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How to Identify and Address Pickleball Sandbaggers

Ever attended a pickleball tournament that felt more like a showdown at high noon? Picture this: you’re at a mixed 2.5-3.25 tournament, eager for some competitive matches. But something feels off—the teams vying for gold seem unusually skilled. You soon discover that some players recently medaled at a 4.0 tournament! This mismatch leaves you scratching your head.

When questioned, the excuses are as creative as their gameplay: one player claims their partner is “only a 3.25,” despite official records indicating otherwise. Another insists it’s their partner’s first mixed tournament and they didn’t want her to struggle at higher levels—though she performs admirably.

This scenario raises an important question: Why do people sandbag, and how can we address it?

What is Sandbagging in Pickleball?

Sandbagging in pickleball is a deceptive practice. Players are expected to compete at levels that match their skills, ensuring a fair chance for everyone. However, sandbagging occurs when a skilled player drops down to a lower bracket to dominate and easily win, frustrating those who are there to play fairly and challenge themselves. This undermines the spirit of fair competition and can spoil the enjoyment of the tournament.

How to Spot a Sandbagger

Identifying a sandbagger on the pickleball court can feel like solving a mystery. Here are some tell-tale signs:

  • Exceptional Skill: The most obvious sign. If a player’s movements, shots, and strategies are significantly more refined than others in their bracket, they might be sandbagging. Their paddle control and shot precision are too polished for the level they’re playing at.
  • Historical Performance: A bit of research can reveal if they’ve recently competed—and excelled—in higher-level tournaments. This is a major red flag.
  • Effort Discrepancy: They seem unusually relaxed or unchallenged during games. While others are sweating and strategizing, they might appear to be having an easy practice session.
  • Community Buzz: Listen to the chatter among players and spectators. If others are raising eyebrows about someone’s performance, there might be something to it.

Why Do People Sandbag?

Sandbagging in pickleball, or any sport, is akin to taking the easy road to victory. Here are a few reasons why someone might choose this path:

  • Thrill of Winning: Winning feels good. For some, the allure of standing atop the podium, even if it’s not at their true level, is too tempting. It’s about collecting wins, medals, or trophies, regardless of the level.
  • Confidence Boost: Playing against less skilled opponents can boost confidence. Some players might feel stuck at their current level and drop down to regain their winning magic and morale.
  • Supporting a Partner: In doubles, especially mixed doubles, a higher-skilled player might drop levels to team up with a less experienced partner. They’re trying to balance the scales and give their team a fighting chance without overwhelming their partner.
  • Avoiding Tough Competition: Some players might not feel ready to face stiff competition at their level, fearing it could be too challenging or expose weaknesses. By playing down, they avoid these challenges and maintain a semblance of dominance.
  • Social Dynamics: Sometimes, it’s about having fun with friends or feeling less pressure. Playing in a lower bracket might mean more enjoyable games and a relaxed atmosphere.

Addressing Sandbagging

Dealing with sandbaggers can be challenging, but there are effective ways to tackle this issue and ensure fair and enjoyable tournaments:

  • Tighten Tournament Registration: Organizers should thoroughly check participants’ playing history and current ratings. Implementing stricter registration criteria and requiring proof of skill levels can deter sandbaggers.
  • Enforce Rating Systems: Utilizing rating systems like UTR-P (UTR Sports Pickleball Rating) or DUPR (Dynamic Universal Pickleball Rating) can help. Strict enforcement leaves less room for players to sneak into lower brackets.
  • Speak Up: If you suspect sandbagging, report it respectfully. Bringing attention to the issue can discourage players from gaming the system.
  • Promote Sportsmanship: Educating players about fair play and sportsmanship is crucial. Organizers and clubs can hold sessions on the ethics of competition and the negative impact of sandbagging.
  • Implement Penalties: Clear penalties for sandbagging, such as disqualification or banning from future tournaments, can serve as a strong deterrent.
  • Feedback Mechanisms: Establish a system for players to anonymously report suspected sandbagging. This helps tournament directors monitor repeat offenders and assess player feedback without direct confrontations.

Community Insights on Sandbagging

The pickleball community has strong opinions on sandbagging, reflected in players’ comments:

  • Enforcing Rating Systems: Many players emphasize the importance of enforcing rating
  • systems like DUPR to prevent sandbagging. “As much as I dislike DUPR, it needs to be enforced at every tournament to prevent this,” one player asserts, advocating for stricter adherence to ratings.
  • Confronting Suspected Sandbaggers: Some players believe in directly addressing the issue. “Just call them out; I’ve done it a few times,” shares one player, suggesting a proactive approach to maintaining fairness.
  • Organizer Responsibility: There’s a consensus that tournament organizers play a crucial role. One player noted, “It’s the tournaments’ responsibility to check people’s DUPRs,” highlighting the need for diligent oversight by event organizers.
  • Understanding Motivations: Players acknowledge various reasons behind sandbagging, such as playing with a less skilled partner in mixed doubles. However, while understanding these reasons, many do not support the practice.
  • Impact on Sport Integrity: The community agrees that sandbagging harms the sport’s integrity and players’ enjoyment. “Sandbagging is a serious issue… there’s a reason why there is a level for everyone to compete and play,” one player asserts, underlining the negative effects on competition fairness.

When is Sandbagging Acceptable?

There are instances where what appears to be sandbagging might be justifiable:

  • Partner Skill Levels: In doubles, if your partner is less skilled, you might play down a level to match them. This is about having a balanced game, not collecting medals.
  • Returning from Injury: Players recovering from an injury might start in a lower bracket to ease back into the game, assessing their post-recovery performance.
  • New Competitors: Newcomers to tournaments might begin at a lower level to get accustomed to the competitive environment, rather than aiming to dominate.

In these cases, the goal isn’t to exploit less skilled players but to address other needs like balancing team skills, health management, or learning new environments. Transparency about why they’re playing at a certain level keeps the game fair and enjoyable for everyone.


Sandbagging in pickleball is a contentious issue that can disrupt the spirit of fair competition. By understanding the motivations behind it and implementing measures to address it, the pickleball community can ensure that tournaments remain fair and enjoyable for all participants.

Through stricter registration processes, enforced rating systems, and promoting sportsmanship, we can tackle sandbagging head-on and preserve the integrity of the sport.


Q. What is sandbagging in pickleball?

Sandbagging in pickleball involves a skilled player competing in a lower skill bracket to dominate and win easily. This practice undermines fair competition and frustrates players who are there to challenge themselves.

Q. How can you spot a sandbagger?

Signs of a sandbagger include exceptional skill for their bracket, a history of competing in higher-level tournaments, appearing unchallenged during games, and community buzz about their performance.

Q. Why do players sandbag?

Players sandbag for various reasons, including the thrill of winning, boosting confidence, supporting a less skilled partner, avoiding tough competition, and social dynamics.

Q. How can tournaments address sandbagging?

Tournaments can address sandbagging by tightening registration processes, enforcing rating systems like UTR-P or DUPR, promoting sportsmanship, implementing penalties, and establishing feedback mechanisms.

Q. Are there acceptable reasons for sandbagging?

Acceptable reasons for what appears to be sandbagging include balancing skill levels in doubles, returning from injury, and new competitors getting accustomed to the tournament environment. Transparency about these reasons is key to maintaining fairness.

What do you think?

Written by Billy Pickles

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