With the Huntsman Games just around the corner, I started thinking about pickleball tournaments. Particularly about the folks that woke to find that the event they wanted to enter was already filled.
After swapping stories with friends at a recent tournament about some of their experiences, I decided to contact the person that has her finger on the pulse of pickleball tournaments, Melissa McCurley. Melissa and her brother, Greg Thompson, purchased PickleballTournaments.com from Bob and Jettye Lanius in August 2014. A true “RV Pickler”, Melissa travels over 6000 miles a year in her 2016 Fleetwood Bounder. Despite her incredibly busy schedule she was willing to answer a few questions:
Melissa, I’m sure you have heard from frustrated senior players that weren’t able to get into the Huntsman Senior Games.
Absolutely…it is not only the Huntsman. Many of the popular destination tournaments fill up very quickly. But, I hear just as many comments from younger players who feel that there aren’t enough under 50 events. And then there are the over 70’s who would prefer to compete in a full field within their own age group…they also feel they are being squeezed out.
The game is growing at a very rapid pace, but somewhat uneven pace as it relates to the ages of players playing the game. We know that almost 90% of people playing pickleball are over 50. Until the growth has filled in the tournament brackets for the under 50’s, over 50’s and the over 70’s we all need to find a way to support each as we have no choice but to combine brackets as they are just not large enough in many cases to make their own age brackets..not always the case, but many times more than not it is. It’s part of the growing pains. 🙂
Some have suggested that spots be reserved for certain players. For example, all 2015 medal winners of the State Games of America automatically qualify for the 2017 games…or 30 spots are reserved for 5.0’s. Care to offer an opinion? Any recommendations regarding tournament registration?
I do like the idea of medal winners from prior years automatically qualifying for the following year. As far as reserved spots….for larger tournaments I do think there should be a per event limit during the registration for a period of time so that it allows for “equal” opportunity for all divisions within an event to receive participants…..this is something the USAPA Nationals Team put in place this year and I thought it was a great idea. Managing the registrations in this manner (limiting teams per division in an event) prevents some divisions from becoming super brackets which fill up the entire tournament day; while others are in smaller divisions, but can no longer take additional participants, because there is just simply no more hours in the day to take more teams. So my advice, plan your tournaments out as far as reasonably possible, line up your partners and sign up early!!
Do you think the skill level of tournament participants accurately reflects the skill level of pickleball players?
For the most part I think so. This year the skill level playing in the Huntsman breaks down this way:
3.0 — 121 players
3.5 — 184 players
4.0 — 152 players
4.5 — 128 players
5.0 — 62 players
You will always have the new tournament player that may come in at a lower skill level just to test to see if they are truly at the skill level they’ve been given by their club or told they are playing at….sometimes they find they were playing above their non tournament skill level and sometimes they find they are playing at or below their non tournament skill level.
Would having a non-sanctioned qualifier, followed by a sanctioned event, enable more people to participate?
If this is in reference to a qualifier for Nationals, I don’t think so. Right now the limitation in how many players can participate is in number of courts and hours. Plus there has to be a limitation or else you could find yourself having the never-ending pickleball tournament! All tournaments, no matter the sport only have so many players that can play, pickleball is no different….in fact, it seems as if pickleball can accommodate more players than most sports.
Is there one factor more than others that limit the size of a tournament?
Number of court hours and days equally have influence on the limitation of a tournament size, but we could have all the courts and hours in the world, if we didn’t have our volunteers there would be no tournaments. One of the things that I respect the most in this game is the people involved with it and the countless hours they give, giving back…it’s what makes this game so special, the great people involved with it. Other factors limiting size either too big or too small is location, venue, costs, just to name a few.
Do you have stats on # of tournaments? Participants? Growth?
From a pickleballtournaments.com perspective, in 2014 we saw 93 large tournaments, in 2015 we saw 130 and in 2016 we are at 230 and counting. Inside these tournaments we are seeing growth anywhere from 10% to 50% and in some cases 100% in the follow on year. In the case of the Fall Brawl, when Little Valley went from 12 courts to 24 courts the Fall Brawl doubled in size instantly. This is an example where the number of courts and court hours was a limitation and now doubling the number of courts is still not keeping up with the demand. We saw the USAPA Great Lakes Regional go from 250 participants in 2015 to 350 in 2016. This is an example of how much pickleball is growing in the midwest. Likewise, in Maine for the USAPA Atlantic Regional we saw this tournament go from 150 players in 2015 to 350 in 2016 making it the largest racket sport tournament to ever be held in Maine. These are just a few of examples of the growth being seen inside of tournaments and as we know only about 10% of players playing in local clubs actually come outside of their clubs to play tournaments…..so maybe the estimate of 8M people playing by 2018 is low…..who knows.
Do you think the USAPA is concerned about tournament size?
I don’t know. That is something you would need to discuss with the USAPA. In my opinion, I suspect it’s a concern, if for no other reason than the demand it is having on the referee programs. The tournaments are growing faster than referees can be produced, which is causing some tournaments to forego sanctioning until their referee program can catch up.
Thanks, Melissa! Any final thoughts you want to share about pickleball?
We are in a historic time and each of us are, in our own way, is leaving our marks on the history of this great sport!!! If we just think about the future of the game…a new school sport, a college sport, a professional sport….the Olympics, which is something that some of us may see in our lifetime. Nobody knows exactly what will come next, but I do know that each of us are important in making these visions a reality.