If you're looking to get into the sport of pickleball, you've probably realized that there's a lot to learn. The game is relatively new (to most people) and has many rules and regulations that can be confusing if you don't know what they mean.
That's why we wrote this ultimate guide so that players can understand precisely how the sport works as well as the many opportunities from starting to play. Backyard heroes are turning into household names because of Minor League Pickleball. This opens doors to newer players hoping to achieve some success and get noticed by the big leagues.
Let’s review how the MiLP affects pickleball and what you need to know before trying it out.
What is Pickleball?
Pickleball is a paddle sport played with a wooden or plastic paddle and hollow plastic balls. It was invented in 1965 by Joel Pritchard and his wife Betty, who were looking for a game they could play together.
The sport quickly gained popularity among retirees who wanted an activity that would keep them active without being too strenuous on their joints. That is why some consider it similar to tennis, but without the extreme speed - even though anyone that has seen a pro event would argue just the opposite.
Today, pickleball has spread well beyond retirement communities. It's seen as a fun way to exercise and socialize with friends worldwide without needing a massive team or large field to play. With so much attention paid to this new sport, events, camps, leagues, and brands have popped up to engage players. One of the most notable features that have started is Minor League Pickleball.
The Rise of Minor League Pickleball
The rise of Minor League Pickleball is a story that has been told many times, but it's worth repeating. Every sports league has a “feeder” minor league companion. For example, baseball has 3 levels of minor league, the NBA picks from the G-League, and even the NFL has practice teams that scrimmage between themselves.
Pickleball is no different. In 2023, the MiLP expanded to 16 teams, growing the eligible players from 48 in the past to 64. These are the cream of the crop ready to engage in tournaments and official events hosted by the DUPR Minor League Pickleball organization.
There is an off-season where you can go to places like Arizona, Texas, and Florida to watch teams and individual players prepare for upcoming events. This differs from the USA National Pickleball Association (NPA), which tends to govern the entire sport with updated membership rolls, tournaments, and the rules and regulations everyone must follow.
The league is designed in much the same way other sports have been established. Players engage in events and tournaments to improve their overall ranking. The higher you rank, the more opportunities you get to gain recognition and play for prizes. This attracts players from all over the nation to engage in pickleball as a career.
How to Get Involved in Minor League Pickleball
The easiest way to get noticed is to sign up for members in the NPA. That will expose you to all kinds of events, tournaments, players, and coaches that can point you in the right direction for a career in the minor leagues.
The rules and regulations of minor league pickleball are the same as those for regular pickleball. You can play with a partner, or you can play by yourself. The only difference is that there are some different structures.
Minor League Pickleball has different divisions based on your combined point rank, like the DUPR 22 and the DUPR 20. Teams compete in a 4-game major league format with eh potential to go into singles competition in the event of a tiebreaker.
There are even draft events and feeder societies you can join to get a spot in the MiLP. With over 4.8 million players in 2021 and a growth rate of 39.3% over the last few years, this is the sport to check out.
If you want to compete in Minor League Pickleball, you need to:
- Pick up the DUPR app
- Find a partner and compete at locally approved events and tournaments
- Get your combined DUPR score to the right level for the MiLP
- Get drafted by a team owner
- Play, play, play!
The Opportunities MILP Provides
1 - Prize Money from Tournaments
While Minor League Pickleball has smaller purse prizes for tournaments and events than the MLP, it can still payout quite a bit. Just for comparison, the 2023 PPA Tour unveiled a $5.5 million prize purse in a recent news release. The average PPA pro earned $96K in tour payouts during 2022, and that was outside of endorsements. Any minor league player would jump at even a tiny percentage of that action.
2 - Notoriety in a Growing Sport
Pickleball is still in its infancy as a sport. Now is the perfect time to strike and become a legend in this sport. It is like Tony Hawk for skateboarding or Michael Jordan and Larry Bird for basketball. The game is so young that any player has the chance to stand out and make a name for themselves.
3 - Exposure to the Professional League
The MiLP is a great way to get your name out there and be a feeder to professional tours and the major league. It gives you the verifiable experience you need to leap from amateur or part-time pickleball hero to full-time professional athlete.
4 - Brand Endorsement Deals
People will see you playing pickleball at tournaments and events and might ask who you are and what brand of racquet you use. The more you gain a following, the higher the chance of brands reaching out to you to promote their gear online and off. Even though this sport has a way to go to make it to Superbowl-level audiences, there is more than enough demand to merit an endorsement deal.
5 - The Chance to Play with Incredible Teammates and Opponents
It's not just the players that are incredible. It's also the chance to play with them. While you might be a fantastic player, plenty of people are better than you. That's okay! Being a part of the minor league will expose you to players of all backgrounds. There is no better way to network with private coaches and up your gameplay skill and ability.
The Future of Minor League Pickleball
The major leagues have already produced numerous big names that are growing pickleball to an international level sport. Minor League Pickleball gives you the opportunity to engage with these players at a personal level and find your specific niche playing style.
We are likely to continue seeing pickleball grow in recognition. There are now podcasts, magazines, and plenty of social media attracted to the sport. You can even find some live broadcasts online and through the different ESPN levels. As the years progress, we are likely to see the sport grow into its own niche market worthy of respect from all the other sports.
It Starts with a Decent Paddle
Before you jump into the minor league tournaments, you may need to pick up a decent paddle. We have written extensively on the various types of paddles available but strongly encourage you to consider the P-One by Nicol. This carbon mix is designed with versatility and optimal performance to boost your journey from backyard amateur to minor league professional.
The unique strategies and playability of pickleball are what make it such a beloved sport. As pickleball moves from an innovative idea to a household pastime, the chances to engage in the minor league are only going to get more complicated.
Now is the perfect time to find a teammate and start building the reputation you need to enter Minor League Pickleball. Just don’t forget your P-One paddle!