When entering a tournament, the two main things to consider are the type of tournament and your partner selection.
A hat draw tournament is just that. Your pick your level and your name are then placed in a hat. Your name and your partners name are then picked randomly and that determines who will be your partner will be for the duration of that tournament.
A rotating partner tournament is just what the name suggests. You will be assigned a court with 4 other players. The players will be grouped by skill level. You will then proceed and play one game with each player. Then the player with the most points will move up in level, the player with the least points will move down and the two players in the middle will stay at the same level.
In these types of tournaments, the games are played to a score of 11 points and you do not need to win by two. A player is usually awarded 2 bonus points for winning. What makes these fun is that you do not need to win all your games to move up or even win the whole thing. In this case if a player lost a few games but they were close he or she still would have a chance of moving up or even winning.
A skill-based tournament is based on the official rating system of 2.0 to 5.0. If the tournament is sanctioned, you will need to be a member of the Pickleball Association and your rating will be official if the tournament is sanctioned. If it is not a sanction tournament then it is based on a self- rating.
When picking a partner, it is best to find someone at or near your level. If your partner has more tournament experience than you do, all the better. It is also obviously better to find a partner that you know and that you already play with on a regular basis. For example, knowing that they are “fast” knowing that they have a good dink game etc. are all critical factors on procuring a partner.
I would also suggest taking the time to pick a partner on your own. Many tournaments will offer to pair you up with someone. They mean well but oftentimes this leads to disaster because you do not “know” this partner and worse yet they could very well be well below or above your skill level which could be very detrimental to both parties. If possible find someone you know as opposed to being paired with a “random” partner.
Also, take the facility into account. At the smaller venues and especially the recreation centers the ratings may be skewed lower and at the more “hard core” facilities the ratings may be skewed higher to reflect a more “true” rating. You may sign up for 3.5 level and do very well at your local YMCA. On the other hand, you may sign up for 3.5 at more serious facility and proceeded to get wiped out. The people who are or are perceived to be good at some rec centers may have trouble competing at the more hardcore facilities. There is nothing wrong with either scenario just something you should know. The rec centers are usually (but certainly not always!) for people whom are playing on a social basis. On the other hand, there are some facilities that attract the much higher-level players including some that are grooming professional level players. Be aware that being “good” at a rec center, you may not be as “good” at a facility that fosters more advanced play.