By Ken Woodfin

The rules of competitive Racquetball

Rules of the Competitive Racquetball Road

The Spirit of the Racquetball Game

The idea is the game of racquetball is very challenging and the required skill set to play it is expansive just based on the fact that you’re taking turns hitting the ball together with your competitor on the same court space, as compared to say tennis where one competitor is on one side of the net and the other competitor is across the net from them.

In racquetball THE most aggressive shot is the kill-shot which promotes, in some, a killer instinct by how they approach playing the game. Note a kill-shot bounces twice before the first line. Those things in part are why we have a very organized set of rules. Playing by the rules is not that hard and it makes the game better, safer, more fun and where it may be characterized by its beautiful shotmaking and flowing court movement instead of hindering, tactical gamesmanship, and controversy.

What we’re aiming for here is fair play. The rules are actually the best they’ve ever been. Their interpretation by referees…could be a little better, as at times calls should be made more proactively vs leaving it up to the two aggressors to deciding whether to hold fire. Also, not being a homer or refereeing your bud might be best just due to the pressure on a ref in that situation. There are too many 50/50 calls and it’s hard to do the right thing when pressured by doing the popular thing. Rule improvement-wise just think about how it used to be. For example…there was a time when a straight shot didn’t have to even be given. Then the shot you were allowed was to angle the ball “around” the opponent who could be stationed right there in front of you; so you were to hit the ball to the wide side of the court, which was a set of shots a fast opponent could run down unless you had hit a wide angle pass (WAP) in your arsenal…I digress.

Going on, although it’s still pretty close to the sidewall, the 3′ drive serve line used to not even exist, and back then screen serving was a rampant tactic used by servers to hide the ball from their buffaloed receiver, as the server would stand and drive the ball along the wall from almost right up against the sidewall. At one time there wasn’t even an encroachment (safety) line. Imagine <those> receiver vs server confrontations! At one time you could step out the service box past the short line whenever you didn’t like your lob serve and the call was just “foot fault”. Today it’s an “out” and loss of serve. I’d like to see the culture of the game change where players play by an honor code where they voluntarily call *fouls* on themselves. I’d also like to see more teaching of fair play. Likewise I’d like to see more advanced techniques shared among players and teaching Pros, with a growing vs shrinking population of hungry players instead of dummying down the techniques, in a pandering, overly simplistic way to the perceived unwashed masses. Players of every level of ability can do far, far more than is taught, published as tips online, video instructed, or responded to in Q&A’s at big events; as there are expert players in that audience and others capable of hearing and understanding the secrets of the game. I’d like to save racquetball, but, for today, the Rules. Here’s a lesson on the USA Racquetball Official Rules of Racquetball. The goal of this lesson is to explain key, sometimes controversial, sometimes loosely interpreted rules and how they *should* be properly applied in highly competitive play and how they affect game tactics in a big way. By the way, enough with the drivel that it’s just a recreational game. Racquetball in even pick up ball or weekly routine matches is very, very competitive whenever the score is called before a rally begins. As a kicking off point, what <was> an “avoidable” and is now a penalty hinder should be called by the offending player on themselves or after it’s been pointed out to them when they clearly took away an offensive opportunity from their opponent. It’s no dishonor to commit and make a penalty hinder call on yourself. It’s disrespectful to the game (and yourself) to replay a rally that ended with a penalty hinder when an offensive chance was clearly taken away from the offensive player who was ready to shoot, like when the shooter was blocked from getting the shot angles they’re owed. There’ll be much more on what must be given or not given below.

Definitions

The Middle

For all of the scenarios below, picture yourself in the middle of the court at some time in every single rally. That’ll mean you’re playing aggressively. The middle extends behind the service line which is the first line crossing the court 15′ back from the front wall. The middle goes back from that line all the way to about 5′ behind the dashed receiving line which is 25′ deep. The middle also stretches from sidewall to sidewall. That band of court that’s 15′ long and 20′ wide is a key part of the court where lots of the important action takes place. It’s where you serve and escape the service box to get back in the middle of the middle or what is called center court. Center court is where you want to be in coverage ready to cover the service receiver’s return or, after a successful return, their rally shot. Center court in the middle is where you move after returning serve or after you hit your rally shot so you’re in the best spot to START your cover run to track down and shoot your next rally shot. The middle is where you most often share the field of battle with your opponent.

Where Exactly Is Center Court? 

Since it’s been mentioned a few times it’s best to know where center court is. Center court is not one spot or even located at one court depth, like the over publicized one stride behind the dashed line. Think of center court or *center* as a fluid or floating zone in the middle middle of the court. The floating zone stretches from a yard behind the dashed line up to almost the short line. It also stretches over to one side when the ball is on that side and you are covering, but not blocking the required line up to the cross-court angle to far, rear corner. Optionally you may block the diagonal shot into the opposite front corner when the ball is being struck from behind you in the backcourt. The backcourt is the back 10′ feet of the court or the *back 10*. So the center floating zone is as deep as a step behind the dashed line for situations when you’re playing a ball blaster or you’re in the midst of a protracted ceiling ball rally. The zone goes as far forward as almost to the short line when, for instance, you’re the one defensive doubles partner positioning yourself further up in an attempt to, as a result of your close positioning, take away the option of sidewall shots feeding into the front court from the opponents taking balls near sidewalls and flattening out their shots from deep court. The center zone is fluid to adjust to where the ball is and what shot is expected based on that match’s history or that player’s known shotmaking tendencies. It’ll be exhaustively discussed later, but being there *in-between* means locating yourself between ball in the backcourt and opposite front corner. That’s one place players position themselves to cover more shots and take away that key, very tough to defend diagonal shot into the opposite front corner. The server after serving, the receiver after returning serve, and the rally shooter after striking the ball all strive to get to home base in center after striking the ball so they’ll be able to best cover more shots and legally, fairly take away other dangerous shots that would be really tough to cover, like diagonal shots into far, front corner or a pass striking a sidewall on the far wall next to you. But, as a hint, know getting there (to initially good in between position) doesn’t often get you to the ball. There your job is just half done. Start in center and then move from there to track down, approach, prep for and shoot the ball AFTER you determine where you should go based on your powers of observation when reading the game, the opponent and factoring in your mental notes you’ve taken to that point in that match. Simply put, move to hit the ball based on your ball read. Anticipate and then hustle! Back to the rules…

What Is Your Playing Responsibility? —

It’s your duty to hit the ball when it’s your turn and to let the opponent hit the ball when it’s their turn. Now it’s obvious there are going to be times when it’s your duty to move to give your opponent a a chance to hit the ball, but you’re zigging, and you can’t zag. You even want to zig-zag but you’re body weight or their difficult shot placement has spread you out too far to rebalance yourself and clear out of the way in time. It’s your duty to call 2 bounce gets, skips, and, in that last case where you’re in the way, a penalty hinder should be the call on yourself when you honestly know you caused one (search Ruben Gonzalez if you need to know why you should make calls). When the opponent is shooting, there’s no defending their shooting. After you hit the ball, you must give the opponent a direct line to wherever they want to go to intercept and return the ball without crowding them getting to or when playing the ball. You must also allow your competitor a full view of the ball when they’re behind you. That includes when they’re directly behind you or when they may be along the diagonal line where the ball is headed. And the shooter must be given a full, unimpeded swing through the ball. That means after you swing through the ball and complete your follow-through, you must move when the ball and more importantly the opponent is headed your way. No hitting the ball and just freezing there failing to move to get out of the way of the ball. Not moving would also actually make it tougher on you to get the next ball when you’re not in *your* center court when you strike the ball. Now playing keep away or hitting the ball both away from the opponent and away from you is one strategic approach. The other end of the spectrum and an alternative approach used by some is to hit the ball as close to themselves as they can and then move strategically to enhance the difficulty the opponent has tracking and playing their shots and serves. Still, when the opponent is going to be <slightly> screened by their position on the angle the ball is taking, the player playing it close must dodge and give the defender a good glimpse of the ball or they’ll be called for screening or possibly targeted by the ball due to their opponent’s partial view of the ball at contact. Importantly, after you hit, as defender you need to give up both the straight and cross-court options or risk being popped, bruised (and called for a penalty hinder in a match reffed by a competent referee) or reminded that you’re not abiding by the rules by a less than overjoyed opponent in ref-free play. Also conceptually consider everything between the straight and cross-court angles is a no blocking allowed Zone. Here’s more on what you must allow …

What Are Your Must-Gives Defensively? 

While you’re in coverage, you must give the service receiver or rally shooter, at the spot where they make ball contact, a direct shot both straight to the front wall, as well as a particular shot angle across the court, or less. That cross-court angle at its fullest size sees the shooter angle the ball away from them to a spot on the front wall where the defender must allow the ball to be placed so the ball may angle from off the front wall into the far, rear corner furthest from ball contact. That front wall spot for the full angle is about halfway over from contact to the far sidewall. For example, when the ball is a couple feet from the left sidewall in the left rear corner, the shooter must be able to place the ball in the right, rear corner after striking the front wall about 1/2 way over or a little less than 10′ from the right sidewall. That full cross-court is about a 45 degree angle or *V* into and out of the front wall. The V must be given, even, for instance, in a scenario when you are the server and the service receiver who is returning must be able to hit up to the V angle with their return. Here’s a scenario explaining what’s to be given to the receiver. When you contact your serve from over on one side of the service box (at spots as close as 3’1″ off the sidewall just inside the 3′ drive serve line or all the way out to as far as 9’11” or just under half the service box) and when your serve angles (intentionally or unintentionally) into the sidewall on that same side to then deflect into the center initially right behind where the ball is served, to play fairly and give up the straight over to the V and not get popped or called for a penalty hinder, YOU MUST CLEAR. To clear out of the way your movement options include actions to: (1) quickly move away from where you served towards the complete other side of the court; (2) elevate timing your jump so you’re lifting off just as the opponent is about to hit the ball so you’re only up while the ball is scooting under you and you can quickly drop your feet and beat feet to the ball at the direction you read and see; (3) lift your closest leg up high timed so a very low shot may go under your raised foot; or (4) admit you just can’t disappear this time and surrender the ball to the opponent for them to serve. It’s not so bad to call a penalty on yourself, as it’ll be a great incentive for you to not do THAT again. If you get hit by the opponent’s ball when you’re on the V angle or less of an angle all the way over to straight in front of their contact, it’s all on you. It’s a penalty hinder. To replay the rally would be sheer tomfoolery. “A penalty hinder results in the loss of the rally. A penalty hinder does not have to be an intentional act, but an intentional hinder would be a penalty hinder…”. Refs must make penalty hinder calls when offense is disallowed and always when the offending player’s safety is at risk. Refs aren’t taking notes. They’re like a ring ref in boxing. When the players get too close to one another and they’re in a ‘clinch’ blocking shots, as ref, don’t wait to see what’s going to happen next. You’re not just a passenger. Make a safety call when there’s a failure to move or their moving to fail positioning blocking a straight up to the V cross-court angle before the offensive player can go after them. Ref so that it’s safe and fair, don’t watch and just let them err.

