Pickleball tournament director Janice Pauly knows what players want

Janice Pauly has the perfect resume for a pickleball tournament director.

Pauly was a computer programmer, which means she can master the database-driven tournament software.

Then she taught middle school for 18 years, which means she can handle anything.

Pauly, who used to live in Connecticut and now resides in the Washington D.C. area, is a familiar face at major tournaments around the Northeast. She took over the tournament desk at the Empire State Senior Games about nine years ago. Back then, it was the biggest tournament in New York with more than 500 players, three venues and 28 courts. Now that is considered small.

Empire Games tournament co-director Barb Lopiccolo says Pauly has an uncanny ability to predict how long each division will take based on the number of courts, teams, skill and age of the players.

“Our events at the senior games run really, really well,” Lo said.

Translation: nobody sits around waiting.

It’s pretty simple, Pauly said, you figure out what players want and you give it to them.

“What they want is a lot of games. They don’t want to be there all day long. They want to play their games right in a row,” she said.

Players do not like double elimination tournaments, a format where a losing team can be dismissed after three games.

“They don’t want to be eliminated. They like round-robins and playing everybody,” she said. “That’s what I give them and they come back.”

For doubters who say round-robins are not real tournaments, Pauly said “the best team usually finishes at the top.” The benefit of the round-robin is that even the losing teams leave happy.

Pauly always guarantees four games but often delivers more.

She also designates courts for each division so players don’t shuffle around the venue for each match. She found designated courts have another benefit.

“It improves the atmosphere on the courts because if you are with a group of people and you are sitting with them and chatting with them between games, you are less likely to argue with them when you are on the court,” she said.

Pauly introduced her pupils to pickleball about 15 years ago.

“It was a great activity for middle schoolers because anyone can succeed at it the first time,” she said. “It doesn’t take long to figure out how to get the ball going back and forth.”

Before Pauley was a teacher, she owned a computer business where she created database applications. She developed a custom exercise program for the employee fitness center at Xerox in the 1980s. People would input their workout info into an Apple IIe and get feedback on calories, heart rate and fitness level – a very early version of Apple Watch.

After she retired from teaching, Pauly fell into pickleball and running tournaments, which she describes as lot like planning a school lesson plan.

Her computer skills were a bonus. The early versions of pickleball tournament software were … challenging. She started using Pickleball Brackets, a tournament software created by a developer in Buffalo, N.Y.

She quickly became a beta tester for the company and helped guide enhancements and improvements. When the Pickleball Brackets merged with Pickleball Tournaments last year, Pauly trained other tournament organizers on the Pickleball Brackets software and she remains a consultant for the company.

Pauly says 90 percent of the work involved with a tournament is done before the tournament starts. She has volunteers on every court, she knows what printers and internet hotspots work best and she has a system for organizing the scoresheets by court.

But there are always last-minute problems.

At a tournament in Hartford, the venue told her the day before games started that spectators could not use the balcony so she had to give court space on the main floor to spectators who spilled into the playing areas.

The day before a sanctioned tournament, she was told that the court where referees were being trained needed to be surrounded by empty courts – so she lost three courts.

At a tournament at Wesleyan University, a humid weekend meant taped pickleball lines wouldn’t stick to the wooden floor at the ends of the field house – she lost four courts.

“You learn to think on your feet and adapt,” she said.

She said most players are understanding.