Plenty of people want to learn a new sport, like racquetball. How do you play racquetball for beginners?
Racquet sports are becoming more and more common, especially since they’re easy to learn, relatively easy to play, and also give you a good workout.
To play racquetball as a beginner, you need to know the basic rules of how to play, from holding the racquet to scoring points. You should also know what equipment you need, and the types of serves that are allowed, and the differences between racquetball and other racquet games.
Learning a new sport is never easy - especially since it takes time to become good at it, and it can be intimidating to learn from a professional.
For our research, we looked into the officially recognized rules of racquetball according to the International Racquetball Federation, and took opinions from experienced racquetball players.
Why Should You Learn Racquetball?
If you had any reservations around whether you should learn racquetball or not, here’s your sign that you should! Racquetball has a great number of benefits for all areas of life - from physical to emotional health, there is always something to gain and very little to lose.
While there are plenty of benefits of racquetball, here are some of the main ones.
The number one benefit of playing racquetball is that it gives you some much-needed exercise. The court isn’t actually that big - only about half the size of a tennis court - but the sport itself is so fast-paced that you’d burn a whole load of calories by the time the game is over.
This is great, not just for general fitness, but also if you want to get rid of some extra weight, while keeping it social. Running for an hour on a treadmill doesn’t give you the same level of excitement as an intense game of racquetball, even if the calories you burn may be about the same.
Racquetball can help develop your core strength, which allows for better posture and keeps you safe from injuries. It also improves your balance and flexibility. It’s also an excellent cardio workout.
To tie into physical health, racquetball is also great for mental health. This is something that every sport offers, because physical exercise makes your brain release neurotransmitters like dopamine and endorphins, which are responsible for happy feelings and reducing symptoms of stress or depression.
The social aspect of playing racquetball with someone is also a great way to make new friends and mingle with others, which also helps improve mental health.
Apart from the mood-related aspects of mental health, racquetball also helps develop your strategy skills, since you need to think quickly to play the game. It also helps you with building confidence, since the nature of the game means that scoring a few points will definitely feel like an accomplishment, even if you lose at the end of it.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of racquetball is that it’s very easy to learn and play. With most other games, you do have to learn a lot of rules, need very specific equipment and sometimes large courts to be able to play them. There is also a high risk of injuries when you do play.
Racquetball is not just easy to learn, you need very minimal equipment for it (and if you’re creative enough, that can get even less) and can be learnt on your own! You can play the game without needing a lot of commitment, and can play with pretty much anyone.
So, if you’re looking for a sport that can take up your time and give you the exercise you need, racquetball is definitely a great option.
Diving Into Racquetball
If you’re not already convinced that racquetball is the game for you, just learning what racquetball is and how to play it may do the trick.
When we think of ‘sports’, we imagine open air courts and rigid rules. Racquetball is actually the opposite. The rules are very simple, and the court itself is indoors.
Racquetball is a very new game, made as early as the mid-1900s. It’s derived from other racquet sports like tennis and squash, and is very similar to these two (specifically the latter), though there are some differences.
The game was originally called ‘paddle rackets’ and remained that way until about 1969. Nowadays, racquetball is very popular, with people in over 100 countries being players. It has yet to become an official Olympic sport, though the Olympics Committee has recognized it as a sport.
You need at least two players for a game of racquetball, and each one has to strike the ball against the wall to score more points than your opponents.
That sounds easy, doesn’t it?
“Sure,” you might say. “But what’s fun about that?”
Well, when you consider that everything from the floor to the ceiling is part of the game (and important to it!), there is definitely a lot you can do with the game to make it fun.
Equipment You Need For Racquetball
Before we go into more detail, let’s consider what you need to actually play a game of racquetball. Just like any other sport, you need specific kinds of equipment to play safely.
Of course, in a casual game of racquetball in your basement, you could just use substitutes, but if you’re playing a competitive game, you’ll need at least:
- A racquet, which has an oversized face, and a frame that is at max, 22 inches long. It should also have a wrist cord that is at least 18 inches in length.
- Racquetballs, which are made of hard rubber and are about 2.25 inches in diameter.
- Eyewear for protection
Another important thing you need is the court itself. You could make this yourself by designating walls for your game, but because there’s always the risk of damage, it’s best to go for an actual court instead. You can find racquetball regulation courts in fitness centers and health clubs.