What Shots Do You “Not” Have to Give Up? 

Note that the V angle you must allow is the biggest angle or limit and no bigger cross-court angle across the court must be given UNLESS the spot where the opponent contacts the ball is in the middle or closer where you wouldn’t move up *that* far up just to take away wider cross-courts. Here’s what that means. A shot angle where a passing shot could hit the front wall and then carom off and veer into the far sidewall right beside the opponent when they’re positioned in the middle of the court is not an angle you must automatically give up. That is a wide angle pass (WAP) which is a bigger angle than a V pass. The WAP usually taken and given when the ball is contacted in the middle or front of the back 10. When the opponent is contacting the ball in deep court, also the long diagonal shot angle across the court into the opposite front corner doesn’t have to be given or left open either. Only the straight or zero angle over to the 45 degree V angle MUST be unblocked by your positioning AT ALL TIMES. The rule is basically that you can’t take away shots from the spot where the ball is contacted into angles straight to the front wall and from there over into an angle to a front wall target that’s halfway over to the other sidewall, OR less than straight (just a sec on that…). From contact near one sidewall the front wall target is just about the very middle of the front wall. If the ball is say 6′ off the sidewall, the target on the front wall is a couple feet on the other side of the of the middle of the front wall. One more angle situation is worth explaining. An angle less than zero or closer to the near sidewall than straight to the front wall when the ball is say 3′ or more off the sidewall allows the defensive player to stand along that wall and even occlude the near corner pinch sidewall and splat shot angles as fair positioning. In fact that’s a common sight you’ll see in doubles, with the ball being struck from the middle in the backcourt, as both defensive players are along the sidewalls ready for cross-court angles, legally blocking sidewall shots and needing to be ready to move center just in case a ball directly up the middle results from the shot being shaped. Note diagonal angles would feed the sidewall positioned opponents.

As Usual, Give Up V and Straight Shots From Deep Court, But Not The Long Reverse; By…  

From the opponent’s ball contact further back in the backcourt or in the back 10, the straight and V angles will be open *when* the diagonal angle into the opposite front corner is fairly, legally blocked by your early coverage resulting from your movement into center court before the shooter can get to the ball to start shooting. Simply be there before the shooter. For contact further up in the middle of the court it is counterintuitive to position yourself way, way forward just focusing on only blocking the reverse, which would block the wide angle pass, but would leave open way too much on the ball side, along with difficulty covering the V angle and, with your more frontal positioning, your time to react would really be squeezed down possibly beyond your ability to cover the V passes, a shot usually defendable from say the area around the dashed line. Any further forward positioning and passes may strand you. Any further back and two bounce kills in the front court area are outside your coverage range. Straddling the dashed line is a good middle ground. Blocking the far corner gets you there in center in relationship to the ball’s depth and distance sideways from the near sidewall. The reverse pinch or reverse is a diagonal sidewall-front wall shot which is hit with the other side’s stroke. For example, a forehand reverse pinch is a shot struck with your forehand sending it diagonally into your backhand side front corner. The forehand reverse pinch may be struck from all over the court. Contact may be all the way over by the forehand wall on over to close by the backhand wall in the middle and as deep as in either back corner. Another diagonally angled shot, the near corner pinch can also be shot from all over the court, as well. Here’s a scenario demonstrating the danger presented by the near pinch shot: when a cross-court passing shot (or V angled drive serve) is sent from one side of the court to the other, its angle can bring the ball into the center off the back wall. After the ball strikes and angles off the front wall toward the far, rear corner, the ball may bounce, catch the far sidewall deep in the court but not directly in the back corner. And, at the same time you are tracking down the ball to be a moving shooter. As the ball is angling into the  sidewall, deftly step *into* your backhand back corner *inside the ball*. Pivot with the ball while it’s angling off the sidewall into the back wall. Spin while flicking your feet timing the ball until they angle to point your stance along the diagonal angle into the far front corner. As the ball pops off the back wall in front of your shoulder, stroke with your off stroke for that side of the court and use an inside out motion. That return of serve or rally shot from your backhand corner would be struck with your forehand into a long, near corner pinch diagonally angling the ball into your forehand front corner, sidewall first. Now hopefully it’s obvious to you that solid, were you the cross-court shooter your tactical defensive covering movement gets <you> defensively *in-between* ball and that very vulnerable diagonal corner, BEFORE the opposing shooter gets to the ball. Being there first would disallow that long near corner pinch against you and likewise it would take away the long reverse pinch, for example, with the backhand from that same backhand back corner into the the forehand front corner. That coverage movement is one reason why you defend, to take away those angles which are fair to block and to also start centrally to cover more angles from your starting block in center court. On that diagonal, the straight up to the V cross-court angles are open, as the rules mandate. The diagonal and WAP angles are boxed out.

Center Court Coverage 

From center, tactically defending hard angling balls into the back corners presents a clear and present danger when the opponent is hitting a fast moving, higher contact ball, especially when they’re also hitting on the run. And those passing shots may be taken from the backcourt or up in the middle of the court. On the other hand, if it were to be a slow developing setup off to one side in either the middle or in the backcourt, your covering low front wall targets would become your defender priority. Again, blocking the reverse when the ball is being struck from further up in the middle of the court would NOT be a tactically sound move because you would have to be too far up in the court while virtually raising a sign reading, “Please pass me”. On the other hand, a low contact stroke and time to execute a low shot by the shooter should make you consider, as defender, making a mad dash up into the front court to cover a low ball that <could> stay up just that little bit rewarding your defender hustle and most of all your commitment to move from your initial cover spot in the center. Of course, Plan A is to not give the opponent a shot in the middle when the ball is going either fast or slow, high or low, centrally or on the sides. But, it happens. First, as defender, cover the shot you read whether it’s a passing shot or low shot by moving from your spot you’ve worked to find in or near center court to move and cover what you read will be the ball’s angle and its court depth. Generally also letting the ball drop low for contact is ideal as you track down most any ball, when you have time to allow it to drop. (Note that looking to rush your opponent with early high contact had better be much better than waiting and making low, setup contact just a little deeper in the court). After the rally, quickly analyze why when you left the ball in the middle or as a setup anywhere where the opponent could shoot low. Then seek ways to fix that. It’s best to leave your shots deep in the back corners when you can’t shoot really, really low to place the ball in the forecourt in front of the first line. It’s far less attractive leaving a ball closer up along a sidewall. Although definitely avoid the worse case of leaving the ball up in the forecourt or so the ball is contactable right down through the very center of the court because then you can’t be in the center unless you’re flying (by leaping) in front of the making contact shooter. Center middle setups usually means you’re miss-angling either your straight or cross-court passing shots or your sidewall shots are targeted too high. Or it could be you’re starting your covering run to get the opponent’s shots from way too deep in the backcourt or way too far off to the side so you’re having to hit on the dead run. When you’re NOT beginning your move from your good starting spot *on the diagonal* in center court or in some part of center (when the ball and opponent is closer up) and then assertively making a MOVE to cover the shot you anticipate or see, you’re waiting <too long> for the game to just come to you. When you’ve worked hard to get there in center, don’t just hang out there hoping somehow the opponent’s shot will kindly feed right back to you. You’re over depending on the errors of your opponent. It’s like waiting in the middle for serves and watching them harmfully bounce twice in a back corner. You have to move to cover and how well you move to cover by tracking the opponent’s ball allows you to be able to shoot more accurately your deep pass or low kill-shot WINNER!

The Basics —

Now let’s get into the rules and how they relate to the basics of the game, which actually tells you how to play and what you need to do to win. Knowing the rules is invaluable.

