A Quick History of the World’s Fastest Sport

racquetball history

With its high intensity, split-second strategic decisions, and unique gameplay, racquetball has earned a reputation as a fantastic sport and incredible full-body workout. However, many people aren’t sure if racquetball is the sport for them. Usually, this is because they aren’t quite sure what racquetball is. That’s because racquetball doesn’t have the high profile that sports like tennis enjoy or at times people confuse racquetball for another, slightly similar sport like squash. But racquetball is its own thing.

The Origins of Racquetball

Depending on your perspective, racquetball history could be considered either relatively short or very long. That’s because racquetball as we know it came to be in the early-to-mid-20th Century, but if you track its evolution, you will be looking as far back as France in the 12th Century. That’s when the game that would become tennis was first played. Over the centuries it went from a game played by striking a wooden ball with the palm to a game involving racquets and a net. What many people don’t know is that tennis wasn’t always a strictly outdoor sport. Famously, Henry VIII had an indoor tennis court built at Hampton Court Palace in the 1530s. 

But tennis continued to shift into the game we know today. The indoor playing courts were, for the most part, abandoned. But people didn’t stop playing indoor racquet games. There is some evidence that in some prisons in the 1800s there was a game called rackets that involved hitting a ball against walls. That game came to America sometime in the early 1900s. Beyond that, squash and handball were developing and tennis, of course, was thriving. In the 40s, a man named Joseph G. Sobek made the first racquetball while working in a rubber factory. Sobek, who was a well-known tennis and squash player, decided to create a new game combining the rules of squash, rackets, handball, jai alai, and tennis. He called the sport paddle rackets, but it soon was renamed racquetball when Robert Kendler founded the International Racquetball Association in 1968. As the game grew more popular, different leagues emerged and combined. Today, the International Racquetball Tour is recognized as the top name in competitive racquetball in the US.  

The Rules of the Game

There’s a lot of nuance to the rules of racquetball, but they’re actually pretty simple. Racquetball is played on a court that has at least three walls and is 20 feet by 40 feet with a 20-foot tall ceiling. There is a service area in the center of the court. To serve, you must let the ball bounce once in the service area, then hit the ball off the front wall so that it doesn’t hit the ground again until it is past the service area. From there, each player takes turns hitting the ball off the front wall. If the ball bounces twice before it is hit, that ends the rally. Only the player serving score points. If the serving player loses a rally, the opposing player doesn’t earn a point, but they do take over the serve. A typical racquetball match will be two games played to 15 points and a third game played to 11. Depending on where you are in the world, there may be subtle differences in some rules. For example, in Australia, a ball that hits the court’s ceiling is considered out of bounds while in the USA that ball is still playable. 

Racquetball Equipment

Now that you know the basic rules, you’ll want to know what equipment you’ll need to get started at your local racquetball court. Compared to some other sports, racquetball equipment is pretty simple. You’ll need shoes for the court. You don’t want dark soles that will leave unsightly marks all over the court and you don’t want to track dirt and grit into the court which could damage the floor. You’ll also need a racquet. A racquetball racquet will only be 22 inches long, which makes it shorter than the racquets used for tennis or squash. You also need a ball. Racquetballs are hollow rubber balls with a 2.25-inch diameter. Because the balls are so light and move so quickly off the walls of the court, you’ll also need protective eyewear. Once you have those four items—shoes, racquet, ball, and eyewear—you’ll be ready to get the best workout of your life.

Get Into the Game

Now that you know more about the history and the rules of racquetball and you know what you need to start playing, get out there and see what resources are available for you to play in your area. Many gyms with racquetball courts will allow you to check out equipment if you don’t have yours yet, so you can even try the sport before you go all in. Check out the world-class players of the IRT for inspiration.

Racquetball is the world’s fastest sport, so don’t let it pass you by!

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