There are a variety of ways in which Pickleball games are set up. The various terms used to describe them can get a bit confusing. Especially to a new player. This article will seek to set the record straight. Knowing this will increase your skill level and make games more enjoyable for all players involved.
Open play is just that. This means that all courts are open and anyone can play on any court at any time. This will usually be advertised as such. “Open Play Today From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.” Depending on how competitive you are or want to be, this type of game may require a bit of trial and error. The idea here is that levels of competition will seek their own level. You may go on a court and get wiped out. If this happens don’t worry about it and move to another court that is more appropriate for your skill level. This is a good time to play with your friends or family who may be just starting. You can take them to any game and teach them how to play. It is not uncommon for people to say: “My friend here is a beginner and needs to learn the game.” The higher skill level players should accept this because after all that is the nature of open play. All courts are open to players of all skill levels. This is also increasingly common on various municipal courts.
Social play is design for lower skill levels who aren’t necessarily concerned with aggressive play, honing their skill levels on a hard-core basis etc. Many players start in this manner and do move on to become very competitive players. Others play social play indefinitely. This is for the player who just wants to get out there have fun and get some exercise. You will often find these kinds of players laughing, hooting and hollering and just plain having fun! The amount of light hearted taunting can be a nice change of pace for almost any player.
Structured play is just what the name would imply. A court or courts are set up to play games on various skill levels. The designations are usually novice, intermediate and advanced. You just play in the court that corresponds to your skill level. Unlike open play this can sometimes cause conflicts because people may be on or perceived to be on the “wrong” court. However, just like open play eventually as the play continues there should be a “natural fit” within the first hour of play or so. Depending on the turn out and number of courts you may be asked by other players to move up. For example, if short a player on the advanced court may ask an intermediate player to come and play on the advanced courts. If you are up for it by all means give it a go.
Registered play is just that, a player must register with the facility. This is done to keep the courts from getting over crowded or perhaps to keep room for tennis or other sports. In a lot of cases there is registered Pickleball play so that there is still room for tennis and other activities that may be going on at the same time.
A ladder is a from of registered play. The idea here is that it is a finite number of players (see above re: registered play) at similar skill levels. What happens here is that people start on a court and depending on if they win or lose they move up or down to the “higher” or “lower” courts. This is very good for those players wanting to up their skill levels. Obviously the more you move up the higher your skill level the more you move down the lower your skill level. This is set up by skill level. A typical ladder will be set up for 3.5 to 4.0 players and another ladder may be set up for 4.5 and above. If you do not meet the skill level requirements, please be respectful and do not come to the ladder play days. This is designed for those who want to really up their skill levels.
A challenge court is an open court with the idea that a game is started and then a team challenges. The team that wins stays on until they lose. This is a lot of fun because the idea here is that if a team wins a few games in a row, the other teams are very eager to compete and dethrone the players that have won multiple times. This is a great way for intermediate and higher-level players to compete and really see which teams are better. At times people may stay on this court for many games in a row. You will often-times see very competitive games and even people cheering when multiple game winners get dethroned! Note: while anyone is welcome on the challenge court it is usually reserved for the better players at the time. If you are a novice and you go on the challenge court and you lose 11-0 then so be it. This is just what the name implies in that you are directly challenging the prior winners. I would recommend that anyone intermediate and above at least give this a try. This is also a good way to determine where your skill level is compared to other players. If you are intermediate or advanced and find yourself amongst all novice players, you can usually ask your local facility to set up a challenge court. In most cases the facility will be happy to oblige.
Private games are increasingly taking place at peoples’ homes. As the popularity of Pickleball increases more and more people are converting home tennis courts into Pickleball courts. Some are even constructing them from scratch! Private games can also take place in private tennis clubs or in general private sports clubs. A lot of private tennis facilities are now offering at least some Pickleball. A private game could also take place on a rented tennis court and also at municipal courts that are popping up all over the country. This may take place for social, business or skill level reasons. At times people just prefer to play with their friends/family, using Pickleball they way golf is often used that is to say playing with business associates and this is also often used at the highest echelons of skill levels. There are players who are or who are attempting to go pro and really cannot have lower level players “polluting” their game. On the surface this may seem rather arrogant at times. However, usually it is not. It is just a matter of these players are at the highest levels and must seek out games at their own level.
I hope you have found this useful. Remember open play is just that. Anyone can go on any court. Don’t worry about it because as described above players will naturally seek out their own level. As you progress feel free to challenge yourself to the other forms of play. If you are seeking to increase your skill level a fun idea is to play open play as much as you can and then hit the challenge court from time to time. You might just surprise everyone and even yourself as to how much your skills have increased!