Game’s Main Offensive Objectives 

Serve, return or shoot rally shots with goal that your opponent is unable to return the ball you’ve hit to (or off) the front wall (after sidewall). To start a game, one player serves from the service box that’s enclosed by the first two lines. (Note the receiver will serve first in Game 2). The serve must hit the front wall, pass the back of the box beyond the short line and in flight optionally contact no more than one sidewall. The served ball must be able to bounce before the back wall (if it’s not swing volleyed <hit> out of midair before it bounces). If on the fly the ball strikes the back wall, it’s a fault long serve. If your serve appears long, still be on alert the receiver could cut it off at the last second and surprise you with their return. Two faults, like a short serve that bounces inside the short line and then a second serve 3 wall serve that hits one sidewall and then carries to hit the other sidewall on the fly is two fault serves and an “out” which means it’s the opponent’s serve. Served balls that hit the crotch or crack in a front corner is an out, as the ball makes a distinctive sticky sound. Served balls that hit low and roll off the front wall are short and a fault serve. Served balls that hit the crotch at the back wall are good serves, while balls that roll off the back wall are long and a fault. Served balls that hit two sidewalls and the crotch along the second sidewall are good serves. Served balls that hit the ceiling after the front wall are short and fault. The receiver starts behind the dashed receiving line to make their return. No contact may be made with the ball out of the air until the ball crosses the line, while the receiver remains behind the line until contact. You can cross the dashed line to hit the ball AFTER the ball bounces between the short and dashed lines; and there short hop away (hitting ball low just as it makes its bounce). Most returns are attempted further back in the court. The front wall is still the target for the service receiver and for all rally shots AFTER the rally has begun with a successful service return by the receiver. After a legal return, the players take turns returning the ball in a rally. All shots must be returned before the ball can bounce twice. Return shots may contact any number of side, back and ceiling surfaces, as long as the ball makes it to the front wall without hitting the floor on the way. If the ball hits the floor before hitting the front wall or before a sidewall for a sidewall shot it is a skip and a loss of rally. Play is stopped for hinders, like the offensive player not being able to hit the ball when the defensive opponent is in the way of the offensive player’s swing or when their straight up to their V shot angle is blocked. Here are more rules specifics …

Rule for Start of Play —

“The server may not start the service motion until the referee …(or, in ref free play, the server)… has called the game score or “second serve.” The referee shall call the score as both server and receiver prepare to return to their respective positions, shortly after the previous rally has ended–<even if the players are not ready>”. That means the ref calls the score as the player who won the previous rally is fetching the ball and heading into the service box to serve. The ref may call the score a little later on as the server is already bumping the ball up against the front or sidewall or as the server is dribbling the ball or whatever may be their repeated routine in their pre-serve readying, planning, visualizing ritual. After the score is called, the clock starts for the server and receiver to share (as much as) 10 seconds before a serve must be put in play by the server. As receiver, be fully aware that the server <can> (and will) quick serve you. They can hit their serve as quickly as … step into the box, bounce ball, wind up, and whack, IF at that time you are not either facing the back wall or you’re not raising your racquet, which are signals that you’re not ready WHEN they check you. And they MUST check you. If they didn’t check you, and you had your racquet raised or your back turned, it would negate their serve, as long as you began to signal *not ready* before the server began their service motion or before that full 10 seconds expires. Not checking the receiver costs the server one fault serve. To avoid quick servers, raise or turn to face the back wall every time. And while turning back around have the racquet raised, as you set your feet to return. Also, be aware that after about 6 seconds of the 10 it’s probably time to drop your signal and let them serve. When you take down your not ready signal at less than 4 seconds left of the 10 seconds, the server will just take even more than 4 seconds to do their service motion, and the ref will let them. Also, in ref free play, be careful to not be distracted by a cagey server who does two things at once while serving. One, they bounce the ball to serve and while they take their backswing they start to do something else they’d failed to do until then. Two, at the same time as they’re swinging, the server is also calling out the score, which may reasonably affect your concentration on their service motion and returning the ball they’re quick serving you with. That’s a pure gamesmanship ploy. The first time they call the score while they’re in the midst of their service motion your response should simply be, “What?” or “What’s the score?”. At the same time stop play. Don’t return <that> multitasking serve. Simply get the score calling settled BEFORE the ball is served or before the server begins their “continuous movement that results in the ball being served” which = service motion. Make only the server’s service motion and the ball the focal point of your concentration as receiver, not listening to whether the server is calling the correct score. And funnily many times the score IS called incorrectly in self officiated games. One trick to combat that possible mistake is, after you’re out, say the score yourself so your tally doesn’t shrink or theirs doesn’t increase, inadvertently of course.

When You Serve, Dominate —

As soon as you win the serve, take command. Secure the ball and instantly turn to face the opponent who is now the receiver and right then call the score. Now they cannot delay your use of the 10 seconds to serve up your nastiest delivery to cause, for example, one of these server/receiver situations: (1) ace them with a 2-bouncer to a back corner or a crackout off a sidewall where they can’t even make a touch on the ball; (2) run them with a high jam fly serve where they can’t cut the ball off effectively until it’s ricocheting off the back wall and angling toward the other sidewall; (3) reach up at the back wall in response to a ball bouncing short in the box from a high lob or high lob Z where the receiver must go to the ceiling or try a very low chance, almost jumping overhead; (4) when hitting either an off speed or crisply struck ball directly to a corner isolates the receiver where they must use that side’s stroke to return, like their weaker backhand; (5) make um lunge to where you pinpoint either back corner by Robin Hooding the corner crack with your best, low drive; (6) make the opponent run forward chasing a ball that bounces right before the back wall in the corner after a hard medium height drive serve or a cracking overhead serve; (7) make them respond when you hit the front wall and then closest sidewall veering the ball into a back corner to return your drive Z designed to not come off back wall or check up too far short of the back wall but be a leaning Z angling back after sidewall contact to die right at the back wall; (8) self defend where you serve a ball that deflects off a sidewall directly into one hip as a body jam; and finally (9) loft an out of their reach grazing lob that climbs way up high to nick a sidewall within a panel width (8′) of the back wall that then drops like a rock bouncing off the walls in deep court challenging the receiver’s skill set returning even to the ceiling. Again, back to the rules …

Drive Serve Line —

The

How to Avoid Causing a Penalty hinder …

Hit and Move —

When shooting from the middle, after you attempt a low kill-shot or a passing shot and the ball is coming back toward you or just close to you, you must clear to allow the opponent to move to return your shot. That means that, as you’re wrapping up your stroke with your swing through the ball and then full follow-through, turn your focus to the other player on the court who is also holding a racquet. Find your escape route that doesn’t involve a collision with the opponent. Move to clear out of the way of both the opponent AND the ball, while also be about moving to get in position to cover the opponent’s response to your shot. Here’s how to respond after playing either passes or low shots …

Pass and Move —

If you hit a passing shot that is going to pass near by you, right after you finish your swing and follow-through, be ready to slide away from the angle of your shot and banana back into prime real estate in center court. Allow the opponent to pick their cover run angle. For example, allow the opponent to go straight to the sidewall to try a high risk cutoff of your down the wall pass, when that’s their chosen cover angle. That actually would be one of their worst cover options, as the offensive player would be fighting both the wall and their difficulty seeing the ball while moving and trying to cut off the ball while running straight at the sidewall. To clear out of the way, after you hit your passing shot and follow-through, first rebalance yourself by pushing from your front to your back foot. Then step forward or move sideways, whichever way works best to deviate away from their run. And then move in your curving run into your best judged spot in center court. Be ready to cover the line in case the opponent answers your straight shot with yet another straight shot of their own. We’ll cover how <you> will cover the line in just a sec…first, low shot shooting…and clearing.

Shoot Low and Move —

After you stroke a low shot … when you’re shooting to leave the ball short in the front court, but you read your shot is coming toward you based on the shot you chose and what angle you felt you hit, factor in your movement to clear ground zero which is the spot where you made contact with the ball. Make your first cut or step away from what you observe is the opponent’s run angle especially if it’s coming toward you and the ball. First clear away and then make your curving run to center. When you go low, like a straight in kill-shot or a reverse pinch (especially front wall first) in the opposite front corner, the ball may feed right back to you. Again, quickly take note of the opponent’s position, as you are spinning your body and beginning your cut away and run, while you continue to keep the opponent in the corner of your eye. Give the opponent a straight line run to the ball no matter what line they may choose to take. To clear from your stroke spot, shift back recentering yourself, drop step directly back toward the center or alternatively step out toward the sidewall, when they’re coming from center. In either case, after your first step start your banana run to get into your recognized best coverage spot in center court. When you get there in the center, be ready to *move* to cover the opponent’s next possible shot, including a low shot of their own.

Always Be Ready to Cover the Line —

As defender, don’t be boxed out by the opponent who doesn’t clear to give you YOUR cover run. Initially while in coverage close to the shooter, make sure your position won’t crowd the opponent’s swing or follow-through. The idea is once a player strokes and completes their swing and follow-through they can’t remain in the way when the ball is coming their way. Here’s the specific hinder rule … “While making an attempt to return the ball, a (cover) player is entitled to a fair chance to see and return the ball. <It is the responsibility of the side that has just hit the ball to move so the receiving side may go straight to the ball and have an unobstructed view of and swing at the ball>”. It’s an oversold tactic, the straight in shot and it can cause controversy when the shooting player hits a ball that’s left up right at their feet or the ball is in play right behind the shooter when they remain glued to that spot, a veritable immovable object and “hinder player”. They are actually penalty hindering the cover player and they may be resorting to gamesmanship, as well. When the shooter hits a ball close by themselves as a pass and the cover player is right behind them or close enough to lunge over and blanket that line, the shooter is not supposed to turn into a stationary third wall. Intentional obstructing of the view of the ball by the opponent is under the rule referring to replay hinders, but, in the spirit of the rules, the player is hiding their pass from their opponent. It’s gamesmanship at its most blatant. To counter the opponent’s move or non-move and cover the pass, you have several choices to respond. One, when you’re behind them seeing very little of the pass they’ve hit, you can stop play and signal you couldn’t see the ball by waving your off hand in front of your face. Two, you could fall right into their trap and try a down the wall shot on a ball you may not have seen very well while hitting your return into an angle they’re covering very, very well. You’d be hitting a shot you mean to hit straight that could either hit the sidewall on the way in to the front wall or on the way back out which would give the hinderer a really good chance to offensively shoot your ill advised down the wall shot attempt. Three, you could bail to the ceiling and although you’d be moving them back in the court, you’d also be playing right into their hands by letting them shoot your ceiling ball when you could’ve made them defend a lower shot choice that’s away from them or you could’ve requested a replay to give you a better chance. Four, you can go for your deserved cross-court shot, trying to hit around the passing cone opponent. You might possibly strike the hinder player with the ball who is hiding their pass, while planting and admiring their handiwork, but the V angle must be taken, and given. Five, when you’re not right behind the screener, drop back diagonally and play the ball behind the screener <and> when you’ve had a chance to see more of the ball <and> the ball is going slower <and> you’re better prepped <and> you’ve seen more of the shooting situation, <and> very hopefully the opponent will have cleared some by the time you’re hitting so you may play your best response shot based on your better informed shot decision AND hustling, angled tracking run. Finally, if you’ve seen the ball well enough and you feel you can control your return’s placement well, as option six, use your touch and Racquet Control to shape a near sidewall shot that is like a squash shot called the “boast” where you shoot around them by pinpointing a target up along the sidewall just a little bit lower than your ball contact height that’s right beside the hinderer to shape a nasty, demoralizing *splat* kill-shot. After you hit this splat shot, which you’ve practiced for just such an occasion, watch the hindering opponent stare in horror as your shot then carries from the sidewall to angle into and squirt low off the front wall angling to the other side of the front court far, far away from where the opponent is probably still playing statue.

