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By Carl Schmits

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What Does USA Pickleball Certified Actually Mean?

The mechanics of the process are driven by USA Pickleball's Equipment Evaluation Committee, which was formed in 2016, with the support of National Testing Systems--USA Pickleball's independent third-party lab and testing facility in Baltimore, Maryland.

By Carl Schmits

If you've been involved in the sport of pickleball over the past six years, you have witnessed both growth and evolution rarely seen in any industry. Besides the visibility of new and converted venues, the increase in the number of tournaments including two organized Pro Am tours the recently announced Major League Pickleball team format, and USA Pickleball's new National Championship series leading to the world-class Margaritaville USA Pickleball Nationals Championship event--is simply amazing

Subsequently, this growth has been greatly reflected within the equipment industry as well. We've seen more new paddle introductions and manufacturers in the last 18 months than the previous five years, Including some of the largest brands in sporting goods delivering newly designed paddles and competition balls.

A question often heard is. What does it mean to be USA Pickleball Certified?" In a nutshell, the certification process ensures that paddles and balls are manufactured to specifications that support one of the USA Pickleball board's objectives of maintaining the integrity of the sport. The mechanics of this process are driven by USA Pickleball's Equipment Evaluation Committee (EEC), formed in 2016, with the support of National Testing Systems (NTS)-USA Pickleball's independent third-party lab and testing facility in Baltimore, Maryland.

The EEC is a data-driven group that works closely with the rules committee and the manufacturing community with an objective of ensuring a level playing field for both manufacturers and athletes. Primary areas of concern on paddle performance are spin-inducing friction and power-enhancing attributes with a focus on preventing unfair competitive advantages in a sport that has an extremely wide range of playing types and skill levels. For balls, dimensional consistency and rebound characteristics drive most of the tests.

Over time, our rules, specifications, standards and means of testing have evolved in response to or in anticipation of, innovations in technology, manufacturing/testing processes, and/or policy Interpretation. we’ve learned much in observing the evolution of other racket and paddle sports, and now changes in materials and those sports, thus aiding in our decision-making.

It is an ongoing process to research more representative and comprehensive methodologies of testing for critical performance characteristics using
Industry-standard ASTM test methods to evaluate surface friction, ball rebound, material behavior, etc. Benefits of Implementing these industry-standard protocols include increasing reproducibility by the manufacturers while reducing variation in testing. In 2016, a testing method was put in place to measure the material hardness of tournament balls, with the goal of ensuring consistent play ability and rebound characteristics. As part of our goal to Improve the relevance, accuracy, and consistency of our testing procedures, and as a logical transition from the first phase of testing for those performance characteristics, we implemented an industry-standard ASTM compression test method that is the norm in the sports industry.

Also in 2016, a test was devised to limit extreme friction-inducing characteristics that were a result of surface irregularities common in that period’s paddle.

structural materials and finishing graphics. In addition, articles 2.E.2.a and 2.E.6 were put in place to address applied surfaces and finishes that increased friction. Since then, there has been a significant trend in materials, both in construction material and finishes, that required re-evaluating both the means of testing as well as what the acceptable threshold should be. As a result, the EEC implemented an AST test using coefficient of friction that evaluates that attribute regardless of the surface material or cosmetic finish.

Most recently, new paddle configurations have started to emerge, e.g., "open throat. In response to that, the EEC has developed a test to assess a paddle's overall flexibility to ensure that it falls within an acceptable performance range. In addition to the above advancements in testing. this year the EEC has formally launched a Compliance program to better ensure that paddles and balls continue to be manufactured to original specification throughout their life cycle. This is modeled after similar programs in other racket and paddle sports.