Chicago Paddle Sets a New Participation Record with 143 Men's Teams

BILL O'BRIEN
JANUARY 13, 2008
GLEN VIEW, IL

CPTC LogoFirst, some background. Every year, the Series Tournaments play an important part in Chicago's laddering of tournament opportunities.

The Chicago mens' league has a total of 163 teams spread out over 15 skill levels called Series -- about 1,800 to 2,000 players. And the womens league has a total of 120 teams spread over 12 Series, plus a weekend league -- about 1,500 players.

The Chicago Charities Tournament in early November attracts the top men and women players in the country and additionally, provides a great opportunity for Chicago's other Series 1 and 2 players to push themselves in an event in which they can feel pretty competitive. Players from below that level also enter as a way to test themselves against the big dogs -- the ‘rock stars of paddle. And, the Illinois State Championship attracts the same level of players minus those from out of State. This season, the Charities attracted 75 mens teams and 51 womens teams, and the Illinois State attracted 48 and 43 teams respectively.

Then, in mid-November, we have the Illinois Intermediates where we try to attract the players just below the top levels. To do this, we prohibit two Series 1 players from playing together as a team, and we do this by saying that the league Series that the two players play in must add up to 4 or more. So, a Series 1 player can partner with a Series 3 player, two Series 2 players can play together, and so on. We are targeting the Series 2 through 4 or 5 players and this year, 58 mens teams entered.

Finally, we have the Series Tournaments where we are trying to get the Series 4 and lower players to feel confident enough to risk entering a tournament and to feel more a part of our overall community of paddle players. Said another way, we think tournaments are a wonderful experience and we want every player to have a chance to learn that for themselves.

To accomplish this sense of safety, we felt we needed to tighten the skill bandwidth so that everyone would feel that they could compete. So, we conduct 4 separate tournaments on the same 2 days. We have a tournament for players from the Series 4, 5 and 6 leagues; another tournament for the players in Series 7, 8 and 9; a tournament for 10, 11 and 12; and a tournament for 13, 14 and 15 -- all playing up through the quarters on the same Saturday, with the usual semis and finals on Sunday morning -- with all the usual backdraws.

We had 45 teams in the 4-5-6, 44 teams in the 7-8-9, 32 teams in the 10-11-12 (with 3 teams on the wait list), and 22 teams in the 13-14-15. THAT'S 143 TEAMS !! 286 guys comparing notes with their buddies at lunch !! We just ordered 76 prizes !! The enthusiasm is so high, we are fielding questions as to next year's dates so they can put it in their calendars.

We think the key here is to do everything we can think of to make the tournament experience both competitive and non-threatening, or welcoming. The narrow skill bands are really important but in addition, we give the players a lot of information about how to read draws and things like that, we make them feel welcome when they call Tournament Central with a question and finally, we thank them for participating.

It takes a lot of communication, but it seems to be working. The growth curve just keeps growing.

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