So, you’ve entered a tournament in the 50+ bracket within your skill level. You arrive to find that because of a lack of younger players to form their own bracket, your 50+ division has now become a 19+/35+/50+ division. To add insult to injury, one of the teams you will play has a kid on it! Oops, sorry, a junior player (under 18) partnered with a 50+ year old. Your anxiety starts. Is this fair? How can a kid play in the 50+ division? This isn’t what I signed up for.
Well, if you look at the information section of your tournament registration you’ll probably find that combining age divisions, and sometimes skill divisions based on those entered, is clearly stated.
Then, if you look at the USA Pickleball website page of Tournament Sanctioning rules, you’ll find that this is perfectly legal and as juniors start playing more, the likelihood of this happening will increase, until there are enough younger players to allow for their own age divisions.
To read the entire section of the rule, scroll down to the Junior Competition section of the Tournament Sanctioning page. I found the wording of this section a bit confusing, but after a lot of re-reading, and an email to the USA Pickleball Competition Chairperson for clarification, I think I have an understanding of what it says.
- Junior teams (both players are juniors) may play up in any junior age division or into the 19+ adult division. They may NOT enter a division higher than 19+ unless the brackets have to be combined due to lack of players to fill a division.
- A junior team may play in a 19+/35+ division if combination is necessary to form a bracket. However, the 50+ bracket cannot be combined with the 19+ or 19+/35+, if there is a junior team.
- If there are not enough teams to form a bracket with the 19+ and 35+ combined, the junior team must play up to the next SKILL level in the appropriate age division. (For example, a 3.0 junior team, must play up to 3.5 19+ if there are not enough 19+/35+ players in the 3.0 division)
However, none of those rules apply to the scenario I put before you in the first paragraph. In that situation, we have a junior player partnered with a 50+ year old. Let’s continue with exactly what the rule says.
- In the event that there is one player who is a junior and one who is not, they can play in the 19+ bracket and the next age bracket that needs to be combined.
In the above scenario, the 19+/35+/50+ divisions are combined, therefore the junior player is eligible to play in that blended division, as there is no lower one available. To add an additional scenario for explanation, if there was a 19+/35+ division, that is the division the team would play in, and the 50+ partner would play down into that age group with his junior partner.
When you think about all of this, it really does make sense. But, understandably there will be some unhappy older players when they find they are competing against younger, faster players with a whole lot of energy! There’s the argument that a 3.5 is a 3.5, no matter the age. Whether you buy into that theory or not, now is the time for the older player’s experience and strategy to overcome the younger player’s speed and agility.
I think we all would agree that pickleball isn’t just for “old folks” anymore. This type of scenario is an example of the growing pains we have begun to experience as we build our junior programs. We have a long way to go to, but I think pickleball is catching on in the junior ranks. USA Pickleball Ambassadors work hard at getting junior programs started in their regions. Local clubs can help with this process by inviting and welcoming junior players to come out and play anytime, or even by setting aside one night a week for a junior program with adult mentors.
The next step after building a group of junior players, is to include a junior division in local club tournaments or leagues. If you don’t have enough juniors to have a stand-alone division, create a junior/parent or junior/grandparent division. Or even just junior/adult team competition opportunities.
These ideas not only begin to involve junior players, but also help older players adapt to younger opponents.
The USA Pickleball website has a Junior section that might help you with your junior programs, including a curriculum for teaching new, young players. Also, be sure to check out the Youth Program Provider (YPP) membership page which offers:
- Youth Pickleball Playbook and Activity Cards
- Access to Discounted, Multi-Player Equipment Packs
- Free Access to Youth Pickleball Video Series
- Receive a digital copy of Pickleball Magazine and Newsletter
Thank you for following Crazy Pickleball Lady. With Covid-19, many of our pickleball schedules have been impacted. Lets all hope that we get past this pandemic soon, and can meet again on the courts in person.
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