While these are the very basics, you can also invest in some gloves and shoes specifically for the sport. You don’t necessarily need these to be able to play the game, but they are a good investment for safety, particularly since racquetball is such a fast-moving game and is played in a small, mostly enclosed space.
Racquetball: The Basic Rules
Now that you have your equipment on hand, you need to know how to play!
If you’ve ever played another racquet game before, you’d find this one quite simple.
Holding the Racquet
In racquetball, you can’t just hold the racquet however you like. This is an important rule, and often the first anyone learns about because you don’t want to be disqualified as soon as you enter the court.
Since the racquet comes with a wrist cord, you need to tie this around your wrist to keep control over it so it doesn’t go flying. You have to hold it with a forehand grip: hold it the same way you’d shake someone’s hand, and then curl your fingers.
This should leave a little bit of space between the tips of your fingers and your palm heel. Your fingers shouldn’t go off the edge of the handle, but should be lower down. Don’t hold the racquet perpendicular to your arm.
You can also have a backhand grip, which is the same as a forehand grip except with the racquet turned just a bit. But this is difficult to master, and is probably not a good idea for a beginner.
Racquetball, while mostly an indoor game, can technically also be played outdoors. The court will usually have four walls (front, sides and back) and also include the ceiling. The court is about 40 feet long, and 20 feet wide. It’s usually also 20 feet high. The back wall is significantly shorter, at about 12 feet instead.
The court will also have markings to indicate different things. These include service lines, service zone, receiving line, safety zone, and other such things.
As a beginner, you need to remember three of these, which are most important.
The Service Zone which is the middle, rectangle-shaped section marked with 2 parallel lines. This section excludes the 2 smaller sections on either side, also marked in red. The service zone is where you come to serve.
The Receiving Line which you have to stand behind to receive after the other person has completed the serve.
Safe Zone which is a 5x20 inch area, surrounded by the receiving line, the short line and the side walls.
How to Play Racquetball
Now that you know the basics, let’s move on to the main thing. How exactly do you play racquetball? We know that it’s similar to squash and tennis, and that it’s fast-paced, and what equipment is needed, but we still don’t know what exactly you have to do in the game.
Racquetball is about hitting the ball before it hits the floor (similar to how you play pretty much every other racquet game) and keeping your opponent from being able to return it.
But here’s where you add some caveats to the rules.
For one, you have to bounce the ball in the service area once when you serve, and you have to hit it before it can bounce a second time. On the flip side, if you are returning, you have to let the ball bounce before you hit it, and when you do hit the ball, it has to hit the front wall.
This is only for the serve. When rallying, you have to hit the front wall when returning the ball to your opponent, each time allowing it to bounce only once.
When you play tennis, you are facing your opponent, and have to serve the ball to them, while your opponent will hit it back to you. In racquetball, you are both hitting the ball in the same direction, and depending on the bounce to get it to your opponent.
When a rally is continuing, you can use any part of the court (the floor, the ceiling, the walls, as mentioned earlier) to get the ball back to your opponent.
Scoring in Racquetball
Scoring in racquetball is pretty straightforward, and rules remain the same whether you’re playing with your friends or professionally in a tournament.
To win a game, you need to score 15 points first. Unlike many other games, where you need a minimum 2-point difference for the win, in racquetball you can win by one point only. Official matches will usually have best-two-of-three games, where the first and second games will have 15 points and the third has 11. The third is only played for tie-breaking, so if you win the first two games, the third is not needed.
There are two ways to score points: either your opponent doesn’t manage to hit the ball before it bounces twice, or if your opponent does hit the ball, but it doesn’t hit the front wall before it hits the floor.
However, you can try and use the other walls and ceiling to try and return the ball and manage to hit the front wall. The rule is that it should hit the front wall without hitting the floor. If you manage that, the game carries on. If you don’t, your opponent scores a point.
Serves in Racquetball
All racquet games start with serves, and so does racquetball. And just like all other racquet games, there are rules for serving too.
Your serving position is important. You need to be within the service zone. Stepping outside of it is considered a fault.
When you serve, you can step up to the red lines marking the service zone, but you can’t go beyond that.
