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How to Qualify for Pickleball Nationals

A woman playing on the pickleball court.

The pickleball nationals in the United States are the holy grail of pickleball playing for Americans, that even the most inexperienced players wish they could be a part of. To qualify, you’ll need an actual golden ticket, and must have some tournament experience in your pickleball resume.

Like any national competition, the more you play, the better your chances to get in, and win. You’ll want to have both regional and some state support, and maybe even some play in tournaments around the country.

Qualifying for the nationals in other countries is very similar to the rules for qualifying in America. You’ll need experience competing, a little bit of luck, and a good pickleball rating. Find out if you have what it takes to be a pickleball nationals player here.

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The pickleball ratings system is one of the first things you’ll learn when you want to become a national competitor

Professional pickleball players in action.

Ahhh the coveted pickleball rating. It’s one of the first questions you’ll be asked by doubles players, opponents, and fellow players in your pickleball club. It’s part of the language of pickleball for serious players, and you’ll need a specific rating to play in the nationals.

The pickleball ratings system is a two to four digit system from one to six, and one that starts with a number and is followed by several decimal points. So you will see 1.000, or typically 1.00 for a ratings range that goes up to 5.5 and is often rounded up or rated as 5.5+.

Pickleball ratings between 0 and 3 are for the lowest rated players who are the kind that may just play at home or in their driveways and don’t take the sport seriously enough to use the language of “national level.” Many might want to, but aren’t putting in the time and effort to compete on a large scale with this sport.

Here, players are just learning the sport and getting accustomed to building their own strategy. Some may be competing, and even winning on occasion, but their skill level isn’t taken seriously by the most serious competitions. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good, they just haven’t put the skill on the regional or nationals stage.

Pickleball players playing in a large gym.

By 3.0, the player is putting themselves out there to be a nationals player, and could qualify for the nationals. This is a player who is hitting their drives and serves beautifully, with what would be described as a medium pace. Consistency and control with their returns would need some work here, and the wins are a hit and a miss.

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Players here have a basic understanding of the rules of pickleball and are beginning to develop their own strategy. A good strategic player at this level may be able to for example, mix up their hits and serves in an unpredictable way against their opponent, but may not land them every time.

Players with ratings between 4.0 and 5.0 are going to be better players, and more frequent winners. They have a forehand and a backhand that may make other players a little envious. Dinks, volleys, and drop shot are returned at their own pace as part of the player’s strategy.

You’re not going to see a lot of errors here at this level, and the player here is less concentrated on their own skill level as much as they are looking at their opponent, studying their play, and coming up with ways to take advantage of their weaknesses.

To have a pickleball rating between 5.0 and 6.0 is a rating many players may not want to hear about because they won’t want to play pickleball with you. This is a rating where the player wins more than they do not. This player is going to be competitive, play regionals and state competitions, and this player comes to win.

Not every 5.5+ player can win, and they will play against each other at nationals, but these are some fascinating pickleball players to watch. This is a pickleball player that can manage every serve and return, drop shot and dink, and do so at any speed. The truly expert player here will know their opponent’s weaknesses before they even get on the court and play to win that way.

To get to the nationals with pickleball, you will need to have an established rating of 3.0 to 6.0.

In addition to a pickleball rating, you’ll need the Golden Ticket to compete at nationals, but it’s not as elusive as you think

An old woman preparing to hit the ball on air.

The Golden Ticket is the key to making it into the nationals, which are typically called the National Championship Series (NCS). You have to play at an event in the NCS, and then rank high enough to get a Golden Ticket. If you get the Golden Ticket, you can go to the nationals regardless of your pickleball rating.

The Golden Ticket in pickleball is given to the players that rank in the top 20 for the competitions that they are playing in. In the NSC, you’ll see categories for Pro Women, Pro Men, Senior Pro Women, and Senior Pro Men. Those that make it in the top 20 rankings will automatically qualify.

The National Championship Series every year is usually approximately 6 different games or tournaments around the United States. The most common tournaments are:

  • Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP) Masters in Boca Raton, FL
  • APP in Phoenix, AZ
  • Consumer Cellular USA Pickleball Newport Beach
  • Beer City Open in Grand Rapids, MI
  • APP Atlanta Metro Open in Atlanta, GA

The final round of pickleball nationals are held in the late fall of every year. To qualify for the nationals, you need to meet both participation and registration requirements. The participation requirements include participating in at least one tournament in the summer prior to the nationals, and it must be a participating tournament.

A vector illustration on children playing pickleball.

They may not always be held in the summer, but there are many held in the United States every year between April and September.

It is also possible to win a qualifying spot at the nationals by lottery, with your chances of winning that lottery increasing by competing in an Open event or Senior Open event at some point in the season prior to nationals. To get there, look for tournaments that are USAP, APP Opens, or NCS championship tournaments.

You get a Golden Ticket by winning one of these events. You get into the lottery by winning Silver or Bronze at one of these events. If you play doubles, and only one of you gets a Golden Ticket, your partner must have participated in one of these events to make it to the nationals.

If you were registered in one of these events but could not play due to a weather cancellation from the officials of the game, you meet the criteria for the participation requirement.

The registration requirement for the nationals includes earning the registration requirement through a win, and also completing the registration process which involves registering for the nationals and paying the fees.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Pickleball Nationals

I just started competing, how do I get my pickleball rating or skill level number?

An expert pickleball player on the court.

If you have competed, you may already have your rating and not know it yet. Many tournaments will assign your rating based on the results of your game. In most tournaments that generate results for the nationals, the USAPA Tournament Player Ratings (UTPR) system generates your skill level pickleball rating based on your results.  After every game your rating will change.

What pickleball rating do I need to have in order to compete at the senior level?

To compete in Senior Opens or Senior Nationals you need to have a rating of 5.0 or higher.  You might be able to qualify with a rating of 4.5 if you have a high level of participation with many tournaments or competitions. Additionally, if you play doubles and you have a 5.5 but your partner has a 4.5, they may be able to compete with you at a Senior event or Open.

Is it possible to become a professional pickleball player and can I play at nationals if I do?

Yes, you can become a pro pickleball player and you can still compete in nationals if you play pro. Of course pro players will be held to a higher standard, and must have a pickleball rating of 5.5 or higher to be able to qualify to register for an Open.

If you are a pro with a high participation rate, you may be able to qualify for an Open or the nationals with a 5.0 UTPR. Regardless of how much you play, your UTPR that determines this will be the UTPR that you have at the time you register for the Open or the nationals.