When Can a Hinder Call Be Considered? —

To get a hinder call, it can’t be where a player feints a last second lunge for a ball that’s still two yards and a lunge away from their reaching to even swing desperately at the ball. The player looking to have the hinder called for them must be “…making a reasonable effort to move towards the ball and must have a reasonable chance to return the ball for any type of hinder to be called”. The players know. Looking to get a phantom hinder call is pure gamesmanship. When a hinder is not possible…it’s reality that many passes just fly by both the shooter and cover player before the shooter could be expected to clear because they’ve yet to finish swinging. The player shooting from the middle must get a full swing and follow-through before they must move to give the cover player an angle to intercept the ball usually, at best, behind the position of the passing shot shooter. Attempts to cover a pass in front of the shooter or going through them to cut the pass off we’ve already pointed out is really too challenging timing wise and visually. That’s why moving diagonally behind the shooter is optimal.

Service Zone Rules —

“The serve is started from any place within the service zone … neither the ball nor any part of either foot may extend beyond either line of the service zone when initiating the service motion. Stepping on, but not beyond, the line is permitted. However, when completing the service motion, the server may step beyond the service (front) line provided that some part of both feet remain on or inside the line until the served ball passes the short line. The server may not step beyond the short line until the ball passes the short line” … Now that’s a mouthful about the serve rule, huh? Here’s a scenario about the service zone front line rule and its relationship to how serving technique is used and refereed, too. At the 2015 U.S. Open in the Pro Ladies doubles final the referee called numerous foot faults on one particular player when she was serving her right handed forehand drive Z serve from the right side of the box and looking to place the Z deep in the right, rear corner. Replays clearly showed several times when the server had landed her foot directly on the first service line or just inside it where she would then pivot the foot without extending the foot all the way past that first service line; yet foot fault was still the ref’s call. From my slow mo review perspective I thought perhaps the ref didn’t know about the rule where you can land *on* (or behind the line) and, as you spin your foot, you may have all but your heel or trail side of your foot extending beyond the first line, as long as the whole foot does not cross the service line before the ball passes the second, short line. But let’s get to the causes of the foot faults which did occur and there were many of them where she did step and land all the way past the line. One, it appears that server hadn’t practiced and made sure her working stance feetwork didn’t surpass the first line, which since she did step past several times and way too blatantly it brought undue attention to her front foot landings. Two, her 2-step service motion could see improvements. She set her two feet at first where the left foot was in front of her right foot, with both feet placed along the back of the box. So far, so good, and that’s the routine pre-steps method. Then she’d step toward the right sidewall with her right foot landing it slightly behind, but NOT beside her left foot. She’d actually swing her right foot forward landing it further up toward the front wall touching down almost mid box. As one change, the right foot could step up and land much closer to her left foot further back in the box or just in front of the left foot. Note that her right foot is the back of her ultimate serve stance and the left foot is the front of her stance. First, overextending the right foot was causing her to not be able to control the size of her left foot step or to perform a consistent front foot landing. Hence she’d land the front foot too close to the front of the line or beyond it, too often. By setting the right foot a little deeper, the counterproductive foot fault call would’ve been eliminated from the equation. Also, with a deeper set right foot, her left foot crossover step would be just heartbeat sooner. By overstepping with the back, right foot, for one thing it wouldn’t allow her to crossover with the left foot as effectively or powerfully to use her legs to max out BOTH the move sideways she did have AND also to call upon and add and optimize potentially great rotational force out of the lower body turning it into an even more powerful full body swing. Then she would be able to land the left foot and use it to initially build back or press back from front to back which acts as a release of the gate of the feet (popping and pointing forward), dual knee turn and loaded hip untwist into subtle, but quickly explosive hip flip. As it turns out, most 2-step drive servers almost exclusively depend upon just a side to side move with the legs, from front to back, aided by upper body turn, which initiates only from the top down into an arm fling climax spurring the drive serve motion for a fast, but not really “heavy” served ball. It’s a rushed motion. They kinda just step through the swing forward or just step and hit all at once. “Photon” servers Egan Inoue, Tim Sweeney, Brian Fredenberg, Glenn Bell, Kenny Adebiyi and Charlie Garrido all *possess* massive wrist power, but it’s their step, connect and then hit prefaced by hip flip that precedes their wrist snap which is what causes the ball to have that extra oomph and action making the ball just jump off the racquet, jet to and off the front wall and, due to where they place the racquet strings on the lower part and inside of the ball causing it to bounce close behind the short line where it seems to spin right in place and then take off at yet another upper echelon of speed zipping or photoning back into the corner like the ball just hit a wet spot; but it hadn’t. Finally, to change her initial stroking posture, which was starting by being bent way too far over at the waist, eliminating that would actually allow her to get down even lower in her move forward when attacking the front of the box. For all servers, a too bent over upper body prevents favorable full body turn into the ball. Bend and turn your ankles, knees, hips, core, elbow, and wrist, while only slightly flexing at the waist, and climax by turning all the parts together making smoking contact to superpower your drive serve and hit a heavy ball for the receiver to have absorb with their racquet string bed. Back to the rules…

Screen Serve Rule —

A served ball that first hits the front wall and on the rebound passes so closely to the server, or server’s partner in doubles, that it prevents the receiver from having a clear view of the ball. (The receiver is obligated to take up good court position, near center court, to obtain that …{clear} view…) Two consecutive screen serves results in an out.”  … That’s a clinic on the screen serve. Whenever you feel you’ve been screen served in a refereed match, raise your off hand and turn to the ref and wave that off hand in front of your face signaling you couldn’t see the ball as it passed by the server. Hopefully you’ll get the call. If you don’t want the ref to call a screen on a certain serve because the partial screen view you got still gave you, with hustle, a juicy back wall setup which may be your best chance you’ll get to return <this> flamethrower drive serve, so then just don’t raise your hand. Also, in advance of play, you would have had to subtly let the ref know that you’ll signal when you think you’ve been screened by raising your off hand, but when you don’t signal, you’re saying, “I got this”. In a self officiated match the receiver alone gets to make a “Screen!” call, when, as the ball “passes so closely to the server, or server’s partner in doubles, that it prevents the receiver from having a “clear view of the ball”. When the server is serving from the center of the service box or just on the other side of the middle in the box, a ball served behind them into the far, rear corner that is within a couple feet of the sidewall isn’t a screen serve. As the server moves from there over closer to the sidewall near the targeted back corner, much more precision is required to place the ball very close to directly in that corner. Big misunderstandings by many are based on concepts like they think they should see the ball as it’s coming off the front wall. Or they think it should be 18″ away from the server (an old screen serve rule). It’s line of sight perspective by receiver who from center in the back of the court is, again, watching the ball as it’s passing by the server to determine if they could clearly see the ball well enough to return it. The ref is supposed to put themselves in the role of the receiver and judge, “Could I see the ball?”. Watching the server’s approach to the ball with the angle or point of their stance, their racquet prep, ball toss, shoulders’ angle, contact point and hopefully seen swing angle or racquet flow reveals many clues that are picked up on by the receiver whose eyes are glued to the server and that area around them where the ball may appear after the ball has popped off the front wall and it’s passing the short line. My suggestion is to start much earlier to better see the served ball: bend your knees and for only this one time, as you play, bend at the waist to get your head down very low to peer through the server’s legs. Relax your eyes to pick up the ball as it hits the front wall or right after it’s coming off the front wall. Once you see what you can see, get your head up unbend at the waist, watch the area near the server, and, when you’ve picked out the back corner, pop your feet to point ball side and begin your feetwork to return *this* serve (again see Court Movement).

Screen Ball in Rallies —

Note that there’s also a screen ball rule for rallies under replay hinders which reads, “Any ball rebounding from the front wall so close to the body of the defensive player that it prevents the offensive player from having a clear view of the ball”…(is a screen ball). Think how sensitive people are about being screened on serves when they’re already standing, waiting and watching. Here we’re talking about being in a rally and the offensive player fielding the ball is either behind or moving to get behind the player who is hitting the ball. The offensive player is trying to see the ball and return the ball in the blink of an eye. An extra little wrinkle in the rule reads…(The referee should be careful not to make the screen call so quickly that it takes away a good offensive opportunity.)” So that means the ref waits to see if… (a) maybe the ball is going to pop off the back wall as a setup or (b) my assumption is the ref may be waiting to see whether the offensive player will signal they were screened. A final caveat in the rules language reads, … “Generally, the call should work to the advantage of the offensive player.” The main thing for this rally situation is for you, as the offensive player, to not let yourself be caught standing behind the screener and foul tipping or spraying your returns because you couldn’t see and return the ball well. Signal your screened fanning your face. AND, if you did see the ball, but you couldn’t produce a shot straight to the front wall because the screener is still glued to the same spot after hitting, THINK FAST, while you also factor in that you have little time to decide whether to hold up or hit. Also, when you move to get there just in time behind the screener and your clear view of the ball is impaired by how close the ball is passing the hitting player, as the offensive player you are now in a quandary. As the <shooter>, you must decide whether to hit on the run a ball you see late or poorly. And, two, if you don’t hit the ball, does the ref give you a screen ball call when you were moving to at the last second <get screened> by the opponent? Advice: treat this rally screen ball like you do a screen serve. If it passes very close and you couldn’t see it clearly, hold fire and raise your off hand. If you could see it well enough but the screener freezes when you shot choice is straight, get ready like you’re going to blast the ball and hold up right before you pop um. Then point at the screening culprit, look back at the ref, and let them decide on the severity of the call, penalty hinder or bail out replay hinder call. If neither call is made, the answer is clear; hit the best shot you can thataway toward the front wall, next time. If you can see the ball and you also have a plan for your shot away from the opponent, go for your shot and hit out, while making firm racquet to ball contact. And, after swinging, follow your shot in just in case the screener in front of digs out your shot. If the screener hits the ball AND moves out of the way and you both saw the ball well enough and you sense you can shoot the ball down the wall or straight, go for it because that’ll be one of the toughest shot angles for the opponent to cover which is right back where they just were. If the screen ball passes extremely close by the screen ball hitter but it’s going to bounce and pop off the back wall, after the setup pops off, go medieval on the ball and rip your shot into your best wall target you can find for this ball maybe not going for the diagonal cross corner unless you feel or better yet see it’s given. Finally, if it’s a doubles screen ball situation, it may be doubly difficult because the ball that was hit by one partner may be screened by their partner. Then that would mean the partner is also in front of you if were you screened. You are being doubly played. First, you should be in front where you’d be able to obviously see the ball better. Raise your off hand and hold up unless you see the ball well enough and you think you can pass the opponent on your side who is obviously in front of you where a pass may fly by them. Probably don’t go cross-court to their partner who gets to see so much of your predicament unless you can keep it completely away from them with say a WAP. Several more doubles rules situations later.

