Understanding Service Rules and Penalty Hinders: Advanced Racquetball Rules

racquetball etiquette

Understanding Service Rules and Penalty Hinders: Advanced Racquetball Rules

Every sport has at least one rule that is confusing to new enthusiasts. Baseball has the infield fly rule, soccer has the offsides rules, football has too many to get into here, and on and on. 

Racquetball is a game whose rules are very intuitive and simple to pick up, but there are still a few things that might take new players a little longer to pick up. The rules of serving in racquetball can take some getting used to, and the penalty hinder can take a little time to explain.

Fortunately, these aspects of racquetball aren’t too complex. They exist to maintain fair play and reinforce racquetball etiquette and player safety. If you have been playing casually, you may not have had these rules come up, but if you’re looking at taking part in a tournament or other organized event, it’s important for you to understand these rules moving forward. 

Racquetball Etiquette: The Finer Points of Service

There is no more important shot in racquetball than the serve. It starts every rally, and the player serving is the only one that can score points. Service rules in racquetball aren’t overly complicated, but if you aren’t aware of them, you may end up giving up the serve to your opponent through errors you didn’t even know you were making.

When you understand the basic rules of service, you only need to familiarize yourself with the kinds of faults and hinders that can come up during a serve and what happens in those instances. 

The Basics of Service

Before examining the errors that can lead to losing service, here is a brief refresher on the basic rules of serving in racquetball.

First, a coin toss determines the first server of game one of a match. The other player begins game two. If a third game is needed, whoever has scored the most points over the course of the first two games gets to start with service.

The two solid lines that run across the midpoint of the court form the service zone. The serving player can stand anywhere in that zone when serving. The line closest to the front wall is the service line—the line closest to the back wall is the short line.

The serving player must bounce the ball inside the service zone and hit the ball against the front wall. After the ball has hit the front wall, it must pass the short line before hitting the ground. It can bounce off of one side wall before passing the short line and hitting the ground.

Those are the basic rules of service. Pretty simple, right? The rules around service faults help ensure that players follow these criteria and give their opponents a fair shot at returning the ball.

Service Faults

There are a few different types of defective serves—which is to say, serves that do not reach the criteria of the rules for legal serves. Not every defective serve results in a fault. But if the serving player has two consecutive faults, they lose the serve.

Dead-Ball Serves result in a replay of the serve with no fault given. The three types of dead-ball serves are as follows: 

  • Court Hinder: A court hinder does not necessarily only happen during service. This is when the ball hits either a wet spot on the court or a warped bit of wall or floor that causes an unusual bounce. When this happens, the rally starts over with a new serve.
  • Broken Ball: Racquetballs are durable, but they are not invincible. If the ball splits open, the server grabs a new ball and restarts the rally with no change in score.
  • Out-Of-Court Serve: This can only happen on certain courts. Some racquetball courts have partial walls or obstructions. If a serve goes to an area that’s deemed out of bounds after hitting the front wall, you take the serve again.

Dead-ball serves are considered to be, essentially, out of the player’s control, so they don’t result in a fault. Hypothetically, you could break a ball on seven consecutive service attempts without losing the serve to your opponent.

There are a wide range of service faults in racquetball. To keep things from getting too confusing, the general definition is that a service fault is anything that falls outside the criteria of a legal serve.

For example, the rules say a ball can hit one side wall after hitting the front wall on a serve before bouncing off the floor past the short line. If the ball hits both side walls before bouncing, that’s a fault. Also, since the ceiling and back wall are not specified as legal walls during a serve, the ball hitting either of those surfaces before hitting the floor would also be faults.

If you are playing in an organized tournament, the referee will call a fault if you bounce the ball outside the service area during your serve or step in front of the service line as part of your serving motion. With one fault, you take a second serve. With two in a row, it’s an out, and your opponent takes over.

There are a lot of ways to commit service faults, but the rules for them are pretty clear and understandable. Hinders are a little more confusing.

Penalty and Non-Penalty Hinders

As the name implies, a hinder in racquetball occurs when one player prevents the other from playing the ball. Sometimes this results in the loss of a rally, and sometimes it results in a replay of a point. And in the case of a hinder during service, it can result in a fault. 

Service Hinders

Service hinders occur when the serving player does not move after serving the ball so that the receiving player can see the ball and make a play. This is one of those rules that both reinforces racquetball etiquette and protects players.

It reinforces racquetball etiquette by ensuring players allow their opponents a fair chance to return a serve. It protects players by ensuring they can see the ball. Serves can be some of the hardest driven shots of any rally, and if a player can’t see the ball and gets hit, it can be very painful—especially if that player is not wearing proper eye protection or their eye protection gets knocked off.

This kind of hinder will typically result in replaying the serve with no fault given. However, if a referee in an organized game feels you are intentionally and repeatedly blocking your opponent’s vision, they may start awarding faults.

Non-Penalty Hinders

Again, these rules are more about player safety and racquetball court etiquette than punishment for the players that cause them. Also called replay hinders, this kind of hinder results in a restart of the current rally without any points or outs awarded.

Most replay hinders are the natural result of playing such a fast-paced game on such a relatively small court. These are things that can’t be helped or happen accidentally.

The ball hitting your opponent, bumping into your opponent, accidentally getting in the way of your opponent’s backswing, or briefly blocking your opponent’s view of the ball are all examples of hinders that will result in a replay of the point.

So if you’ve ever wondered about the rules if you hit someone in racquetball, there’s your answer. You replay the point. 

Penalty Hinders

Here is where things get a little complicated. The difference between a hinder causing a replay and a hinder causing a penalty can be a bit subjective. A racquetball penalty hinder typically won’t be called unless the referee perceives some amount of intentionality to the cause of the hindrance.

The reason people get confused by penalty hinders is that there is a fair amount of overlap between what causes a replay and what results in the loss of a rally. 

For example, a backswing hinder where a player can’t make their swing motion without smacking the other player with their racquet is a replay hinder. But swing interference is a penalty hinder. Racquetball players must be able to make their shots, but it can be hard to tell what is an accident and what is dirty play for new players. That’s why experienced referees are so essential for organized tournaments—they can spot the difference pretty consistently.

One kind of penalty hinder that is not subjective is equipment related. If a player wets the ball to alter how it flies, that is a penalty. If a player drops equipment on the court, that is a penalty. Wearing safety equipment properly ensures its efficacy. If you drop it on the court, you are no longer protected, and your opponent could injure themselves on it.

In casual play, penalty hinders are rare. That’s because there is no referee, the stakes are low, and both players are on the honor system. However, if the person with whom you are playing is causing more hinders than you would normally experience, you may want to say something. 

No Hindrance to Fun

The rules and penalties of racquetball are designed to encourage fair play and keep the game flowing smoothly and safely. Even the most confusing aspects of penalty hinders hinge on the idea that intentionally preventing your opponent from playing normally is an extreme enough violation of racquetball etiquette to be punished with a rally loss.

So as you take the court, don’t worry about what are common penalties in racquetball. As long as you make legal serves, don’t block your opponent’s movement or vision, and wear your equipment as it was intended, you won’t have to worry about dropping points to rule violations.

Just play your game, take care of yourself and your opponent, and have a great time on the court!

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