From the perspective of getting the largest number of perhaps similarly-skilled people on the courts, nothing beats the Round Robin (RR) format.
(For those of you who already understand the RR concepts completely, and only want the RR rotation sheets or other materials, skip this article, click to the next page, download what you need, and enjoy.)
For those of you who don’t understand Round Robins, they are actually pretty simple. Let’s tell a little story….
1. Your club, (herein renamed the Anytown Pickleball Club, or APC), has set aside two hours and four courts for a six-game 3.5-level RR, every Wednesday morning from 10 AM – 12 PM. (Lucky ducks, those 3.5s…getting the prime times and all…). You have been given courts 5-8 for this purpose.
2. Your APC policy states that all players must arrive 15 minutes before the scheduled start of the Round Robin. (This is because there is a tiny bit of paperwork to do before you start, and because you only have a two-hour time limit. Two hours is sufficient time for six games and usually you can play a seventh game for those who have “bys”, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.)
3. Because you have only four courts available to you, you know you can have 16 to 19 people playing. (“19?” you ask..and, yes, you can have 19 players in a four-court Round Robin but more on that in a moment…for right now this is an easy example.)
4. You looked at the sign-up sheet when you get there and know you will have 16 people. You fill ’em in on the RR schedule sheet by first name, last initial added if you have six people named Dave or something.
4.2 You are utilizing an electronic sign-up tool, which means you can skip to number 6, maybe number 7. We use (and certainly recommend) SignUpGenius – there are many others.
5. You gather your players together and read off the numbers. You then thumb-tack or magnetic-strip the sheet up next to the Round Robin rotation sheet (check it out here to follow along).
6. Since you are one of the players, you have assigned yourself #1. No harm in being #1, right? You look at the sheet (again, click the above link if you don’t have it open already). You see that you are assigned, in this first game, to Court #8, that you will be playing with player #5, that you will be playing against players #10 and #7, and that you will be on the bottom of the court.
BTW, The bottom is indicated by your number being shown BELOW the “vs.” indicator of course…but as per APC’s conventions, this also means that you are on the SOUTH side of the courts and in the APC – your club – the NORTH side always serves first, so you will be RECEIVING serve.) Thus you know your opponents, court assignment, court side and if you serve or receive, simply by looking at the chart.
(Note: Some other clubs may decide differently in terms of which side is top or bottom and which side serves first, but any decision made is good for the entire RR. T+he way the APC does it in this example is pretty much how we have seen it done in several clubs. It works well.)
7. Because of time constraints, your RRs are played out to win-by-ONE instead of by two. In your first game, you win 11-8, a great game. You come off and do nothing with that score. You know some clubs track scores for different purposes but yours does not. So, instead of having to write anything down, you simply get a drink of water, chat with friends until everyone is finished their game, and you look at the chart again, which now shows you play game #2 with player #6, on the bottom of court #5, against 13-11…and again you are receiving. Easy-Peasy, right? Right!
You go on and play the remaining 5 games and have a great time and laugh a lot and enjoy the evenly matched play, playing with and against different folks in each game.
Some other thoughts about RRs and running them, not in any particular order:
1. If you had 17, 18 or 19 people, you would still have a four-court RR but you would have 1, 2 or 3 “Byes”, meaning that some people would sit out one game. These folks are clearly identified on each of the 17, 18 or 19-person RRs respectively. To be ultra-obvious, if you had an eighteen-person, four-court Round Robin, only 16 players will play any one game, meaning that two different people are gonna sit out every game. And so, where other folks have completed all six games, you will still have 12 individuals who have only finished five games…and then they group together on three courts (4 X 3) and play THEIR sixth game.
2. Since the above is, time-wise, a seventh game, you have options where time is severely limited (e.g., if you have a 12 PM – 2 PM RR coming in right behind you in this example). One option is to make ALL games nine points to insure enough time for a seventh game. Another is to create time limits and use a timer (we used to say a “portable kitchen timer” but now we recognize people simply use the timers they’ve all downloaded onto their phones with great Tibetan Bowl or Railroad Whistle timer tones and stuff). The timer in the case where you are for sure running a seventh (Bye) game would be set at 17 or 18 minutes and the seventh game would only be nine points. Or you can not worry too much about it…it usually works itself out and if you have to stop, you stop.
3. The above implies you are not collecting and using the data for anything. We strongly recommend that you don’t try to use the data. Here we are not in accord with one of the two clubs we are currently associated with, which does collect and tries to use the data to support ratings, to suggest people move up and down within RRs, and to stimulate yet other worms in that whole huge can of worms that semi-subjectively evaluating your peers always turns into. Just remember this is a RR, NOT a shootout or a ladder….which are different types of organized play entirely. The objective of a Round Robin in our opinion is to get good, consistent competition with and against different folks. It’s competitive but nowhere near as “life and death” as ladder play or shootouts, which we will talk about elsewhere.
4. Timing-wise, advertise and stick to the following rule. Set a time for check in at least ten and perhaps fifteen minutes ahead of the start time, and if people are not there by the required check-in time, they don’t play. You aren’t the pickle-police and of course you will make exceptions from time to time (like when you really want them to show, even late, because they make an even number – 12, 16, 20, etc. – and even numbers divisible by four insure there are no byes and no seventh game.)
5. While most RRs are self-rated, meaning people set whatever skill-level they believe they are and play in that RR, some RRs are USAPA-rated, meaning people MUST hold a current USAPA rating at that RR’s level to play (in the case of our example, 3.5). The USAPA-rated RRs are the MOST competitive because people mostly really are at that skill level, instead of playing up, down or sideways to fit their own desire or the demands of their schedules e.g Tee-times and the like.
More on that…
We have seen and experienced almost every situation that self-rated RRs can promote, such as people wanting to play up to improve, wanting to play down to regain confidence after a bad tournament outing, people considering themselves better than they are, arbitrarily taking themselves up a notch after a good tournament, playing in various different levels in the same week just ‘cuz you don’t monitor it, and so on. Throughout this site we will address these and other issues but don’t bother telling us about it – we have been there and seen it already. And we still firmly believe in RRs as the most democratic way to insure good, consistent competition.
6. If you have regular RRs, you will also want regular RR Captains…one for each Round Robin. They are also tasked with finding their own replacement if they need to be off a week to go fly-fishing on the Deschutes or something. (Well, hey, we DO live in Bend, OR. in the summer…)
For all the RR materials you will need, go here.