Legal Return Rule —

“After a legal serve, a player receiving the serve must strike the ball on the fly or after the first bounce, and before the ball touches the floor the second time; and return the ball to the front wall, either directly or after touching one or both side walls, the back wall or the ceiling, or any combination of those surfaces. A returned ball must touch the front wall before touching the floor.” One misunderstanding often occurs when discussing when to return a blast ball or b-b-back wall ball, ala Dave Peck’s terminology. When a ball is creamed way up so high on the front wall that it will carry all the way to also hit up high on the back wall and then spring way out to bounce in the middle or even in the front court within 15′ of the front wall, while retaining plenty of inertia it carries all the way to the front wall, WHEN do you <have to> return the ball? You <can> catch up to the ball before it reaches the front wall, but you don’t <have to> beat the ball to the wall. So far it has only bounced the once. You can let the ball hit the front wall and then strike the ball as it rebounds out. The key then is that you must hit the ball before it bounces a second time. Also, when you swing compactly, ideally look to angle the ball away from your opponent who probably is following you in and is closing in on you and the ball. A drop shot works well when hitting a ball that’s on its way in to the front wall. To play a ball after front wall, back wall, bounce, carry to front wall and rebound out a little, a solid flick swing or short compact stroke is best used to angle the ball away from the opponent when your priority is placement. It would be hard to roll it out. Angle it away.

The Back Wall Setup Gamesmanship Hinder —

A way too often hitting situation occurs when it shouldn’t in play where the ball bounces on its way to the back wall and then as it pops far off the back wall for an obvious offensive set up, but the sure fire setup comes with a big wrinkle, an intentional hinder ploy by the opponent. As the ball arcs out the opponent contorts themselves around the ball intentionally obscuring the shooter’s clear view of the ball as it’s coming directly to the shooter from off the back wall. The defending player obviously shouldn’t be hiding the ball, well, pretty much, ever. The shooting “…player is entitled to a fair chance to see and return the ball. It is the responsibility of the side that has just hit the ball to move so the receiving side may…have an unobstructed view of and swing at the ball.” That lean in isn’t adhering to the spirit of the rules. When that hiding of the ball has happened to me, sometimes, to make my point, I’ll spin around and feign hitting the ball backwards to save the ball into the back wall because I couldn’t see the ball well enough to do what I’d like to do and should get to do, which is roll the ball flat off the front wall were I not being penalty hindered, by YOU! I like it when they cringe. The opponent (or their doubles partner) set you up, and they should and could move to give you a clear, unobstructed view of the ball coming toward you from off the back wall, as many times they have to move quite a bit to lean in close so it’s very deliberate. Of course it’s entertaining when the ball hits um as it arcs out just a little too close to them. They should be moving into the best spot they can find in center court. Setting you up is one thing. Resorting to gamesmanship to take away your setup just ain’t right. How do THEY sleep at night?

Unobstructed View Replay Hinder Rule —

Here’s the full rule on giving the player an unblocked view and swing at and through the ball: “…Responsibility. While making an attempt to return the ball, a player is entitled to a fair chance to see and return the ball. It is the responsibility of the side that has just hit the ball to move so the receiving side may go straight to the ball and have an *unobstructed view of and swing at the ball*. However, the receiver is responsible for making a reasonable effort to move towards the ball and must have a reasonable chance to return the ball for any type of hinder to be called.” That’s listed under replay hinders, but the penalty hinder paragraphs that directly follow demonstrate the spirit of the law is that when hiding the ball or blocking the offensive player’s movement to the ball and that must-give angle range or taking away a full swing through the ball due to crowding classifies all of those rules infringements as a loss of rally, and a loss of face.

More Penalty Hinder (PH) Rules

Failure to Move PH —

“A player does not move sufficiently to allow an opponent a shot straight to the front wall as well as a cross-court shot which is a shot directly to the front wall at an angle that would cause the ball to rebound directly to the rear corner farthest from the player hitting the ball. In addition, when a player moves in such a direction that it prevents an opponent from taking either of these shots.” This failure to move goes for after the server serves, after the rally player hits their rally shot or even after the covering player makes a good get. The getter must also move to allow their opponent the two shots (and think of it as shots between, too). After getting to the ball and even when they’re backing out trying to clear out of the way, from where the shooter makes contact with the player’s get the offensive shooting player gets to shoot straight up to the V angle. If the player who made the get cannot get out of the way or the getter’s positioning takes away a shot going DTL or V cross-court to the far, rear corner and literally all the tweeners or angles between, it’s not abiding by the rules. Were the getter to block either of those angles (or angles in between) it’s a penalty hinder. Another maybe more graphic and familiar example that’s a norm in tournament play is that, when a player who dives to the floor to make a get is still floored as the ball passes over them or close by them so that the opponent can’t swing from straight to that V cross-court angle, that is a readily, routinely called penalty hinder. The opponent should hold up and appeal for the call immediately and not swing near a diver. This isn’t a back wall setup where you could lose sight of the defensive opponent who then pops up in front of you, or IS it?  Players show up right in front of players playing a ball off the back wall, too. How that works out is covered later on. It should be obvious, huh? It’s often not a de facto even as a replay hinder.

Blocking Rule PH —

“Moves into a position which blocks the opponent from getting to, or returning, the ball; or in doubles, the offensive player who is not returning the ball hinders or impedes either defensive player’s ability to move into a position to cover the pending shot that comes into play.” After the shooter has set themselves to strike the ball to send the ball off into any open angle, the cover player can’t mentally go, “Oops!” and then move in late to block that selected angle, period. So it behooves you, as the cover player, to get there in coverage very early. The player hitting the ball hustles. The player on defense must hustle just as hard to get into coverage position. Note that usually the cover player has a much smaller distance to cover to get into center than the shooter does, as the offensive player must track down the ball and get in position (the best position they can) to shoot the ball. There’ll be several more examples of blocking situations discussed below.

Taking It On the Leg, Intentionally or Unintentionally PH —

“Moving into the Ball. Moves in the way and is struck by the ball just played by the opponent”. For example, when a player is hitting from one back corner cater corner diagonally into the opposite front corner, an opponent clicking too late to the shot opening may think to block the diagonal. They can’t move in late on to the imaginary diagonal line between ball and cross front corner without risking taking the ball on the leg when the hitter is already there first and in mid swing. The cover player must be there, in the *in-between*, BEFORE the shooter gets to their spot and before the shooter begins to set themselves and especially point their feet or *canon turret* to shoot. If the cover player is late, they’d better be able to levitate or be airborne right when the shooter lasers the ball underneath them or they’ll be <moving into the ball>, not abiding by the rules and penalty hindering.

Diagonally Opposite Corner Taken Away Legally —

A very similar situation to being too late to get in-between can occur in a very fast paced rally when either a jam fly serve or a very similarly bouncing wrap around rally shot reacts like a jam fly serve zipping around the court in almost a full circle. For example, after you hit a ball from the right side of the court as a cross-court pass which (due its angle and pace) is high enough to carry and catch the left sidewall in mid court, deflect off, bounce, angle to the middle of the back wall, strike and pop off the back wall at an angle to the right side where it could be run down and played from the back, right corner by the offensive player. The angling, nearly fully circling ball could be returned at several angles by the offensive opponent when they move efficiently and read the ball effectively. And, importantly, as the player in coverage, you could move with and in reaction to the ball to get into good center court position while the offensive opponent is taking their tour of the court. As one option, the offensive player scurrying after the ball could catch up in the back right corner and spin to angle their stroke to hit a shot cater corner into the opposite front, left corner, IF and only IF the covering opponent hasn’t already, preemptively positioned themselves on that same diagonal in-between ball and corner BEFORE the shooter catches up to the ball to shoot the ball. If the cover player IS there blocking the diagonal angle, the diagonal shot just isn’t available to the shooter, period. Switching options, a V cross-court pass should be wide open. And, even though the straight in shot angle may be open, it’s very difficult to remove all of the spin on a wrap around ball and control the ball to angle and shape an accurate down the wall shot. The main point here is that, as the offensive player, you can’t just rock the opponent with a diagonal shot just because you decided while tracking, “That’s my shot”. And, as defender, the point is to hustle to *take away the reverse* before the shooter can possibly be there to begin to set (visualize) and fire. As a wrap around pass or drive serve shooter turned defender, you’d have less distance to run, so getting into your center court defensive spot should be a race you consistently win. In the the lone Jim Winterton/Kane Waselenchuk clinic one of my students, who was attending, too, smoked me with that diagonal shot and we never settled who was right and who was wrong. Watching my student scurrying around me while I was in the middle and then being popped was truly suspenseful waiting. The take back here is many players still think the whole front wall and part of the far sidewall is theirs, too. It’s entertaining but also disconcerting to watch inexperienced players leaping over diagonal shots taken from backcourt corners yet it’s very reassuring to see Kane standing there unmoved by the shooter’s attempt to hit that reverse which would hit sidewall, front wall and, due to its angle, outside in stroke mechanics and physics of the court, cause the ball to angle almost sideways after coming off the front wall while depositing the ball way up in the front court. Disallow that diagonal angle on defense with your early coverage positioning, and look for that angle opening yourself when you’re on offense. Take it when it’s given as it’s a shot you’ve drilled hard to make when it’s open. When it’s not open or given by your opponent’s positioning, pick again from your shot options.

