Pickleball Tournament vs Recreational Play: Pros and Cons

Est. Reading: 3 minutes

If you’ve just started playing pickleball, two questions could be running through your mind. “Should I practice better to join tournaments or only do it for fun and exercise?” 

Well, there’s no right or wrong answer, as it depends on several factors. But to help you decide, let’s compare the difference between pickleball tournaments and recreational pickleball, along with their pros and cons. 

Pickleball Tournament vs Recreational Play: What’s the Difference?

If we rely on the terms, the answer seems simple - pickleball tournaments are serious, while recreational play is just for fun. But if you ask players who have done both, they’ll tell you several differences between the two. And since you’re already here, continue reading, and let us do the hard work for you.

  • Pickleball tournaments have stringent rules, while rec plays are loose.
  • Tournaments are very competitive, while most rec plays are only for enjoyment.
  • Pickleball tournaments are costly due to membership fees, travel expenses, etc. On the other hand, rec plays only require you to buy paddles and pickleball balls and pay for pickleball court rent.
  • With pickleball tournaments, championship winners are rewarded with fame and fortune. With rec plays, there’s no cash prize for winners, and you’ll never be famous. You may win some friends, though.
  • Tournament players are more serious in the games than recreational pickleball players.
  • Pickleball tournaments affect your ratings and, likely, rankings, too. On the contrary, rec plays don’t have any effect at all, win or lose.
  • Tournaments are more exciting to watch than rec plays. You might also want to read our Pickleball Tournament Formats Guide.

Pickleball Tournament Pros and Cons


  • It can help improve your playing skills and strategies
  • It can teach you how to handle different opponents
  • It can help enhance sportsmanship behavior


  • For serious players only
  • Very demanding, physically and mentally
  • It needs time and commitment

Recreational Pickleball Pros and Cons


  • Anyone can join, regardless of skill level
  • No pressure, win or lose
  • Helps relieve stress
  • Great social outlet


  • Most players don’t care to win
  • Not focus on skill development
  • Some players don’t strictly follow the rules
  • Potential for lousy playing habits

Do Tournament Players Play Recreational Pickleball?

Given the above cons of recreational pickleball, you might consider it useless. Well, at some point, yes. But then, you’ll be surprised that some tournament players play in local recreational centers. And they’re not there to show off but rather to socialize, relax, and meet new people. So yes, tournament players also do recreational plays. And if you see them, don’t get intimidated by them. Instead, learn from them.

Should Recreational Pickleball Also Apply Official Rules?

The answer depends on the players in a particular recreational play. But then, I prefer applying the official rules in every pickleball match. These rules were designed to promote fairness among players. Without them, there would be some disputes among players on the court, especially when a player commits a fault. Also, allowing a player to violate the rules is like condoning cheating, which is a terrible habit.

How Recreational Pickleball Can Improve Your Playing Skills

If you really enjoy playing pickleball and want to improve your skills, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should not do recreational play. Instead, use this chance to learn more about the sport. Below are some tips on how to use recreational plays to improve your future games:

  • Organize a group of players with the same skill level as yours. If you can’t, invite your coach or mentor and create a schedule of games.
  • Follow the official rules and avoid lousy playing habits.
  • Play competitively and aim to win.
  • Don’t be afraid to commit faults. Instead, learn from them.
  • Treat recreational plays as practice drills.
  • Don’t push yourself too hard, and enjoy the games.

Final Thoughts

Again, joining tournaments is more severe than playing recreational pickleball. So, if you want to improve your playing skills, don’t solely rely on it. On the other hand, picking the right players to play with may help you create some game strategies. The key here is to balance it with structured drills and have fun. But if you just want to relax, exercise, and socialize, recreational plays are a great option.

As a pickleball player, do you play for fun and exercise, or are you preparing for a  tournament? We’ll be glad to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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