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Friday, August 4, 2017

The USAPA Nationals Controversy

No good deed goes unpunished....

I write a pickleball blog in which I try to discuss all things pickleball. One area I have avoided is the politics in pickleball. I would normally ignore issues like the latest controversy about the USAPA National Championships. But there are some pretty strong opinions being voiced on the topic with which I disagree. Therefore, I am going to violate my better judgment and venture into this morass to add my thoughts on what the tournament should be and how players should be qualified.

To summarize for readers unfamiliar with the controversy, the sign-up process for Nationals resulted in many top players being placed on a wait list. Those quicker with computer entry prevailed over those quicker with a paddle. Some folks voiced the opinion that the tournament is a national championship and should be limited to only 5.0 players in order to determine a true national champion through competition. Others voiced the opinion that the entry methodology was known to interested players, everyone had the same opportunity to enter, and the system should remain unchanged. 

Those were the 2 most extreme views with other opinions falling in between. In my view, both seemed emotional responses to protect their interests and failed to recognize some realities that I perceive. I will try to address those realities in my thoughts.

First, I believe in the power of a mission statement. It provides guidance to making decisions on issues both small and large. I can find no mission statement for the USAPA National Tournament. Nowhere does it appear to represent itself as a means to determine a national champion. 

Instead, by virtue of its historical tournament bracket organization, its goal seems to be to determine multiple national champions. This is supported by similar structures in USAPA Regional Tournaments. It also seems to be supported by the USAPA mission of “promoting the growth and development of the sport”, a goal that appeals to masses. Pickleball’s growth is driven by these masses and not the elite players. The masses need to be recognized in the same national tournament as the elite players. The Nationals should have players in the age/skill brackets who represent the hopes and dreams of the vast majority of pickleball players.

Based on the above reality, I believe the current structure of separate age/skill brackets is appropriate and should not change.

Second, I believe in a meritocracy where rewards are properly earned. Typing speed is a skill that may merit entry into some kind of competition, but certainly not into a major pickleball tournament. Entry should be earned though exhibiting the skills required to contend for the championship of the bracket entered. Since the Nationals are a USAPA tournament, I believe that USAPA tournament play should serve as the basis for earning entry.

The USAPA currently has Regional Tournaments. Some of these have sparsely-filled brackets. Requiring qualification through these tournaments only strengthens them. All medal winners should be automatically eligible for the Nationals Tournament. No other US-based tournaments should serve as qualifiers, primarily due to the uneven distribution of sanctioned tournaments around the country. Eventually, the USAPA should develop District Tournaments so that players can earn and accumulate points in combination with Regionals to move away from medals-qualifying to points-qualifying.

That still leaves the issue of non-US players. The USAPA should designate tournaments in countries with interested players that serve as qualifiers similar to the US Regionals.

This concept deals with the reality of the current system failing to be merit-based. Qualifiers based on USAPA tournaments and structures maintain a consistency that ensures players at Nationals earn their way in.

The bottom line is that the USAPA looks bad with its current list of entered players vs those on the waiting lists. Sure, the final line-up will look a lot better but the growth of the game will someday mean even the late fixes will not represent what the Nationals should be. The USAPA needs to clearly develop a mission statement for its tournaments and develop an entry system that requires less typing skill and more playing skills.

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