Respecting Their Follow-through —

A quality of today’s physical play is the shear, massive size of many players’ forward swings and their full follow-throughs (see any videos of Jake Bredenbeck, as one example). The power forehand stroke, although bigger potentially pace-wise, with its many sources of forces, and larger contact zone, actually has a much smaller follow-through than the potentially enormous backhand follow-through. The racquet can travel almost 360 degrees around your torso from where it’s drawn back close to your off shoulder (or wrapping around you even more) to swinging out and thru to point to the front and then sweep around until pointing the racquet head back toward the back wall behind you in a full flowing, untethered backhand following-through. So, as cover player, make sure you give the opposing shooter about an 8′ diameter backhand swing. That means be more than 4′ feet to the side of the backhand hitter. Rule-wise, if you do get hit by a follow-through, it’s on you and “no hinder” is the call … what happens if the swinging player were to take an unnatural swing motion … read on about how big a swing could be vs should be …

How Big Could a Follow-Through Be? —

When the shooter either sets a wishy washy, unsettled stance or locked up straight leg stance with an unbent front knee, that hitter may need to release and swing that front leg around behind them as they’re hitting to <save their knee or hip/back>, and, as a result, bad things could happen. That’s one reason why you watch the shooter’s feet as they set up to rip. If the opponent that’s about to hit a backhand even appears to be imbalanced or straight legged and readying to step back from facing the far sidewall into an open front wall facing stance, give way a little more. Definitely don’t crowd a player who demonstrates that front foot swing tendency. Avoid their helicopter racquet swing. When the shooter looks like they’re going to hit and also step back behind them, as they <un-normarlly continue their stroke going sideways>, they’re now sporting a growing BIGGER 10′ diameter swing or larger. It may appear as if their swing is chasing after you when, <after> the imbalanced swinger makes contact, they then PLIÉ step with their front leg lunging out toward the sidewall behind them, as they continue their ever expanding follow-through across the court. As they step and reach far, far from where they originally made ball contact THAT is an <unnatural> motion, but, more importantly, it’s unsafe. A softer front knee, a less closed stance or an open front foot might all help, but breaking the habit of moving the front foot so drastically and taking the plié step and helicopter swing is the main objective. The simple rule is, “Safety first”. You’re sharing the field of battle, er, I mean court with your opponent.

Tactical Doubles Positioning —

When the shot your team hits in doubles leaves the ball in the center of the middle of the court in that 15′ deep band of court behind the service line extending back behind the dashed line, it’s DOUBLY, tactically bad. First, it’s an easier shot for the offensive opponents because the ball is closer to the target front wall. Second, because the ball is in the center it gives both opponents license to initially converge on the ball for them to then sort out who gets to hit it. As a result, the opponent who doesn’t hit the ball may use their initial approach to hit as an excuse to just stay right there in your way. That non shooting partner continues to occupy <your> valuable coverage position in the center while their shooting partner can hit virtually any shot that would leave the ball anywhere in the front court or middle of the court or basically in 2/3’s of the court, as you and your partner must start a long, long ways away from being in position to cover the shooter’s shot. One of you making the effort to move up alongside the shooter usually on the side away from the ball can throw a lug wrench in their works. I sometimes just ignore the non hitting opponent and I get where I know I’d be if they didn’t exist, by cutting and curling and hustling. Now that was a worse case. A little better situation occurs when your team strategically leaves the ball off to one side of the court which is a far better defensive situation for your team than when the ball is in the center. The reasoning here is simple. The partner who is not hitting is blocking when they stay up in the court and they don’t give way for you to be in front while their partner cranks their shot from off to one side of the court. The situation occurs when “…the offensive player who is not returning the ball hinders or impedes either defensive player’s ability to move into a position to cover the pending shot that comes into play”. The point is both defending players get to be in front when one opposing player is shooting from deep court or from off to one side in the middle of the court. When one opposing player is shooting from up on one side in the middle of the court, the opposite side of the court should be open for the defending team to both position themselves there in coverage, if that’s what they choose. It’s not a situation where the partner of the shooting player should be fighting for rebound position closest to the front wall with the defending pair or with one of you. As that opposing partner didn’t just join your team, as a defender, they must give way. Tactically it’s better if one offensive partner occupies center court. The other defensive partner may hedge over to cover the line by even standing slightly behind the shooter (out of follow-through range) on the line letting the shooter see them to make the shooter think twice about going for a down the wall shot. Here’s some conceptual shotmaking: for the shooter up in the middle and off to one side, this situation is offensively why someone invented the reverse pinch. From ball contact further back in the court, the threat of the reverse is why defending players make such a concerted effort to get on the diagonal angle to take away that reverse pinch angle when it’s possibly being taken from deeper in the court; as the cover player hustles to get in the *in-between* ball and corner. Further up toward the front wall ball contact precludes positioning to take away the reverse. Only proximity to the center and a readiness to hustle makes the cover players able to possibly get to left up diagonal shots or near corner pinches when they’re taken from farther up in the middle court. After the rally, the cover players should revisit what they did to cause the ball to be left up along the sidewall vulnerable to the reverse pinch, near corner pinch in the cross corner or near corner pinch in the closest corner. Then adjust.

In Doubles, Take Turns Being Up Front the Logical Way —

Like when you clear after attempting a pass or kill-shot by moving away from where the ball is angling near you, exchange court positions with the opposing team when either your partner is shooting or the opposing player on the opposite side of the court is shooting. But it’s not so bad where you should have to open the court door and step out until it’s your turn to come back on court to hit. Say your partner is dropping back along one wall to shoot. Be aware of where your side’s opponent is as you are ready to give way to give them forward position by first picking them up out of the corner of your eye, at the same time as you’re readying to make your slide away (if necessary). If the opponent is on the wall to your side (AND they appear to be moving to center court), slide straight back. If the opponent is more central behind you (and, again, they appear to be moving into center, but this time straight forward), first dive to the sidewall and then curl back into your part of center. If the opponent on your side or both opponents are moving forward, after you’ve cleared and given them a lane to move into center, your job is now actually only a 1/4 done. You need to get into position to back up your partner while they set up to shoot. If both opposing players occupy center court, right and left, you can still be in between them about a 1/2 a step behind. Move there as the second 1/4 of your offensive support effort. Now, if the player on your side doesn’t move up, you can hang just behind and to the side of the one defender who is up or who does move up and be ready to cover for shots your partner takes and possibly leaves up. From there in center or just slightly behind the two you’re ready for the third 1/4 of your support effort. If one of the opponents gets to your partner’s shot and returns it, it’s on you to *call the ball*. That means you decide what your team’s play is, as you say “Me!” or “You!”, based on whether you or your partner should take the best shot for the *Team*. And, when you say “Me!”, that means you may have to dash forward those times when your partner’s shot is covered and returned low. That would require you to do the final 1/4 moving into the middle or front court to track down any left up ball by the opposing shooter. If instead you were to start from deeper in the court or from off to the far side of the court away from your partner, your support would leave open the whole front court, along with most shots into the middle from 15-30′ back and many balls that would angle right up the gut of the court. Therefore, get in the best spot you can manage in center court to provide your best defensive effort that could turn into offensive support for your partner.

Learn How to Position Yourself to Defend in Doubles —

Jostling for position in the center can denigrate into what looks like bad basketball players fighting for rebound position under the basket, only this time it’s there on the dashed line while facing the front wall goal. Although it’s clear in the rules that the defensive player has the right of way to “move into a position to cover” while the other opposing team’s player is hitting. Perhaps the opponent may not know that rule because they “ain’t got no radio” – “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”) and they may think competing for that spot in center is their job while their partner shoots. I’ve had it explained to me this way by one opponent, “I was also trying to hit the ball” – that was 12 feet away from them in the opposite rear corner. Using tricks like stepping around the opponent on your side and then backing up may work. Letting them know after a rally you need to be there to cover the front court for a shot like THAT might help. Asking them to go get the ball for you if they’re going to stay up in front of you in your spot may help make your point, unsubtly. Although you can’t resort to efforts to try to unseat them, as in when your action”…Deliberately pushes or shoves opponent during a rally”, as that could be considered a penalty hinder that could be called by the referee on YOU! You need to be there in-between ball and the diagonal front corner at the court depth you read covers the player’s shooting history who is playing the ball. It’s especially important you move and be closer up to cover shots by a known sidewall shooter. When the opponent on your side moves but only to slide over to be on the sidewall next to you, it really doesn’t remedy the situation. It complicates it. That’s especially the case when they’re then in the way when their partner shoots and their left up sidewall shot or their partner’s cross-court pass ends up right in the lap of the misplaced, hindering opponent on the wall, whose hindering is of the penalty hinder variety. Sadly you won’t get that call much in tourneys or pretty much ever in club play. And, with their being on the side next to you, you may be hesitant to spring forward to get balls in the forecourt until you train yourself to *make yourself move*. In fact stepping over in front of them may help. The main lesson here is movement off the ball and supportive team movement makes your team a difficult out. Printing out the blocking rule and having it with you  to show opponents might help a little, too. Assertive coverage movement rules the roost.

