By Ken Woodfin

Racquetball Encyclopedia

Foreword

The game of racquetball is pyrotechnic and enchanting. Even feathered, artfully placed touch shots are brilliant fireworks your opponent hates to witness, when they’re helpless to snuff out your pyrotechnic brilliance. Racquetball puts you under its spell where you may dedicate yourself to learn it to dominate it or you may play routinely recreationally for its camaraderie or you may play it constantly, obsessively, even daily.

You may even dream and see yourself playing rallies, and winning. The main goal here is to share valuable knowledge about an extraordinary rally sport played with racquets and a very bouncy rubber ball. The sport is played as a 1 on 1 or 2 on 2 competition. It’s competed indoors in a rectangular box on a court that’s 40 feet long and 20 feet wide, with a 20X40 ceiling that’s 20 feet above the wooden court floor below. At one end of the hallway is the 20X20 target front wall that must be hit as players take turns returning the ball to that wall, while playing the ball the opponent hits before the ball takes more than one bounce. Also you can’t floor your shot on its way in to the front wall or it’s a skip ball and a loss of rally.

Originally the game was called Paddle Rackets. It began being played with sawed off tennis rackets on an indoor handball court as a substitute for outdoor tennis during the winters of New England. This writing started out as a dictionary, but it was easily seen that the search for knowledge about the sport called for much, much more.

In this “Encyclopedia of Racquetball” in alphabetical order there are a great number of topics that are designed to tell you everything you need to know about playing racquetball. In a practical way it’s an instruction manual for the game. It’s soup to nuts from game rules to secrets of the game to dispelling myths to playing skills to practice drills to winning tactics. It also covers requirements for equipment and fitness level and concerns for both your mental and physical preparedness to play.

Part of knowing how to play any sport is knowing and understanding its unique lexicon or language. Most of the game’s known terms or words are fully defined here. Also included are commonly held misunderstandings and misconceptions about the known terms and correct info to improve your understanding of them. There’s also invention here where a topic that previously had no term now has its own new moniker. Other items of note that deserve mention have their own descriptive phrases and explanation.

There are new shots and new serves, as well, with both their descriptions and tactics how to implement them. It’s also explained here how to grow your own hippopotamus skin that you compete with, as you keep your composure, your laser-like focus and how to keep up your consistent high quality effort. As an example, if you drop a rally due to your own human error or skill shortfall, you have to shed that off your armor and solider on.

Fix what you can in real time and also make a mental note to post play practice up that skill to improve or refine it whenever you sense it’s under-performing. In that focused training you learn to minimize your errors and to add new skills to your well-rounded, always evolving game. Let it roll off your thick hippo skin, and crack on to handle a controversy in competitive play when say you feel insulted by an untoward look or confrontational comment by an opponent or even by an onlooker outside the court…or when you must absorb what you think is a bad call by the ref…or when the insult you feel results from a gamesman hinder by your foe who willfully took away your offensive shot…as you, stay the course.

Build up your hippo hide as you play and grow in the sport, as you learn to adapt and adjust to the many possible playing conditions and numerous patterns of play in the game. That hippo skin and your dogged determination gives you the best chance to effectively compete at every level of competitive play. You learn to be tough minded and tough skinned. You learn to recover quickly from mental or emotional trauma and from an error you make, once.

You learn from winning and you even learn from losing in a battle as small as a rally or as big as a game. By being introspective, you acquire wisdom from your play as a valuable teaching tool to use to adjust how you play NOW and to enhance your training plans, with the goal to review your results and improve both your future game plans and your performances that are yet to come.

In the end it’s belief in yourself and your practiced stroking form and court moves that girds you for competitive battle. It’s all about depending on both your playing experience and the full breadth of your sport and life experiences that defines your competing effort, hustle and will power. Ideally you reload and start anew ready to compete before each and every new rally begins when the server drops the ball to put it in play past that middle short line.

In racquetball there’s a fascinating array of shots and ball bounces. Along with the potential beauty of its shot-shaping art, which is produced by incredibly versatile stroking, the game’s efficient, step-saving court feetwork moves and the qualities of its full body workout are all individually, and even more so in combination, purely awesome.

One major item worth mentioning is that many players justifiably don’t like the hinders in today’s game and understandably the lack of players owning up and calling “penalty hinders” or other rule breaking infractions on themselves. Some don’t even call skips or 2 bounce gets on themselves. Many offending players wait to be called on “it”. That can be confounding. Granted it’s inevitable in a game where opposing players share the same court space that shots or even swings get blocked, as there is no net separating the opposing sides in racquetball. Think about how tactically shot placements (and serves) and the action or spin placed on the ball is, by design, intended to stress the returning skills of their opponent. Logically, as a result, a player may return a ball back very close by themselves, which is too close for the opponent to swing. Or they may angle a ball off a sidewall (or off the back wall) where the ball then ends up behind them. Then they may be caught in the crosshairs of the opposing hitter as they prepare to shoot. Unless the hindering player were to jump over the shooting player’s shot, those ARE “penalty hinder” situations when the hitting player is unable to even swing at the ball or when the rule-required 2 shot angles are blocked. Those angles are straight in and cross-court to the far, rear corner.

