Pickleball Age vs. Skill

North Carolina Pickleball

Special Age/Skill Edition



by Ford Roberson, SSIPA President

This is another article in the debunking SSIPA series written to help players understand tournament formats and their advantages and disadvantages based on providing a fair and level competitive playing field for pickleball tournaments.  Have you heard players say, “A 3.5 player has certain skills regardless of age, all 3.5 players are the same.” Wow, can you find any player that is in the 60+ age categories that believes that statement. If you can, they are clearly the exception rather than the rule.  SSIPA was founded on the belief that older players were overwhelmed by playing players 10 or more years younger than themselves.

Let’s take a few moments to look at and understand the different tournament formats and how they benefit certain players.  The philosophy of each tournament format is based on the beliefs held by groups of players within both age groups and skill levels.  The four basic types of tournaments are: 1) skill only, 2) age only, 3) skill/age, and 4) age/skill. Understanding each format will help you decide what might be your personal best format for fair competition at both your age and skill level.

Skill only tournaments:  Just like it reads, these tournaments are only concerned with your skill level, regardless of age, all players at a skill level entered will be grouped together.  All 3.0, 3.5, 4.0, 4.5, and 5.0 are competing against each other in a group. Exceptions managed by a tournament director within skill groups do occur, often in smaller tournaments or in areas where there are skill voids.  A skill void is where there are only a few players within any skill level. In pickleball in general there are only a few 5.0 players in certain locals. Some states have less than 20 players in the entire 5.0 grouping. In these cases, tournament directors combine skill groups to make brackets for the tournament based on brackets sizes and player numbers within a skill level.  In other words, 4.5 and 5.0 may need to be combined.

Age only tournaments: These tournaments use age only groupings and ignore completely skill levels.  Common age groupings are 19-34, 35-49, 50-59, 60-70 and 70+. Age only tournaments once again, may combine age groups based on the tournament director’s decisions.  In an extreme case, depending on the number of entries, you might just have two groupings of the under 50 and 50+ in age. These age groups are used mostly in tournaments where the competitive levels are limited to high skilled players.  NAGA and State Games of America have generally in the past been age only tournaments. Players with high skills dominate the podium in this type of tournament.

Skill/Age tournaments: These tournaments combine age groups within skill levels as the competitive format.  When entering these tournaments, players enter their respective skill level at a certain age, often thinking that there are enough teams to make a bracket.  After traveling sometimes long distances, only to find out that their skill has been combined into multiple age groups. An example would be 4.0 skill level with age groups 50+, 60+ and 70+ or 4.0: 50+ when you are 77 years old competing with players 25 years younger than yourself.

Age/Skill tournaments:  These tournaments combine skill groups within age allowing for various skills to compete within an age group.  The idea of using this format is that older players skills are often closer due to physical limitations than those of lower age groups.  However, this format allows players the most flexibility since players may still play down in age to compete with younger players of the same skill level.  This format gives the players more choices rather than having them made for them. In all tournaments, players may choose to play down in age and up in skill.  This last format is the one used by SSIPA to give players the greatest number of choices and options.

In conclusion:  Since SSIPA is a player driven association, it desires to protect the best interest of players in the 60+ age categories.  Following the SSIPA tournament guidelines in SSIPA circuit events gives players the SSIPA guarantee that they will not be forced at the last minute by tournament directors to play younger players unless they desire to do so.

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