Pickleball Player Skill Ratings

UPDATED January 22, 2021
The USAPA has a skill rating system here which is used for tournaments around the world. Unfortunately what is ‘on paper’ is not what occurs on the court. In reality I would be a level 2.5 in a tournament. On paper I am a level 4. These ratings below DO NOT equate to the USA Pickleball skill ratings and so before you enter a tournament, you should ask for assessment from the tournament organisers.

This is our pickleball player skill ratings

  • LEVEL 0 – LEARN TO PLAY, no previous racquet or paddle skills. Has played a racquet sport in the past but does not know how to play pickleball, does not know the rules, does not know how to serve or score. You may be asked to attend a second or third learn to play session to develop your skills before attaining your rating
  • LEVEL 1.0 – NOVICE, learning skills of game, softer play, has difficulty serving and receiving , does not come to the NVZ, plays a more social game, does not attack the ball, very high error rate, does not know the rules, cannot or struggles to understand scoring, does not know where to stand, has attended at least one learn to play session
  • LEVEL 2.0 – BEGINNER, developing skills, low to medium strength play with inconsistent results, does not dink, 75% of serves go in, sometimes moves to the NVZ line but usually is caught playing back, rarely attacks ball or does with inconsistent results, high error rate, plays a more social game, learning rules and scoring
  • LEVEL 2.5 – ADVANCED BEGINNER, developing skills, medium strength play with inconsistent results, tries to dink but usually unsuccessful, 80% of serves go in, able to return different types of serves, moves to the NVZ line, can attacks ball with inconsistent results, high error rate, plays a more competitive game, knows the rules and how to score , knows where to stand without being reminded
  • LEVEL 3.0 – INTERMEDIATE, strong play, attacks ball with inconsistent results, understands all the elements of the game, plays at the NVZ line, can dink with inconsistent results, prefers to hit hard than to dink, medium/high error rate, expects competitive play, knows the rules, can score correctly and knows where to stand to reflect the score
  • LEVEL 3.5 – ADVANCED INTERMEDIATE, strong play, attacks ball with consistent results, understands all the elements of the game, plays at the NVZ line, can dink with consistent results in dinking rallies, use tactics effectively, medium error rate, expects competitive play, knows the rules, can score correctly and knows where to stand to reflect the score
  • LEVEL 4+ – ADVANCED, can use all the elements of the game effectively and consistently, strong play, uses tactics effectively, low error rate, has varied types of serves, expects competitive play, knows the rules and can score correctly and knows where to stand to reflect the score

Playing down or up a group level

We strive to match skill levels however due to numbers, it is not always viable. When playing people of a lower skill level, it is EXPECTED that the high skilled player adjusts their game accordingly for ‘social court’ play sessions only. The higher skilled player can use this time to refine their softer game, and improve their dinking skills. When a ‘competitive court’ session is promoted, then lower skilled players should expect to be challenged and may struggle to return serves and have balls smashed in their direction.

Lower skill level players wanting to play with higher skill level players are EXPECTED to:

  1. Accept they will be given playing advice by their more experienced higher skill level partner and not to ignore this advice
  2. Play at the non volley zone line
  3. Take the time to read (at least) the basic pickleball rules here and know these rules
  4. Understand that they will be playing a challenging game
  5. Learn how to score. Read here how to score here

Level 3 to 4 players should always inform the lower skilled partner they may give playing advice AND lower skilled players should take advantage of playing with higher skilled players and use this time to learn and improve their own game. If a lower skill level player prefers not to receive on court ‘coaching’ then it is best that they play always on the social court and not the competitive court.

Competitive Play

Assigning player skill ratings helps in the selection process for determining who will play in which division for competitive pickleball round robins and tournaments. We understand not all players are happy with their selection; some players believe they are better than they actually are. Because of that we follow a criteria to determine which division players will play in.

Playing in the higher division is not a right, it is earned. We have worked hard at attracting advanced players and they keep coming back due to the higher level of play we offer to them. Lower skilled players often ask to play with the better players so they can be challenged and to help improve their game. We can understand wanting to do this, however if this player plays once a week or even less, these demands are unreasonable.

We want to see those who want to go up a skill level do so. It is a big jump to level 3 and 4. We love seeing all levels grow and keep growing and players improving.

So how can you improve to move up a level?

  1. Practice, practice, practice. Playing games is the slow way to improve. During a session ask if anyone else wants to work on a few drills rather than just games. Col and I are always up for it.
  2. Do you practice serving? Are you serving deep or just getting it over the kitchen line? If you have a bye and there is a free court, ask for some balls and practice your serve.
  3. Can you return an advanced player’s serve? Do you know what you need to do to get the serve back?
  4. Are you a baseline hugger or are you coming to the kitchen ready to play the fast paced level 3/4 game? Work on receiving and running in.
  5. Are you afraid to stand at the kitchen? If the answer is yes, then you certainly are not ready to become a level 3+. None of us like getting hurt, it is just part of the game of being in the way of the ball and being hit.
  6. Do you ever dink in a game? You need to do this as a level 3+.
  7. Do you set yourself a challenge every time you play?
    Examples: getting feet correct for backhand returns, dinking more, communicating with your partner ‘yours’ or ‘mine’, not rushing your shots.
  8. Come to mixed social sessions and ask higher skilled players to help you improve. Ask to play against them, not with them as they will carry you and your errors. Ask them NOT TO PLAY SOFT to you as this gives you a false sense of achievement. DO NOT count your wins, but count your own on court achievements, even if you do not win your game.

There is the criteria to be eligible to play in the advanced player session:

  • You need to be a minimum of a strong level 2
  • You receive and run in consistently
  • You understand why you need to stay back as the serving side
  • You understand the second bounce rule and NEVER hit on the ball on the full
  • More serves go in than go out
  • You have the ability to attack balls
  • You attempt to communicate with your partner
  • If a level 2, you have played at least 4 times socially with us
  • You know how to keep score and where to stand for the serve without being told/reminded by your partner
  • As a level 2, you will accept constructive advice from your ‘advanced’ partner and act on this advice
  • Finally, you own your own paddle

Our competitive sessions are popular and will continue to be if we stand by this criteria. We listen to feedback from the advanced players and will act on this to keep a strong level of competitive play for these sessions. Depending on numbers for Friday night mixed play, level 2 players will play a mix of games with level 1 players and a couple of games with level 3/4 players. We have always done it this way.

How to move to the next skill level?

  • Play more than once a week
  • During warm up sessions, do not play games, practice
  • Make sure you attend ‘learn to play better’ sessions when they are offered
  • Self improvement – watch coaching videos on YouTube, work on muscle memory at home by hitting a ball up against a wall, throwing a ball underarm to help improve your serve
  • Ask to be assessed if you believe you are ready to move to the advanced competitive sessions

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