Opponent’s Intentional Distractions —

First, silence is golden when a player is hitting or even getting a ball. At the first event of the fall one year I learned the grunting I’d been practicing and playing with all summer to get it down for its chi power benefits, like tennis players are won to grunt or groan, was considered a distraction when done on an enclosed racquetball court. Under the “Intentional distractions” rule, deliberately disrupting one’s opponent is disallowed and it’s a penalty hinder. When one opposing doubles player hits a good shot your already difficult defensive situation may be further exacerbated by the shooter’s partner murmuring audibly clear enough for you to hear the congratulatory, “Good shot”, while you’re deep in hustle mode. That’s not at all what you wanna hear when you’re in the midst of making your mad dash back to the back wall to save a high Z that’s tight up to the back wall by whacking it upwards against the back wall while attempting to desperately save the ball and keep it in play. Also, when you’re setting up to shoot a bunny and the opponent, overcome by their own shooting gaffe which gifted you such an easy setup shot, blurts out some usually descriptive word which declares their disappointment with their blunder, that too is distracting. One opposing partner verbally telling the other partner something like, “Move up” right when you’re about to hit a kill-shot may not be meant to be a distraction, but it can be a major one. In doubles, one partner (or both) are at liberty to call out when it’s that team’s turn to hit the ball. Calling out, “Mine” or “Yours” or “Me” or “You” or perhaps one partner giving some verbal direction, like “Angle”, before their partner hits or before they hit a V pass, all of those are fair play. Other than that it’s pretty much verbal silence and only huffing and puffing, some stomping and maybe an audible grunt or ugh or two that should be heard as players hustle after the ball. After the score is called, it’s pretty quiet or should be when it comes to intentional player noise. As an an example of what that means, right before your serve or more accurately when you’re right in the middle of your service motion, the receiver can’t choose right then to tap their racquet frame on the court floor. Prior to your first move to start your motion, well, ok, they may tap away to <center> themselves with a tap or two. Also, as another example, after you call the score and start into your motion, the opposing doubles partners can’t choose then to start up a tactical discussion then without a timeout or T.O.. Score called, serve to be put in play. It’s not strategizing time unless one of them has a racquet lifted or all you can see is one of both of their backs.

Distracting Movements Affecting Setups —

As you’re setting up for a surefire setup when fielding a long flyer off the back wall, the opponent can’t come up alongside you and be the player who, as it says in the rule book, … “moves across an opponent’s line of vision just before the opponent strikes the ball”. That’s under “view obstruction”, which is a penalty hinder. However, that’s not an infraction you’ll see called much in competitions or club play. I’ve trained myself to ignore it and I’ll even go so far as to take my eye off the ball to stare them down, freeze them and then make a shot where they’ll have to run all the way around me to try to cover it. If you have been watching Pros play recently in person or in videos, in rallies you may have noticed one Pro crossing in front of the other shooting pro. The defending Pro crosses the line the ball is taking going back when it’s either a lob or an off speed ball that they hit. They cross after the ball has come off the front wall and as it’s heading back toward the backcourt. They may cross before or even after the ball bounces. The shooting Pro, who is positioned in the middle or deeper in the court, loses sight of the ball for just a blink. After the crossing, you see the shooting Pro in deep court hitting the poof, here its is, ball. There hasn’t always been enough time for the shooting Pro to repick up the ball, recalibrate they’re shooting and crush a sure  kill-shot. A passing shot may the plan B. The defending Pro will be ready to leap from a spot in front of the shooter. All that may seem fine, but actually gamesmanship is afoot. By crossing in front of the ball, the defending Pro is actually dictating when and where the shooter can shoot or, more accurately, NOT shoot. As they move through the angle the ball is taking going backwards, they eliminate any possible midair contact by the shooter with an early volley or swing volley and they are also taking away a short hop after the bounce even as a baby overhead. All of those the defender would have great trouble reacting to effectively because of the aggressive nature of *those* options and because of the soft bunny ball they’ve hit to their opponent. Recall the rule says it’s hindering when the player “moves across an opponent’s line of vision just before the opponent strikes the ball”.  Therefore it’s the shooter’s play. As shooter it’s your call where and when you hit the ball and it’s not the opponent’s right to dictate when you can attack. It goes back to the rule saying a “player may go straight to the ball and have an unobstructed view and swing” through the ball. Therefore, as the shooter, move up early and attack, if that’s in your skill set and it’s your play on this ball. Or tactically you may make the move to move up. You may move a short ways, as if you’re about to attack. That will often take away their crossing move. Then you may drop back and attack shooting even a pass away from the side where you’ve stuck them unless they’ve grown wings and they’re bravely flying in late, bounding way up in the air so they’re in full flight when you light up the ball, or them, or both, especially if you’ve picked a pass. That crossing guard move you make moving up can turn the ball you’re fielding into a setup vs an adventure or at least a double take, oh there it is, partially hidden ball with definite, pressure from the opponent’s movement. In doubles a similar dictating situation often occurs when balls are all funneled to the perceived weaker opposing player, as that player’s partner is picked off or prevented by one or both opposing partners from moving straight to the ball to shoot. The rules state that neither defensive player may hinder or impede either offensive player from moving into position to cover and hit the pending shot. By extension either offensive player may shoot the ball vs the gamesmanship ploy of isolating the weak link and blocking out the stronger perceived shooter from playing the ball. If you’re the alpha player, call a hinder when you’re blocked before your weaker partner hits them a bunny or a skip when you judge it would be a better time or place or situation for you and your *team* if you shoot. Quickly call foul, er, hinder and point out you’d like to get a chance to play, too.

Shooter Focus Affected By Opponent’s Distractions —

Going back to the scenario with the long off the back wall set up where the opponent closes in along with the ball, which due to the opponent’s presence alone pressures your shooter choices, albeit legally when can see the ball clearly … however, as the opponent closes in, they can’t also intentionally distract you, too. They can’t squeak their tennis shoes against the court or loudly stomp their feet or wildly wave their arms, although sadly I’ve seen all of those done, more times than I care to remember. But, if they do one of those in competition, your hope is it’s an open court up high in back or it’s a miked up court and the ref can hear. Or perhaps the ref sees the opponent’s shenanigans and they click to just what they’re up to. Distractions take away from the purity of the game. Again, other than getting in position in coverage, while still fairly giving up both the straight and V angles, *when the opponent is shooting, there’s no defending their shooting*.

Better, Fairer Off the Ball Defensive Methods —

Defensive methods help avoid easy setups. First, you need to do your (defensive) work by first offensively not giving up an easy shot by moving nimbly and hitting better shots yourself; solid feetwork rules. Second, you need to get in defensive coverage BEFORE the shooter can get set to hit shots, like, for instance, a very tough to get reverse pinch. And, third, you can be proactive in your movement from coverage to track the ball. Begin to *rebound* early, which means begin your work returning their shot before the ball even hits the front wall. As the opponent commits with their racquet that they’ve already begun to swing by beginning its loop down and right as they first start to drive the butt of the racquet toward the target, take leave to move your feet by making the run to get into the lane where (you read) the ball is going to carom off the wall. That begins your tracking down the ball that is ideally gettable and hittable due to your proactive off the ball movement and prepping when you can catch, er, stroke the ball. Don’t get ready too early…again, I digress. In between taking turns to strike the ball, on defense how you move and position yourself and then aggressively move from there to track down and approach the ball defines how well you play on the other offensive side of the ball when you’re shooting because you’ll be better positioned to hit easier shots when it’s your turn to turn and crank. See Court Movement lesson for how to move effectively to cover your opponent’s shots.

When It’s a Hinder, It’s a Hinder —

A purely frontier mentality interpretation of the rules is seen in tournaments and in recreational play how when the offensive player makes any racquet contact with the ball at all it’s interpreted to mean they didn’t completely hold up, so no hinder. It’s like what happens, happens. No Way! It’s often a certain hinder. Here are some scenarios: (1) as the offensive player is hustling really hard to run down a ball and their sloth-like, basically hinder player opponent is blocking one or both of the penalty hinder required straight or V shots. Here the shooter unfortunately picks up the opponent’s freezing very, very late right in the middle of their swing when it’s too late to stop or they’d risk self injury. When the shooter picks up the opponent’s failure to move just too late it’s on the defending opponent to move or they’re in a penalty hinder situation where they’re impeding the shooter’s swing or blocking the straight or V angles or everything in between. As a result, the shooter may try to NOT hit the opponent and therefore miscue their shot sending it off wildly and maybe generating splinters or skipping the ball in. That’s still a hinder. (2) as another example, if the shooter arrives almost directly behind the frozen in place opponent and the shooter who has begun their swing just barely picks up the hinderer before they fully let it rip, but they can’t shut it down completely because they’re already swinging, so they dial it down as far as they can and they just poke the ball around the still oblivious, not even aware or looking back opponent. No, it’s not an “Oh goodie!” bunny setup for the obvious hinder player. It’s clearly a hinder on the player that is right there in the way where the offensive player can’t full force shoot or risk popping the hinder player because the offensive player can’t even hit one or both of the must give angles. Of course, in competition THE best remedy for blocking *the* shots or failing to move or being in the way of the swing of a shooter is a preemptive, proactive hinder call by the ref who is able to see all that is transpiring. Even if it were to be miss-called as a replay hinder when it’s clearly a penalty hinder, that’s at least baby steps in the right direction. Of course taking away an offensive shot is, or should be, universally known as a penalty hinder. Waiting to see what’s going to happen next when (a) the defending player isn’t looking back; (b) they’re obviously not getting ready to time their jump over the shooter’s shot; and (c) it’s clearly apparent the defender’s positioning is taking away shots straight or cross-court (or both); and (d) it’s also crystal clear that the shooter is about to crank, so obviously the opponent is in some real danger, as the shooter hasn’t seen them YET!!! … the ref is failing to act properly and in a timely manner by not making a call. The ref is putting the whole onus on the shooter, who is doing their job, tracking the ball and shooting. As ref, make the call loudly, “STOP!” or “Hinder!” or “Hold up!”. Or optionally shout out, “No!”, which is a call I’ve seen works very well, as everyone seems to freeze. (3) this next situation often occurs when the offensive player is shooting a ball that’s coming off the back wall. It’s a running shot and it may still be a setup or at least it’s a ball for which a shot into that straight or V angle should be available. The shooter goes back and they turn to the back wall as they are fielding the ball. As they turn back around as the ball is popping off the back wall, it’s often way too late to pick up the unaware opponent and hold up in time on a swing that the offensive player has already begun with a backswing and has committed and started with their forward swing. The ref should call, “No” or “Stop” before the shooter finishes turning back around. (4) A danger situation can also occur when the defending player drifts right into the path the ball is taking going back, as the shooter has set and is  committed to swing along that same path. The ref can see that kamikaze move by the covering player and yell, “No!”, as they cringe and squint at what’s may be about to happen next. Too many times I’ve seen refs let it play out and the defensive player gets rocked. (5) It’s also strangely coincidental that the angle the ball wants to go from off the back wall floating forward is also often the exact same angle the shooter is picking and bizarrely it’s the one the opponent often pops up on to block, while they drift in when not having looked back to even to sneak a peek. Say the shooting player is tracking a ball that’s veering into one front corner. The shooter starts to shoot into the corner because it’s wide open as they’re making their approach. And there pops up the cover player right in front of the shooter. As ref yell, “Stop!” or “Hold!” or “Nooooo!!!”. (6) Finally the most nasty ball to body collisions often occur when a player is set to shoot, they’ve picked their angle, they’re letting the ball drop, “when a player moves in such a direction that it prevents an opponent from taking either of these shots” (straight or cross-court). For heavens sake, ref, make a call. As soon as you see the defensive player is staring at the front wall and also definitely moving into the angle the shooter is about to hit the ball, yell, “Stop” and save a bruising today. Those happen on balls coming off the front wall or a ball popping out of a back corner. Granted one of the ref’s bigly jobs is to make sure the score is always right (by flipping the card between servers). But their main purpose is to make sure it’s a safely played game. As ref, you should call hinders when the covering opponent isn’t a leaper and when they don’t seem to have a clue they’ve picked the wrong cover line or they’re in a blocking position of the mandated shots as the shooter is just about to shoot or they’re moving into the angle that the shooter is taking, AND you don’t see this blocker player holding a teleportation device in their off hand with their thumb primed on the ‘transport me now’ button. The main thing is when it’s obvious the cover player is in the crosshairs of a direct straight up to a V cross-court (because the opponent is THAT close they’re taking away them all) and the shooter is just not going to expect it, appears to be very late to realize it and apparently the not seeing it shooter is bearing down and totally absorbed on the ball and their shot, it’s the ref’s duty to make the call. It’s the shooter’s job to track the ball and shoot. It’s better to replay a rally when the ref was overly cautious vs the possibility of an injurious situation when it could’ve been prevented. The ref is not a spectator, they’re a safety official. It’s especially deeply disconcerting to see that frontier style where the ref just waits to see what’s going to happen next. When something bad definitely appears about to happen, be civilized and take care of your brother player. Otherwise it’s gutless to just take a backseat and watch the fireworks go off.

