Pickleball Ratings; Solving One Big Problem

Could it be that you, too, are tired of being the “Pickleball Police” in your club? Tired of trying to enforce skill pickleball ratings with people who either don’t care about them or disagree with them, simply so your club can have well-balanced organized play in its Round-Robins and Shootouts? Well, there’s hope you may be able to retire your police force – ‘cuz there may soon be a new sheriff in town!

Within the next few months, we believe pickleballratings.com may well offer one very cool and mostly-automated solution to this, the second-largest problem faced by most all pickleball clubs (right behind the pervasive lack of sufficient courts).

But let’s go back a second. Why does the lack of pickleball ratings create so much Strum und Drang (read this as “upset club members”), anyway? In other words, if you don’t already, why should you care? Easy! Especially in emerging and growing clubs, people are uncertain as to which skill-level they should be, and, if unsure, they often want to play at a higher level than they actually are. This creates way too many divisive “discussions” between members and pickleball club board members and others who want to facilitate fair, yet interesting, divisions for the club’s organized play. You especially find these issues among the 3.0 and 3.5 players, but that doesn’t slim down the problem, as those groups represent, typically, 70%+ of any club’s membership.

And, until today, the various processes that have emerged to more accurately rate club players have been somewhat difficult to administer, fairly time-consuming and pretty darn subjective. We actually say that with love, as we’ve been part of the team at the Palm Creek Pickleball Club that wrote the prototype for in-club ratings that is currently being used in many other pickleball clubs today. (Go here to review today’s complete process!)

In the hopes of getting closer to a better answer to the pickleball ratings dilemma, we’ve spent a fair amount of time recently with Kevin, Anne and Brian,  owners and developers of Pickleballratings.com.

pickleball ratings, Pickleball Ratings; Solving One Big Problem, Pickleball.biz, Pickleball.biz

They built their system originally to assist in providing more accurate pickleball ratings for TOURNAMENT players, and that’s still a significant feature of their system. To stay with that for a moment, in the future, the 15% of us who play tournaments can look forward to having our own ratings assessed more accurately based on how many matches we’ve won and who we have won against or lost to. Overall skill ratings will be expressed to a second or third decimal point, like (in A.J.’s case, who feels he has not been playing up to his admittedly too-high standards in the 4.5 bracket), maybe a 4.432 rating or similar.

In order to do this for TOURNAMENT participants, Pickleballratings.com will need to secure timely data feeds from tournaments, and discussions with the relevant providers of that data are in progress, we believe. As that gets done, players in-club will be able to see for themselves the tournament rankings of that club’s tournament players and since they play against those people in-club they will come to see their own ratings as more reliable and accurate. Eventually, a 4.432-rated player in AZ should be comfortable knowing she is roughly as good as a 4.432 in, say, Seattle, The Villages in Florida, or in Dunsmuir, CA where they play on two temporary courts near the Sacramento River…in other words, anywhere, potentially including international locations as well.

But how does that benefit pickleball clubs? Objective skill ratings are of even MORE significance within the clubs, as this makes up 100% (virtually) of all players and not just the 15% sub-set of those who also play in tournaments. Here are the values this new system might have:

  • The system could remove entirely the need for pickleball clubs to adopt or create and manage a system and process to rate their members
  • The new pickleball ratings could be used to seed and create logical and balanced round-robins, shootouts, other organized-play formats and intra-club tournament draws.
  • Training and development groups will find this has value ‘cuz the players will know better who they should be playing against if they want to improve.
  • There will be lots of filters available, so we can see ratings within different ages, geography, gender, etc. as well as one that shows what type of rating — tournament, club, or combined
  • This all, in turn, allows the internal club Ratings Committee to refine its duties. Instead of having to rate multiple players or all club players, they can instead work more closely with players almost ready for the next major level. This group of “almost-ready” next-level players can be easily identified, as they will be the top (say) quarter of their existing group.
  • In larger clubs with adequate facilities, the Court Utilization Group can then determine if there are ALSO needs for new skill-based round-robins or shootouts – say at the 3.25 or 3.75 levels.

So, you ask…how does the system work? It’s not yet ready for prime-time and details are being worked out every day, but right now the pickleballratings.com folks envision that data will be fed from the results of a given pickleball club’s Round-Robins or Shootouts, identifying the players, who they played against, and whether they won each game or not. (This can be done on an ultra-simple single sheet no matter the size of the event.) This data will then be “crunched” using a variation on the mathematical formulations currently used successfully in other sports like Tennis, Badminton, Table-Tennis and many others.

These formulations can be adjusted, but take into account all necessary variables including how terrible a partner you drew actually is, (as we all know, when we lose a game it’s his or her fault), and over time a list of true ratings, expressed again down to several decimal points, will be available within the club for its use.

We still have questions about all of this, of course. This process will cost the clubs something, surely. And we are not yet sure what this pricing model will be, nor are we exactly sure when the system will come “live”. Right now they are assimilating data from club Round Robins and other sources and are working with that data to purify their model further. However, we have hopes that the cost of the service will be be matched by its value given the significance of the problem they are solving and the number of members it will positively impact. And we do know that the group is working hard on getting this out the door so that it can begin to be used, leading to further refinements.

And do we have reservations? Of course we do; in fact, several. We hope that the group concentrates on a few things that are necessary at the club level. First, we hope they make the system affordable for all, without necessitating buying additional soft- or hardware. Second, we hope that it’s very easy to administer and doesn’t replace one set of duties (pickleball policing) with another (additional duties for the Round Robin captains). Lastly, we hope they work closely with the USAPA to insure that organization’s needs are met – so that, over time, this might be a standard in all USAPA clubs.

We’re sure that even more questions remain to be answered and further refinements will be necessary. So far the team at PBR has seemed very open to feedback and questions, and they even told us to tell you that you can reach them with comments or questions via their site as well as the social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram). All said, we wish pickleballratings.com the very best in their efforts, and not just because we are such nice people. It’s more that we are totally tired of dealing with this issue – most everyone we know who is experienced in club management is – and we would relish a good solution.


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