In a recreational setting, there is little pressure; there are fewer players; you know most of the players as well as their strengths and weaknesses and you play with the same people again and again; the location is usually close to home.  In the local gym where I play most often, we have only two courts (working on getting a third), so you play a game and then sit awhile and socialize before getting to play again.  That is not all bad since we usually have some sort of snack or food that someone brings. I guess that proves we are really in the South.  (Then again, maybe most of us don't really NEED those extra calories.)  With the sitting and waiting in mind, you don't really have a lot of chances to play even two games in a row.  But we always have fun while waiting for our next game such as calling out,   “Good eye!” to a player who has jumped to return a high ball only to completely miss it as the ball hits about eight feet up against the back wall. 

A tournament setting, on the other hand, has a bit more pressure because there is a little more at stake, but only as much pressure as the player wants to put on him/herself.  If you do well, you may win an award. There are probably more players, many of whom you may not know...at the beginning.  This means seeing  new styles of play and picking up ideas on how to play certain situations.  But after two or three tournaments, those opponents become your friends.  There is still sitting and talking, but when you play, you play a match (usually two out of three games).  Then you play another one.  And soon you wonder how you did it when at home you get a big rest between games.  As you play against better players/teams, you tend to improve your own play.  And, of course, in our area, we have food at our tournaments (a great tradition).  The downside of a tournament may be the cost and/or the distance that you must travel to attend.  But in my view, this is far outweighed by the tournament experience, the people you meet, and the new friends you make.  The next time you go, you may be staying at the home of a new-found friend.

If you've rarely or never played in a tournament, I encourage you to participate in one soon!

--Tom Burkhart