Note that a penalty hinder used to be called an Avoidable. The term was changed to penalty hinder to indicate that it does NOT need to be an intentional act for a situation to be a penalty hinder, which results (or should result) in a loss of rally. Whether a situation is avoidable in a intentional sense or it’s accidentally done there are several penalty hinder situations worthy of note that result in a loss of rally. A penalty hinder occurs when…(a) a player does not move and they block, again, those rule required shot angles straight and cross-court (plus logically the space in between them or basically 1/2 the front wall must be open when a ball is contacted from on one side of the court); or (b) when a player moves and blocks a shot that’s already been taken (or let’s call it that’s when they take it on the leg because they moved too early and they got popped); or (c) when a player moves through the hitter’s line of vision crossing the angle the ball is taking toward the hitter right before the hitter strikes the ball blocking their vision; or (d) when a defensive player’s position impedes the hitter’s full swing because the defender is in the way of the backswing, contact or their follow-through.

Those and other acts are defined as penalty hinders that, by rule, result in a loss of rally, NOT, I repeat, not “just a replay”. As another example…(e) when a player who just hit the ball shows their disappointment in missing their shot that’s setting up their opponent by blurting out a comment that (inadvertently) distracts the hitter who is about to hit that ball, that is also a penalty hinder. Although it befuddles onlookers, those new to the game, and of course the offended player, the remedy almost universally in self officiated play, and bizarrely very often in officiated play, is to replay a rally at the expense of the clearly penalty hindered hitting player.

For an outside perspective from another sport, as one of golf’s really exemplary qualities, golfers call penalties on themselves. That game is tormenting enough just due to its many challenges without resorting to unfair stroke shaving tactics. Also note that it’s even acceptable that a street ball hoops shooter gets to call a foul when they believe they were hit just as they released their shot at the basket, and making that call is begrudgingly accepted by any player guarding them. In racquetball, currently it’s only acceptable for ONE call to independently be made by a player without question. That occurs in self officiated play when the receiver of a serve thinks a served ball that rebounds off the front wall passes so closely by the server that it prevents that receiver from having a clear and fair view of the ball as it angles back to the backcourt; usually out from the rear corners 2 or more feet. So then the receiver calls, “Screen”.

When playing with a ref, the receiver can raise their off hand to signal that they believe they were screened and rightfully they usually get that screen call from the ref unless the serve is clearly in the corner. I’ve witnessed players in self officiated games justifiably call a screen serve. Then, sadly, when the positions switch, the player who was serving and is now receiving calls a retaliatory screen on the player who had called their serve a screen when it’s obvious there was no screen by the player who is now serving and who, again, had initially called an actual screen. Resorting to making up retaliatory calls, like mystery hinders, can make self officiated play just a free for all. The point here is emphasizing the importance of understanding the rules and, by inference, what is tactically useful, what’s allowable, and simply what is right and true.

Playing by the rules makes the sport safe, very fair and much more fun. As an upgrade, it’s suggested racquetball be an honor code game. Upon self reflection, as the offending player, when YOU obviously know you took away clear offense from the opponent, own up and self call when you cause a penalty hinder. When you realize an obvious offensive opportunity was taken away from the opposing hitter and you’d want the call yourself, just take your spot to return serve. Also, when you make a 2 bounce get, raise 2 fingers on your off hand indicating you did not get it on one bounce.

When you skip in your shot where the ball strikes the floor before the target front wall, signal with a palm down wax off motion. Everyone making their own calls would make the game far more attractive to a much broader audience of players, much more fair to play, and far better understood by players at all levels of competitive play. It would also leave a far better impression on those spectating and potentially considering taking up the game. I’ve often heard from those who don’t play that they attribute it to the speed of the game AND not knowing where to stand to be safe between hits which gives them the most cause for pause when mulling over whether they should play or, well, watch.

Questions about the safety of the sport is why racquetball is specifically called out as contractually disallowed and not to be played by professionals athletes from other sports. That’s sad. Know that making a mistake and for instance penalty hindering is not an indication of weakness. Although not owning up to it or going with a ref’s incorrect call, THAT is blatant gamesmanship, unfair, bad karma, it looks awful from outside the court, and it reflects very poorly on the competitors on the court. By explaining the terms, concepts, tactics, and techniques, as well as the rules and secrets of the game, the lofty goal here is to Save Racquetball. It’s a great game that is well worth saving. It should be even more expansively played as a competitive pursuit and participated in as an awesome cross training workout by athletes from all sports, including those who are just looking for recreational comradeship for players ages 8-100. Racquetball is a sport that should be in the Olympic Games. It’s actively played in well over 30 countries (actually closer to 40).

It’s a great team sport when played by a small contingent of players. Potentially it could be an exciting, intensely competitive, Davis Cup like event and playing spectacle that would sell lots of tickets, too. Racquetball is a sport that could be played to the enjoyment of massive crowds in arenas worldwide because it’s an amazing, thrilling, and captivating spectator sport. Watching it is good on the internet, but it’s even more exciting and enthralling in person. For anyone, playing racquetball is a wonderful brain teaser and it’s an especially effective form of exercise, great competitive fun and very diverting  entertainment.

Enjoy this Instruction Manual. If you have any questions about any topic or term, please fire away. I will answer you enthusiastically. This effort results from my approach to learn all I can thru play and analysis of this extraordinary sport that I teach, play, document and watch. Here’s a quote to inspire you by I hazard to say a probable racquetball enthusiast…“As the strong man exults in his physical ability, delighting in such exercises as call his muscles into action, so glories the analyst in that moral activity which disentangles. — Murders in the Rue Morgue, Edgar Allen Poe