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11 Tournament Tips to Get You Ready for Pickleball Gold

By Stephen Bass

on Aug 29, 2023

How to prepare for your first pickleball tournament

Once you've been playing pickleball for a little while, you might wonder how your gameplay stacks up against others in a competitive environment. 

Playing in pickleball tournaments can be a great way to test your competitive edge and meet other pickleball enthusiasts.

How do I prepare for my first pickleball tournament? 

But playing in your first tournament will likely bring up a variety of questions: What paddle should I use? What should I wear? How do I choose the right partner? 

As with any tournament, a little preparation can help ensure you succeed on the court. 

Pickleball preparation: What to do before your first tournament

1. Know your pickleball tournament schedule

Most tournaments start early and have events running simultaneously throughout the day. Make sure you know the start time for your skill level and plan to show up early to the tournament site.

Make sure you have your bag packed for a long tournament day and ensure the clothes and equipment you plan to use are allowed

Next, find out if there are warm-up courts available on-site or if you need to find other courts nearby to warm up. Think about how long it typically takes you to hit your peak performance and plan to warm up for that length of time before the tournament begins. Remember: You can warm up too much!

 2. Get enough sleep before the tournament

Some people get excited the night before a tournament and have trouble sleeping. Try to clear your mind the night before, whether through a good book, comforting move, or meditation session. Figure out how to clear your mind and get a good 8-hour rest.

 3. Fuel your body for performance

You should test out which food will be right for you before tournaments.  Eat a big, protein-packed meal the night before if you are playing in the morning. Grab a solid breakfast, such as eggs or yogurt before heading out. Some people do not play well on a full stomach — if this is you, be sure to bring healthy snacks such as granola, fruit, and beef jerky to graze on throughout the tournament.  

 4. Pick a complementary pickleball partner

Find the right partner for you, not just someone who is a good player. Selecting the right partner can be difficult, and sometimes a partnership won’t work out, but don’t get frustrated — it is part of the process.

Think about what type of players you have played well with in the past. Do you like an aggressive partner? Do you like a patient partner? Or, do you prefer a partner who is a mix of aggressive and patient? Figure out your preference and find someone who fits that description in your skill level.

Also, consider how a person reacts to the game — if you've seen a potential partner get angry during recreational play, they might not be good in a tournament setting. Although tournaments are competitive, they should also be fun! 

And of course, make sure YOU are a partner others want to play with. Read more on how to be a doubles partner others want to play with.

Check out these other preparation tips from Selkirk Pro John Sperling. 

 5. Prepare a game plan with your partner

Talk with your partner and go in with a set plan. Are you stacking or only stacking on the serve? Do you have set plays you want to try? Make sure you know what you want to do before you show up. 

Need a place to start? Mark Renneson gives us 5 Pickleball Strategies you can discuss and practice before the big day:

Tips for playing during a pickleball tournament

1. Use your timeouts wisely

Imagine a scenario where you lost three points in a row off long rallies. You are tired and the other team has the momentum. What are you going to do?  Are you going to keep playing and hope the momentum swings in your favor? Or are you going to call a timeout? Call those timeouts — a reset is crucial tool when your opponents go on runs.   

 2. Don’t hit everything — know when to let the ball go out

Nerves can make you hit more out balls than usual. You might feel like you want nothing to get past you, but often people will come out swinging to start tournaments, so don’t be afraid to let one go to get a feel for how much topspin an opponent can generate.

Think about batting in baseball — sometimes you want to watch one pitch to get a feel for what they have that day. Also, make sure you and your partner are communicating which balls are out. You're not alone in your choice to leave a ball!

Use this drill from Tyson McGuffin to work on leaving those out balls:

 3. Forget your errors

It may be difficult, but while you're playing, don’t worry about your errors. You will have time to focus on your mistakes during a timeout or after the game. 

During the game, you need to focus on the next point. Worrying about your errors will just cause you to make more. Have a next-point mindset.

 4. Use your best pickleball shots

What are your best shots? When trouble strikes, go to your best shots.  Do you hit amazing drives? Start driving more and get your partner to shake and bake. 

Is your soft game smoother than butter? Start dinking to set up your counterattacks. Don’t play into your opponent’s game. Play to your strengths. 

 5. Keep the ball in play

OK, this sounds obvious, but keeping the ball in play at first is a great way to get your nerves calmed down. Keeping the ball in play and making your opponent move around will get you far.

Leave those third drops a little higher at first, don’t ruin your momentum by hitting drops into the net. This tip won’t take you to the pro level, but will keep you competitive.

 6. Focus on hitting to the middle of the court

Get the ball in the middle, especially if your opponents are being aggressive. Dink middle, drive middle, and third shot drop middle.

You shouldn't do this all the time, but do it more than you were thinking. 

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