The thorny issue of ‘leveling’ pickleball play

Every pickleball player was once a beginner. It was awkward: the kitchen, the scoring, where to stand, how to work with a partner. Then something clicks and you move to the next level. And the next. And the next. And the next. You realize strategy can overcome brute force, and that small nuances can make big difference in how often you win. Your muscle memory and instincts kick in. This process is a big part of why pickleball is so popular. If you are opening a pickleball club, you need to think about this issue.

The best pickleball experience is when playing with others at around your own skill level.

judgement scale and gavel in judge office

I met a player in Orlando who had courts near his home, but routinely travelled 45 minutes to a facility where other players at his skill level played. Have you done something similar? This is an example of the power of “leveled” play. The traditional open-play environment most of us learned in is fun, social, and good exercise; but very few public venues are suited to “level” play. (I did find one exception in Incline Village in Lake Tahoe area —– they had a great open play scene with beginner, intermediate and advanced courts – self policed). The beauty of a well-run club is that you can orchestrate and control a cool open play vibe while at the same time “leveling” play. And you will NEED to do this to keep players happy.

The “thorniness” of leveling play

There are a few reasons this issue needs to be carefully addressed so as not to offend or alienate players, and to create fun for everyone. Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced are relatively subjective terms. Most players are likely to categorize themselves reasonably….but not everyone. Example: Everyone hits an amazing shot on occasion, this does not make them an advanced player unless they do it consistently. There are multiple systems of rating people: formal like DUPR, or like having a pro assessment, and informal, where people self-assess.

Note: leveling is an issue at all levels. Beginners do not want to face advanced players, nor vice versa.

“Leveling” applies to open-play, but also to other programming. It is something that needs to be built into your strategic plan because it is a powerful tool for building a loyal player-base. It impacts the way you schedule courts and events, and even impacts your staffing. I played at a small 5-court facility in Rhode Island recently, and guess who jumped-in to fill out the group needed for advanced open play? The gal at the front desk — who was an awesome player.

Pickleball Business Advisors is brothers Bill and John Pryor.  We provide a variety of consulting services based on extensive experience in fitness business development, and research into the fast growing pickleball marketplace.  To initiate a feasibility assessment for your pickleball club, or for other consulting, contact us so we can learn about your project.

Author: Bill

Passionate pickler, entrepreneur, experienced fitness industry executive, startup specialist, business model consultant, mentor and advisor. Contact me to brainstorm, discuss or commiserate! .

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