Here’s How to Play Racquetball for Beginners
The list of racquet sports from around the globe is a lot longer than you might think. But let’s be honest: Few people are sitting around itching to learn Qianball. But many more are probably wondering how to play racquetball.
For those who decide to take up this game, get ready for plenty of challenge and excitement! Once you learn your way around the rulebook and get the right equipment, the sky is the limit.
Racquetball is a game played indoors, usually on courts integrated into larger fitness centers or YMCA buildings. It has a simple set of requirements: Three walls, a rubber ball, and a small racquet (eye protection is a good idea as well).
The modern game dates back to the mid-20th Century. But as we’ll see, learning how to play racquetball is something that you can pick up in just a few sessions.
Brief History of Racquetball
Knowing a little history of the game can help you learn how to play racquetball. The sport has a recent vintage to it, having been created officially in the mid-1940s or early-1950s. Yet it also has connections to more traditional racquet sports, such as tennis and squash.
Virtually every source credits the invention of the game to Joseph Sobek, a professional tennis and handball player from Greenwich, Connecticut.
As the story goes, Sobek and a partner wanted to create an indoor racquet sport that moved fast. He initially called it “paddle rackets,” and it included a set of rules based on squash and handball.
By 1952, Sobek founded the Paddle Rackets Association, finalizing and distributing the rules. As the saying goes, the “game was afoot.”
Players began flocking to the association to learn how to play racquetball.
The game snowballed in popularity. But it didn’t get its official name of racquetball until 1969, when the head of the U.S. Handball Association founded the International Racquetball Association.
Today, an estimated 20 million people play racquetball across around 100 countries. While the U.S. Olympic Committee has recognized it, racquetball has not yet succeeded in earning a spot as an official sport at the Olympic Games.
What Do You Need to Play Raquetball?
You don’t need much to learn how to play racquetball. The first and most essential item is a regulation court. Those typically aren’t hard to find, though there was a period in the 1980s when the game’s popularity waned.
But racquetball courts are typically found in local fitness centers or health clubs, including YMCAs. The standard dimensions of an official court are 20-by-40 feet across and 20 feet high.
An important lesson to learn in understanding racquetball: Every wall surface is in play.
The second-most important item is your racquet. The racquet has evolved over the years to include the oversized face that has become very common. Current rules call for a racquet with a frame that is no longer than 22 inches.
The racquet must also have a wrist cord of about 18 inches long. The wrist cord is crucial for added safety.
The final piece of equipment you need to learn how to play racquetball: The ball itself. Racquetballs consist of hard rubber material. They measure 2.25 inches in diameter and weigh about 1.4 ounces. They also must meet a particular standard: Manufactured to bounce 68-to-72 inches from 100 inches high.
Safety remains an important consideration in learning how to play racquetball. It is a fast-moving game played in very tight quarters with aluminum rackets and hard rubber racquetballs. You also want a pair of the best racquetball shoes.
You might want to put eye protection, such as a pair of safety goggles, on your list as well.
How to Play Racquetball
At this point, you’ve got a sense of the game’s history. You also understand what you need in terms of equipment to play.
What’s left to do? Only one thing, really: Learn the rules, so you know how to play racquetball like a pro.
Then, you need to find an opponent (or opponents). You can play the game one-on-one or in a doubles match.
It won’t take you long to master the game. Racquetball has a relatively simple set of guidelines in terms of how to serve, how to return, and how to score a point.
You can’t learn how to play racquetball unless you understand the game’s objective. It’s to win, of course, but there’s more to it than just that.
In racquetball, the idea is to score points by making it impossible for your opponent to keep the ball alive and in play.
Players score points in one of two ways. The first happens when your opponent cannot reach the ball to hit it before it bounces twice.
The second scoring action occurs when your opponent does hit the ball, but it doesn’t reach the front wall before touching the floor again. (In other words, the floor is not really in play like the walls and ceiling.)
However, you can use combinations as long as the ball doesn’t go from your racquet to the floor first. That means if you’re strong enough and play the angles well, you can utilize the back or side walls to return a shot.
As long as it hits the front wall without touching the floor, the game proceeds. (Warning: If using the back wall, remember to duck your head out of the way. The ball hurts!)
Put it in play
As in tennis, the trigger to starting a racquetball rally is the serve. And, also like tennis, you have two chances to serve the ball legally.
If playing with a friend, you can determine who serves first any way you choose. Professional racquetball matches use a coin toss.
The server must be within a narrow service zone marked by lines on the court. The service zone is 5-by-14 feet across.
Serving is very straightforward, according to USA Racquetball Events. The server drops the ball within the service zone and hits it after one bounce.
