How to Prepare for Your First Racquetball Match

racquetball rules

How to Prepare for Your First Racquetball Match

Racquetball has a lot going for it. It’s fast paced, you get a great workout, it’s a great way to meet new people, and on and on. When you hit a racquetball for the first time and feel it jump off your racquet, the feeling is exhilarating.

But what happens when you’ve gone onto a court for the first time to try it out with a friend who is equally new to the game? How do you transition from informal rallies with a friend to playing an actual match?

Luckily, racquetball rules are fairly intuitive. You should be able to pick them up quickly. Then it’s just a matter of making sure you prepare your body for the kind of workout racquetball gives you.

And as you learn the game, you’ll find that there are plenty of interesting variations that you can explore as either a casual or competitive player.

Learning the Rules of the Game

As with any sport, you can’t really play if you don’t know the rules. And learning some key terms will help you communicate with more experienced players you meet as you start out in the sport.

So here is a quick and easy racquetball rules primer:

  • The court is 20 feet wide, 40 feet long, and 20 feet tall. All four walls and the ceiling can be incorporated in a rally.
  • Matches are best 2-out-of-3. The first two games are played to 15 points. The third (if necessary) is played to 11 points. You do not have to win by two points.
  • Racquetball scoring only occurs for the player that is serving. If you win a rally that your opponent served, you get a side-out and get to serve to start the next rally until your opponent gets a side-out.
  • You win a point if your opponent is unable to hit the ball off the front wall before it bounces twice on the ground.

Remember to stay out of your opponent’s way when they are taking their shot. This is good sportsmanship and is also important for your safety and that of your opponent. When you impede your opponent’s shot, you run the risk of getting hit by their racquet, hit by the ball, or obscuring their view so that they get hit by the ball. None of those outcomes are pleasant.

The other set of rules you need to know before an actual match are racquetball serving rules. If you weren’t sure what the racquetball court lines meant, this is where they factor into a game.

  • The serving player must stand with both feet inside the two solid lines in the middle of the court (the service area or service zone) when beginning the serve. 
  • The player receiving the serve must stand behind the dotted line (also called the receiving line) until the serving player hits the ball.
  • The serving player must bounce the ball in the service area before hitting it.
  • If the ball does not make it from the front wall, past the back line of the service area (called the short line) before bouncing, it is considered a fault.
  • When serving, you are allowed to make the ball hit one side wall before it hits the front wall.
  • If the serving player puts their entire foot outside the service area when they start their serve, it’s a foot fault. Any two faults in a row result in a side-out.

And that’s pretty much it for the rules. It’s a very simple game to learn, but each match brings something new and interesting to the table.

There are different versions of the game that have some additional rules that differ from the standard indoor racquetball rules. For example, outdoor racquetball is played on partially enclosed courts, so there are rules about out-of-bounds lines that vary on whether a court has one wall, three walls, or one wall with two side walls that only go part of the way down the sides of the court.

Additionally, racquetball doubles rules say that the serving player’s partner has to stand in one of the little rectangles along the side walls in the service area until the ball is in play. But just like the standard racquetball rules, these variant rules are easy to pick up with a little time on the court.  

Understanding the Lingo

Different serves and shots have different names in racquetball, and knowing what they are can help you understand the game better as you practice and play. 

There are three main types of serve: the drive, the lob, and the Z-serve. Changing up the type of serve you use can help you keep your opponent guessing and give you a strategic edge.

  • The drive serve is the most common serve type. This is when you hit the ball so that it comes off the front wall in a more or less straight line. You can vary the amount of force you put behind this and play with the angle of the bounce off the front wall to force your opponent to chase down the ball.
  • The lob serve is an underrated tool in any player’s repertoire. By serving the ball so that it comes off the front wall with a high, slow arc, you can force your opponent back into a corner and force them to make a weak return because they don’t want to hit the wall with their racquet.
  • The Z-serve incorporates a side wall. The ball coming off the side wall before hitting the front can give your serve a very sharp angle of approach, again forcing your opponent into a suboptimal return. Z-serves can be driven with force or lobbed.

Your serve allows you to move your opponent around the court and lets you take over center court. As you might imagine, the center court is the middle of the court. The best place to be is in center court, just back of the receiving line, because this position allows you to get into position to return your opponent’s shot and maintain ball control with the least amount of movement in any direction other than straight ahead.

You will also want to learn the different types of shots you can make on the court. 

  • A passing shot is what you might consider the “standard” racquetball shot. A passing shot is hit directly to the front wall.
  • A ceiling ball happens when you hit the ball so that it bounces off the ceiling. Most of the time, it’s good to avoid ceiling balls because they usually give your opponent plenty of time to prepare their next shot. But sometimes, that change in pace can provide you with time to recover your court position.
  • Kill shots are hit low and hard to the front wall. The goal is to make the ball skim across the floor as it comes off the wall so that your opponent doesn’t have a chance to return it. There are a few varieties of kills, such as the splat shot that gets spin on it from glancing off a side wall on the way to the front wall.
  • Drop shots can really break an opponent’s spirit. To hit one of these shots, you want to take the power off the ball so that it hits the front wall before dribbling off. They can be difficult to hit when you are just starting out, but winning a rally with one of these feels incredible.

An Athlete Prepares

So you know the rules, and you know much of the terminology. So what else do you need to know to get ready for your match?

First, you’ll want to talk to an experienced player or find videos online of pros teaching proper form for hitting the ball. Learning good swing mechanics can take a little time but will pay off in the long run as you gain more control over your shots.

You will also want to develop a pre-game stretching routine. Bone joint and muscle injuries occur more frequently in players who don’t warm up before getting on the court. Make sure you include shoulder warm up and leg warm up exercises before a game.

The repeated motion of swinging your racquet can cause rotator cuff problems, and heavy stepping combined with quick direction changes can really mess up your knees and ankles. But with good mechanics and a thorough warm up, your risks for those injuries are drastically reduced.

And don’t forget your nutrition! You need fuel to exercise and recover. Eating complex carbohydrates a few hours before a match ensures you have the energy to burn, and protein afterward helps your muscles recover. 

Fasting before a match might seem like a good idea, especially if you’re trying to lose weight, but that actually increases your risk of injury and can lead to overeating after the match.

Now You Know, So It’s Time to GO!

You know how to play. You know the vocabulary of the game. You know how to get ready. Now all you need to do is tie your shoes, slide on your protective eyewear (you do not want a racquetball to hit your eye), grab your racquet and a tube of racquetballs, and get out and play!

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