Something Not Expressly In the Rules and Sometimes Sadly Not Seen In the Game Courtesy —

Granted I’m sensitive. I think tennis players don’t guide the ball directly back to the ball boys. But what goes on in racquetball is to me infuriating. Simple stated don’t make your opponent your personal ball boy (or ball girl). After you win a rally and you’re already in the backcourt, don’t turn and make a beeline for the service box and leave the ball behind you relegating your opponent to play fetch for you. Don’t make your competitor go get you the ball to feed it to you for you to serve, like you volunteered for this duty. One year I was at the U.S. Open in Memphis and I was asked by a player, as best she could impart to me as she was a non English speaking player from Japan, whether I would ref for one male player in their group. They had just too much of a language gap to ref. I obliged and afterwards they gifted me a souvenir pen. Later I watched one of their group play and I was bemused to watch their reaction to an opposing player who won a rally and then turned to stride to the box while leaving the ball behind them in a back corner. The puzzled receiver stood there in the middle staring at the ball. I guessed they were waiting for the opponent to go get it. They waited and finally they went over to the ball, picked it up and squeezed it checking for breakage. And then, when they verified it was round, they looked at the server and then they very slowly bowled the ball to the opposing player. The next time this happened they just stayed in the center in back waiting for the server to retrieve the ball to serve themselves. There maybe was some cultural thing going on there, but, to me, it simply meant go get the ball yourself. Unless the ball is right there next to the receiver, go get it yourself. Even when it’s close to the receiver, make a move to go get the ball and cooperatively it’ll be given to you. It’ll actually speed up play if you always make a move to go get the ball to take it with you to the service box. And you won’t disrespect your opponent by sending them digging into a back corner for a ball you often just hit there. It’s a couple steps away for both of you. Also, as my second example, the situation where both players take the tactical march to the box after every close or not really close rally should just end. The player winning the rally needs the ball, while the receiver needs to recover mentally and plan the server’s demise. It’s getting to be like diving (simulation in soccer) or flopping in basketball when in both cases they’re faking or acting. It’s unethical and discourteous to fool the ref. The player who lost the rally shouldn’t be trying to ‘play’ the ref, which means they shouldn’t trick the ref! That’s unsportsmanlike. Sadly it’s also after one player got the ball in two or skipped in their shot and they know they did it. Oh, here’s one idea about what to do when you’re forced to play fetch for the server who automatically marches into the box…if you always go get the ball when you win rallies, but the opponent always turns and walks away leaving you the walk of shame to go get <their> ball when they win the rallies so you can play ball person, next time it happens pick up the ball, figure out what corner is open and drop-n-hit a 3-wall kill-shot depositing the ball far up in the front court. Send them to go get the ball so they’ll get used to going to get the ball themselves to serve. Yeah, pet peeve, I know. The concept here is that pretty much all forms of gamesmanship are bad and unsportsmanlike. Bad form, what. 

Play Fair; It’s Just More Fun —

Here are some final situations I’ve seen in play that sometimes result from just plain old gamesmanship or unsportsmanlike behavior and they’re all real head-shakers. I see players doing bizarre things that are troubling to witness when they just as easily could do the right thing, the karmic thing. Here’s a sampling: (1) A player gets to a ball clearly on two bounces, but they leave the call to be made by their opponent in self officiated play or by the ref in an officiated match. As ref I called the score with them receiving, quickly. (2) A player skips and knows they skipped, but, when the skip call is made by their opponent in ref free play or when it’s called by the referee in a tourney match, the skipper starts to make a real fuss because they want a replay rather than relinquish the rally. (3) In a similar situation, one player makes a skip call having been in position to clearly see the ball skip in while the opponent who wasn’t in position to see it skip won’t take their opponent’s call because they didn’t see it and instead they demand a redo. That questions their opponent’s integrity. That’s bush league. (4) This time a player shooting a ball in front of their opponent saw their own shot clearly was good, but the opponent who didn’t see it or hear it bad still wants a do over because they claim they didn’t see it. (5) A player sees a good serve by the server and they call it short when everyone outside the court could clearly see it was an ace that bounced a foot beyond the box. That’s just wrong. In these next two examples players retaliate with a call based on a prior rally’s call. (6) The receiver calls a screen serve on the serving player. When the tables are turned and the player who had the screen called on them is now receiving and even though the serve they’re receiving is clearly good and far over against the sidewall in the back corner, they still call, “Screen”, with a straight face. (7) One player gets hindered without guile by the opponent, and in the very next rally the player that was unintentionally hindered moves to get in the opponent’s way just to hinder back. Here’s a club culture example. (8) A player who fashions themselves the chief muckety muck at a club (big fish, little pond) makes an arbitrary rule that in doubles a server can only serve to the player on their side because “we’re not good enough to play if we serve to both sides”. Yet that same imperial potentate also encourages a tactic where the doubles partner who returns on the other side is also free to move over and poach the return of that serve intended for their poacher’s partner when that’s the side where it was dictated that server must serve. That cutoff tactic is promoted despite the overt fact that poaching the return is itself a very dangerous situation when making contact right at the height of the server’s head and right behind the server’s head. The poaching is a clear gamesmanship ploy intended to take away the opposite side server’s strongest serves, like jam serves, lob Z’s and even drive Z’s when the cut across to poach them all in front of their spectating partner. Of course those shenanigans with the rules should not be a really big surprise when that same big fish had the doubles players thinking only a down the line and ceiling ball must be given and the V cross-court is only a rule for singles play. (9) In the situation where it’s a question who can be in front when their partner is shooting, the other partner may think it’s both of their turns to be in front when it’s their team’s turn to hit when obviously only the shooter gets to be in front when the ball is off to one side in the middle of the court. And, of course, when the shooter is in the back court, both defenders get to move up and be in front, duh. (10) A player keeps a running tally of the times they’ve been hit in a game when it’s obvious that player’s serves deflecting off the sidewall AND their poor positioning have been the primary cause for them being popped, not the opponents singling out the pin cushion. (11) Bizarrely players wanna keep up the game pace or playing tempo for their possibly their own personal workout or to match their frenetic personality, so things like cleaning foggy goggles are treated with great impatience or true disdain for the player who’s just trying to play safely by being able to see clearly out of their protective lenses vs perceived time wasting. Pick your battles. Win what you can on the court by playing fair and encouraging others to also do the same. Play the game the right way. Maybe the competitor will come along, begrudgingly. A final takeaway is perhaps it is the killer instincts of our game that has made it hard to see it more universally popular like it was verging on being in the late 70’s and early 80’s when the numbers of independent clubs was many, the weekend events plentiful, the racquets less lengthy and the future very bright. We’ve got to get back there, to growing, welcoming, being open to new things like the Hogan power and now the Kane and Paola versatility and hard-working skills maximization. If it were easy, everyone could play that way, but when it’s a game that’s first played fairly and where figuring how to play or job or basically hinder your opponent takes a deep back seat to letting the skills decide, when developing the talent and playing with heart, while abiding by the spirit of the rules and respecting the game, should be THE WAY and rule the day; a day with racquetball, a great day!

One on One Lessons
Ken offers one-on-one lessons to true students of racquetball. Based in the Houston area, Ken can assist you with your game and strategy.

713-557-3176

KenRB54@Gmail.com

Subscribe to Lessons via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this site and receive notifications of new Lessons by email.

Join 2 other subscribers