The ball must hit the front wall first. It can only hit one other wall before touching the ground again. So if your serve goes from the front wall and rebounds off the side wall to the back wall, you’ve got a problem. You’ve committed a fault and must serve again.
Other faulty serves include when the ball fails to cross back over the service box in the air.
You’re also not allowed to serve the ball into the ceiling or get too strong and serve the ball all the way to the back wall. And your serve must connect with the front wall first in all cases.
Another fault is when the ball comes back in such a way that the returning player can’t see it. Racquetball rules call this a screen serve.
Of course, proper etiquette comes into play in racquetball. If you serve when your opponent isn’t ready, it is technically a fault (though among friends, you might just call it a do-over.)
Commit two faults, and you lose your serve.
But once you complete a serve legally, it’s good news for all. Because now it’s time to rally!
Land of return
One of the tricks in learning how to play racquetball is understanding where you’re supposed to stand — particularly when returning the serve.
Returners must be positioned initially behind the receiving line, which is about 21.5 feet from the front wall. The court includes obvious markings for the receiving line.
The returning player cannot cross the receiving line with his or her racquet or body until the ball crosses the receiving line. If you’re playing by the letter of the rules, should you break the plane of the line, your opponent gets the point.
You can go past the receiving line with your body or racquet. But you must keep both on the other side of the back of the service box, known as the short line. That is, unless you’re chasing a ball madly from a crazy carom off the back wall.
A permissible return involves hitting the ball either in the air or after one bounce.
The return shot must hit the front wall before reconnecting with the floor. But it can touch one or both side walls (perhaps you have a degree in geometry and can figure that one out on the fly!), or it can hit the back wall or the ceiling or any combination.
Now we’re really having some fun!
Once the ball is served and returned, the rally begins. While almost anything goes, you do have to understand a few rally rules.
First, and perhaps most importantly, if you’re thinking of playing ambidextrously, forget it. You can only play the rally with the racquet in one hand or the other. Trying to gain an advantage by switching hands is a no-no.
You can also only hit the ball with the face of the racquet. If you end up hitting the ball with the handle or the hand, you lose the point.
Double hits are also out. You can only hit the ball once. And by hit, we mean, hit. If the ball rests for just a moment too long on the racquet face, you’ve committed a carry. It will cost you a point.
Beyond that, the main rules still apply. If you let the ball bounce twice, you’ve lost the point. If you can’t get the ball back to the wall, your opponent is a point closer to victory.
Players compete to 15 points. It takes two games to win a match. If you’re tied one game apiece, then you get a tiebreaker game of 11 points.
Some crazy things can happen as you learn how to play racquetball, according to the official rules.
Apparently, there is something called a “crotch serve.” No, it’s not what you think.
A crotch serve occurs when a ball hits the seam between the front wall and the floor, front and side wall, or front wall and ceiling. In those instances, the serve is out, and you either have to re-serve or have committed a double fault.
Some courts are open to an audience. But if the ball sails into the gallery, the player who hit the ball loses the point.
Even if unintentional, if you hit the ball and it strikes another player, you lose the point. If it gets suck in your clothes, you get the same penalty.
In an instance where the ball may be acting funny because it has split open, the point gets replayed. In professional racquetball, the referee makes that determination. It’s a more relaxed situation when you play with your friends.
Finally, racquetball isn’t cutthroat. If you think you might hit your opponent with your ball or racquet, you’re allowed to look out for his or her well-being. The players replay the point.
At the Highest Level
Many who learn how to play racquetball go on to play the game at the highest level. Racquetball organizers pit the best competitors against each other in a range of professional tours for both men and women.
The International Racquetball Tour, or IRT, consists of 300 players and an estimated 70 tournaments across the United States, Canada, and Latin America. Pro and amateur tournaments are even more popular, drawing as many as 700 players at the professional, collegiate, and amateur ranks.
The IRT traces its origins to the earliest days of the sport. But it has picked up in popularity more recently, starting in the late 1980s.
Female players compete in the Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour, with similar geography. The LPRT has players in the United States, Mexico, Chile, Canada, Colombia, Japan, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela.
Racquetball is a sport requiring excellent hand-eye coordination, quick feet, and nerves of steel. The game is played in a relatively confined indoor court with a rubber ball that bounces and collides, redirecting off of walls when you least expect it.
Players and the ball move quickly. Game conditions change rapidly. You need to keep your head up and know where you are at all times.
In the end, learning how to play racquetball leads to fun and fitness. So, why not give it a try?
Have you ever played racquetball? What did you think? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
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