tennis
Over the years – since 1973, to be exact – professional tennis has attempted to replicate this team concept with the creation of “World Team Tennis.”
World Team Tennis is a mixed-gender professional tennis league played in a team format – with each team trying to garner the necessary number of “set” wins (amongst different configurations consisting of men’s singles, men’s doubles, women’s singles, women’s doubles, and mixed doubles) to defeat the other team(s).
At the end of the “season,” the two teams with the most match wins play each other for the King Trophy, named after World Team Tennis co-founder, Billie Jean King.
Team Pickleball and MLP
No doubt, using World Team Tennis as a blueprint, Major League Pickleball (MLP) officially launched in September 2021. With 8 teams in the inaugural league, an MLP draft was held on October 1, 2021, to select each team – with each team comprised of 2 men and 2 women. The 8 teams then competed against each other in this event from November 5-8 with the winning team winning the Pritchard Cup, named after the founder of pickleball, Joel Pritchard.
Match configurations in Major League Pickleball were as follows: (1) men’s doubles game, (1) women’s doubles game, and (2) mixed doubles games. Each game was played to 15 points (win by 1). In the event of a 2-2 tie after the gender and mixed doubles play, a final singles match was played to 15 points in which each of the 4 team members took turns playing four rally-scoring points. In this final tie-breaker game, once one team reached 14 points, however, rally scoring was discontinued and points were only won by the player serving.
The debut of MLP was, by all accounts, an unmitigated success. The “team” element is what made the event so appealing. Players who don’t normally partner together were playing together.
The Future of Pickleball Team Tournaments & Pickleball Team Leagues
With the extraordinarily successful debut of Major League Pickleball, tournament directors and league commissioners are, no doubt, taking notice. It was something unique and special. For four days, players were not just playing for themselves – they were also playing for their teammates.
I’m wondering if we’ll see more “team” pickleball events locally in the future. I kind of hope so.
The tournament or league could be run manually – or, like other tournaments and ladder leagues – could be run with tournament/league software.
What do you think? Do team leagues or team tournaments sound fun? We would love to hear your feedback.
See you on the courts.