A pickleball league is a group of pickleball players that compete in organized matches throughout a predetermined period of time. Many pickleball leagues are organized through the United States of America Pickleball Association, or USAPA.
Some leagues are very loosely coordinated between friends or acquaintances, while others are operated by a larger organization.
A majority of pickleball leagues are recreational, where players pay a fee to register and play in the league. These fees go towards various expenses that help the league operate, such as renting court time, training officials, purchasing adequate equipment, and paying any employees. There are both adult and youth leagues that operate through the USAPA and other communal organizations, such as community centers or school clubs. The USAPA has a free tool that allows users to find the pickleball communities closest to them.
There are also professional leagues and tournaments throughout the country that are played for prize winnings, including the US Open Pickleball Championships and the Pickleball Masters.
While there are no exact numbers available for league sizes, the 2018 Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships set a new record purse of $75,000 for the final match.
The USAPA reports a massive 650% overall increase in memberships in six years, indicating the sport's continual growth. There are nearly 7,000 official designated pickleball locations in North America, including one in every US state and Canadian province.
The USAPA Facebook page live streamed official matches to over 1.5 million viewers, while the aforementioned 2018 National Championships entertained viewers on ESPN3 and ESPNEWS.
The Pickleball Channel uploads weekly videos of competitions, contributing further to the steady growth of the game.
Some popular recreational leagues are the USAPA's singles and doubles ladder leagues. Additional leagues are run by organizations such as World Team Pickleball.
Most pickleball leagues are more relaxed and favor the spirit of the game over the intensity of competition, reflecting the laid-back and comeradic attitude of the game itself.
Starting a League
The first step to starting a pickleball club or league is to find enough members. These have to be people willing to contribute to the club, including attracting new members and forkling over some money to get things going.
Finding or creating a pickleball court can be the hardest part of creating a pickleball league. If you are creating a club or league, you probably don't have those resources nearby already. Pickleball courts can be converted from badminton, basketball, or tennis courts.
If you have the support of a group and at least one court set up, the rest of the process is fairly easy. Committing time and energy to actually organize the matches and brackets can be difficult, but pooling resources through regular meetings can solve many of the logistical problems that may arise. Resources like rackets, nets, and balls are relatively inexpensive, especially when purchased by a group.
Maintaining the league through constant expansion and funding is also crucial. Small fees can make a big difference once they're pooled together.
The length of any given pickleball season is completely reliant on the number of participants and their willingness to commit to a lengthy season. That being said, most pickleball leagues are seasonal, lasting a few months or weeks at a time. This allows players to not overcommit, especially newer players that may not have the overall commitment of more established veterans of the sport.
Since pickleball can be played indoors or outdoors, climate seasons are less of a factor than in other sports. However, if a league only has access to outdoor courts, weather can present a problem in certain areas.
Many leagues in the ladder format use a rolling schedule, re-ranking players after each week and allowing teams to opt out of a week before a certain date. These rankings are then used to determine the next round's matches, and so on.
For tournaments, the USAPA recommends setting about nine hours aside just for the competitions themselves. Much more all-around work is required to set up the courts, organize the tournaments, and so forth.
Cost to Join a League
The fees for every league are different based on the reach and comprehensiveness of each organization, but the recommended entry fee for a new league is around $12, with renewal fees as low as $5. This keeps pickleball an affordable hobby for all age groups, adding to the overall inclusivity of the sport.
Clubs and leagues can also raise funds through tournament fees and donations. Keeping entry costs low encourages players to come back and keep playing, building loyalty and excitement within a community.
To register a tournament with the USAPA, there is a base fee of $25 plus additional payments for more exposure benefits. Registering a tournament from USAPA gives your event a larger reach within the pickleball community itself.
More established clubs may offer drop-in hours where players can pay a small fee to come play whenever they want. This allows more flexibility for players who want to develop their game on their own schedule or just play casually.
Top Pickleball Leagues
In professional pickleball, tournaments are favored over league structures. There are very few full-time pickleball players, and it is not recommended for making a living wage by any means.
The biggest pickleball tournaments in the world are the US Open Pickleball Championships and the Bainbridge Cup.
The US Open Pickleball Championships feature specific competitions in men's and women's singles and doubles for bronze, silver, and gold medals.
The Bainbridge Cup is a yearly international pickleball competition hosted by the International Federation of Pickleball. Teams representing different countries compete in an Olympics-style set of matches to determine the overall points winner. The first Bainbridge Cup was held in Madrid, Spain in 2017. Although this is only a one-day competition that resembles a tournament more so than a league, it is noteworthy as an international competition to demonstrate the game's growth beyond North American borders.