Skip to content

A Beginner's Guide to Tournament Play

By JT Cooper, GAMMA Brand Ambassador |

So, you have been playing pickleball for a while now and want to take your game to the next level? What’s the next road on your pickleball journey? Well a tournament of course! I’ve been playing tournaments around the Midwest for 2 years now and have had people about to play their first ask me what to expect. So, for all of you thinking about or have made the decision to jump into tournament play, here are some things I have learned that will hopefully help you better prepare; mentally, physically, and emotionally for your first tournament and beyond!


While this seems obvious, you would be surprised how many people I hear saying “I wish I would have brought a jacket” or something similar. Before you play understand not only what kind of weather you’ll be playing in outdoors, but also what kind of facility you could be playing at indoors. For instance, my mixed-doubles partner, Beth Carpenter and I played at an indoor hockey stadium earlier this year at Notre Dame University. We knew it may be cold inside, so we brought extra layers and we were very glad we did! Also think about yourself, are you normally hot, cold, or maybe you sweat a lot like me? I always bring two outfits to pickleball tournaments to change into in case I get too sweaty! Also, ALWAYS BRING TOWELS!!!

Food & Drinks

While this is not a major issue; it is always something to think about, if you are playing in a larger, well-organized event they will usually offer water and/or sports drinks to the players. With that being said, don’t rely solely on the tournament to provide you with hydration! Bring your own cooler with water or sports drinks because staying hydrated while in a tournament is not only important to your health, but it’s important to your success! Also, stay away from sugary, caffeinated drinks before and during a tournament, these things may be great for a while, but there is nothing worse than crashing mid-match.

When it comes to food, many tournaments will offer snack options, usually consisting of some fruit like apples and bananas along with granola bars. While these are great, I have a few set snacks I prefer and know don’t upset my stomach while playing, so I encourage you to bring at least a few snacks you know set well because you will want them for longer lasting tournaments! Some of my favorites are bananas, plain beef jerky (this really solves hunger pains), and Pure Protein bars.


I feel very fortunate to have some great equipment that’s provided by the folks at GAMMA. In my bag, I ALWAYS keep at least 2 paddles, sometimes 3. If something happens and you break one, it’s always a good idea to have a backup or two! Another thing I make sure to have is extra over grip, there’s nothing worse than playing 2 or 3 matches and realizing your grip is slick and there is nothing you can do about it! This has saved me and a couple of my partners a few times! Another thing I like to at least bring is an extra pair of shoes to play in. While I can’t imagine something happening, I did play against a guy whose shoe pulled a “Zion Williamson” and he had to tape one together at the end of each match!

The Tournament Itself

While many tournaments are straight forward with kind of “What you see is what you get” regarding rules, format, and play, this is not always the case. While you can most certainly have confidence that when a big tournament like ‘The Gamma Classic’ or ‘The US Minto Open’ says there is a format to play (Round Robin, Double Elimination, ETC..) that it will be so. However, something I learned early on is that if you enter smaller to mid-size tournaments locally this may not always be the case! The site or flyer may say one format of play, but because of unforeseen circumstances (adverse weather, too few teams, too many teams, etc..) the format will be changed. As a Rookie tournament player, this threw me off and mentally psyched me out because I was not expecting a certain type of play. I now have learned never to show up to a tournament thinking play will always go exactly how I thought.

The next piece of advice is don’t get caught up in how many errors you make or how bad those errors were! This is especially true for rookies/beginners. It’s so easy to make a few bad shots or miss a slam shot off an opponent lob, then get discouraged! Just let it go, everyone makes mistakes, especially outside where factors can impact the ball more. I often find myself saying “Don’t worry about it, you’ll get it back on the next one.” so I can move on from that error. Remember, if you worry about your last shot, you’re certainly more likely to miss the next one.

The Extras

While I could have put these in other categories here are a few extra things I try to have in my pickleball bag when I head to tournaments:
  • Bug Spray, nothing like getting eaten alive while dinking.
  • Sun Block, get the gold medal not a red nose.
  • Sunglasses, hey your eyes need protection too!
  • A hat, sometimes sunglasses don’t cut it.
  • Deodorant, for all you heavy sweaters like me!
  • Sports/athletic tape
  • Some band aids for any small mishaps.
If you follow some of these tips and pieces of advice, they should give you at least a general idea of what to expect and how to prepare. Overall, just remember, while a tournament is a competitive environment, it’s still all about the enjoyment of the sport of pickleball! So, go out there, relax, have fun, play fair, and continue to spread the pickleball love!


Your cart is currently empty.

Start Shopping

Select options