Why Pickleball Ratings are Overrated

When you first stepped on a pickleball court and before you made your first dink or first serve, you are assigned a rating. As a new player, you are generally rated from a range of 1.0-2.0. Your rating will increase as you improve and match the criteria established by USA Pickleball’s Definition of Playing Skills Rating.

Ratings are useful for organizing tournament brackets and they can serve as a guide for recreational players seeking comparable competition and venues to play. But some players get wrapped up in ratings like some school kids obsess about getting “A’s” on their report cards.

Listed below are five observations (and reservations) about player ratings:
1. For most recreational players, ratings represent their own subjective judgement as to how they perform. Not surprising, some (not many) players may over exaggerate their skills. Part of it may stem from ego; part of it may stem from a misunderstanding of what the rating entails. It’s similar to when employees and managers complete their yearly personal evaluations—they tend to exaggerate their skills and results.

2. Ratings are a moving target. Some players have been known to rate their skill levels higher on Meet-up profiles but lower it when they register for tournaments. Ratings are based on performance—it literally can move up and down based on how one plays within a day or time period. Ratings may not account for slumps or jumps in improved play.

3. There aren’t enough metrics behind the ratings. In football, a Quarterback receives his rating based on pass attempts, completions, yards passing and interceptions. In pickleball, it’s based on wins and losses on what some competitive players complain is an uneven playing field at times. At a competitive level, your doubles rating may be influenced by the performance of your partner, for better or worse. There really are no metrics for recreational players—-moving up is based on the player’s comfort and competitive levels.

4.The ratings criteria established by the USA Pickleball’s Definition of Playing Skills Rating is not definitive or clear and is subject to interpretation. For example: what constitutes a “high majority of serves/returns” to achieve 4.0 status? 60%? 75? 90%? What does “understands fundamentals,” or “fundamental rules” as cited for 3.0s mean? The term “consistency” is used throughout all the ratings but that really is very subjective term and needs clarification.

5. The USA Pickleball’s Definition of Playing Skills Rating does not include the following for ranking: player’s fitness, mobility (court coverage) court awareness, hand speed, reaction time, athleticism etc. It has a very modest benchmark for footwork for a 4.5 rating…“Has good footwork and moves laterally, backward, and forward well.” I think the footwork criteria cited for 4.5 is an appropriate criteria at 3.5 and certainly no later than 4.0. In other sports, a player’s ranking (or draft status) is based primarily on physical attributes. Pickleball needs to consider adding those criteria.

Final Thoughts:
USA Pickleball has initiated a project to improve the players rating system. However I think this project is more intended for tournament players as opposed to social or recreational play. The sport is young and as part of the growing pains, needs to add metrics for professional and tournament play as well as developing improved tracking of tournament player performance.

Ratings can be used to segregate players and venues. In some cases, it serves as a firewall to prevent a crossover of advanced beginners to intermediate play and advanced intermediate to advanced play. At some recreational meet-ups, organizers are creating their own rating system to discourage participants to play at their venues.

Pickleball is changing dramatically in terms of participants, exposure, and opportunities. Hopefully the “open” culture survives and that hubris, ego and greed does not change it.

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