The ball has to be within the service zone when you hit it. Remember, you have to bounce the ball once and hit it when it’s in the air. If the ball bounces out of the service zone and you hit it, the serve will not be correct.
Your serve has to be aimed at the front wall. Serves cannot be made on any other wall.
Here are some other things to remember about serves:
- The ball has to bounce once before you hit it
- The ball has to hit the front wall when you strike, and should not bounce in between
- The ball can hit other walls after it’s hit the front wall
- If your first serve is incorrect, you get one more chance. If the second serve is also incorrect, your opponent gets to serve
- Your ball shouldn’t come back in a way that the opponent is unable to see it.
- If you serve and your opponent doesn’t manage to hit it back to the front wall, or before it bounces twice, you get an ‘ace’.
Returning in Racquetball
Just like serves, returns are an important part of racquetball. You need to know how to stand, and how to play the ball back.
To return, you need to be standing behind the receiving line (which is again, marked in red). You cannot cross over this line, or extend your racquet ahead of it until the ball crosses the line on its own. If you break this rule, your opponent scores a point.
Rallying in Racquetball
Now, having figured out how to serve and return, you start a rally, which is the real fun part.
In rallying, pretty much everything works, but you do need to remember a few rules.
For one thing, if you think you have an advantage because you’re ambidextrous, you can put that thought away right now. The rally can only be played with one hand. You can choose which hand that is, but you cannot switch hands in the middle of the rally. If you started it with your left hand, you have to finish it with the same hand.
But if your hand gets tired from all that crazy hitting, you can switch after the rally is over and it’s time for the next serve or return.
You can also only hit the ball with the racquet face. If you hit it with any other part of the racquet, like the handle or the side, or your hand, this is considered a fault and your opponent wins a point.
You can also not hit the ball more than once during a rally. This means that it cannot rest for even a moment too long on your racquet, or it will be considered a carry, which is a fault. This is why racquetball needs you to be so quick on your feet and also quick to think, because even a moment’s hesitation can cost you points.
The main rules of racquetball also apply to rallies. That is, letting the ball bounce more than once, or if you don’t manage to hit the front wall before the ball hits the ground, you lose the point.
Points in racquetball are easy to score since your purpose is to make the other person slip up. Once one person hits 15 points, the game is over.
Faults in Racquetball
We’ve discussed some of the faults of the game, but here are some others that you should probably know.
- A short fault is where the server doesn’t manage to get the ball past the short line.
- A long fault is when either player hits the ball so hard that it goes all the way to the back of the court and hits the back wall without bouncing on the floor.
- A wall-to-wall fault is where the server hits the ball in a way that it hits both the side walls before it bounces on the floor.
The serve faults here don’t necessarily result in lost points, since servers do get a second chance to serve legally. However, if this fails, then they have lost their turn to serve (rather than a point).
More Things To Know About Racquetball
While these are the basic rules of the game, there are still some other things you should know about racquetball.
One thing to remember about racquetball is that if you are playing indoors, your court is very small. Since players are on the same court, they will often get in each other’s way by accident. When this happens, the rally is restarted. This is called a ‘hinder’.
When this obstacle is an accident, it can be resolved by restarting the rally. However, sometimes it is deliberate, in that one person gets in the other’s way to deny them a winning shot. This is called a penalty hinder, and the hindering party loses the serve. Hinders should be called out as soon as possible.
Racquetball can also be played outdoors, and will usually have a few differences in terms of court (there is no ceiling or back wall), and sometimes the size of the side walls may differ. The rules remain the same.
Not only does racquetball need excellent hand-eye coordination, it needs you to be fast, and strong enough to face those fast-flying balls. Because of how small the court is, playing racquetball does require you to have nerves of steel.
That said, racquetball definitely has a lot of pros - from the fitness factor to simply being a fun game to play. It’s also easy to learn for beginners, and can be played by anyone of any age and gender. If you’re looking for a sport to pick up, racquetball is definitely one of the best options you have.
About THE AUTHOR
Since initially playing at the collegiate level, I have amassed several decades of experience playing racquetball, tennis, and pickleball. I have played thousands of matches and games, and won medals and awards in multiple tourantments. I am constantly improving my game and enjoy mentoring and coaching other players in strategy and technique. I have authored dozens of articles on the sport.Read More About Michael Stevens