Squash is a high-energy racquet ball game that engages both the body and the mind. Played on an indoor squash court between two or four players, it consists of hitting a ball against a wall using racquets. There are two similar yet distinct forms of squash in existence: Softball, which is the ‘British’ or ‘international’ version and hardball, which is the American version. As the name implies, a softball game is played with a softer, slower ball on a wide, tall court. It is a physically demanding game requiring patience and deliberation in addition to physical fitness. In an average softball match, a ball stays in play far longer than in the American version and there is more court to cover. Hardball or American squash on the other hand is played on a narrower court with a harder, faster ball. The hardball game emphasizes quick reactions and creative shot making.
The objective of the game is to effectively hit the ball over the ‘tin’. At the start of a new match, the players traditionally spin their racquets to decide who gets to serve. The server stands with one foot inside the “service box” and attempts to hit the ball directly onto the front wall above the “cut” line. The server can have only one attempt to serve and looses the stroke if:
• The server attempts to serve but fails to strike the ball.
• The server looses contact with the floor within the service box.
• To be successful, the server must have at least part of one foot within the service box, taking care not to touch the service box line.
• The ball touches any wall other than the front wall first.
• The ball hits the ceiling or the lighting.
• The ball (unless volleyed) does not land in the back quarter of the court opposite to the one served from.
• The ball does not land between the ‘cut line’ and the ‘out line’. If the ball lands on the line, then it is a fault.
For a shot to be good, it must hit the front wall above the tin though it is okay for it to hit the other walls after it hits the front wall. Once the server makes the shot, the second player needs to volley the shot before it bounces twice against the floor. The shot can be taken either off the rebound or after the first bounce.
If the return volley is unsuccessful, the server wins the rally and scores a point. If the non-server is successful in the volley, the players take turns hitting the ball against the front wall, above the tin and below the outline until one of them faults.
When the non-server wins a rally, he gains the right to serve and the two players switch sides for the following point. The original server retains the right to serve as long as he wins points, serving from alternative sides for each point.
The presence of two players in a confined area wielding rackets can lead to problems of interference and basic rules of fair-play and etiquette demand that players do their level best to avoid potential obstruction of an opponent’s play.
Any deliberate act of obstruction will cause the offending player to lose the point. This includes not allowing the opponent to hit the ball directly to the front wall. If they try to avoid interference but cannot, then the point is played again. Such an event is called a ‘let’ in squash. However if the accidental interference prevents the striker from hitting a winning shot, then the striker automatically wins the point.
As a rule, two officials monitor a competitive squash match: the referee and the marker. The referee is in charge and the marker assists him. The marker keeps the score and calls the play, deciding if the server serves a fault or if the striker does not make a good return of the ball.
Should a player disagree with the marker’s call, he or she may appeal against the decision of the marker. The referee decides these appeals, awarding the stroke as called if he agrees with the marker and a let if he is not sure. If a good shot is called wrongly and he upholds the player’s appeal then a lot is played. In this last case, if the shot called wrongly, was an undisputed winner then the striker shall win the stroke.
Again, the referee decides whether an obstruction has taken place. The referee also has the power to disqualify players and to award a game or a match against players who contravene certain rules.
There are several variations of squash played across the world. In the U.S. hardball singles and doubles are played with a much harder ball and different size courts. Hardball singles has lost much of its popularity in North America (in favour of the International version), but the hardball doubles game is still active. The other version is softball or international squash.
Squash requires very little equipment. You only need a racket, balls and suitable non-marking soled trainers along with comfortable sportswear.
Your racket is your main piece of equipment. It is recommended that you take your time when selecting a racket since the kind of racket you choose will significantly affect your game. According to the rules, a racket can have a maximum length, width and hitting area of 686 mm, 215 mm and 500 cm2 respectively. The strings must not be longer than 390 mm. The frame must be at least 7 mm wide, at most 26 mm deep, and have a minimum external radius of curvature of 50 mm, with a radius of curvature on the edge of at least 2 mm. The weight cannot exceed 255 grams. However, within these limitations you can have a number of permutations and combinations depending on your individual choice.
The right racket can help increase both the power of your swing as well as the accuracy of your shot. The key factors involved in selecting a squash racket (racket) are the choice of design and materials, the weight, the balance and the stiffness or ‘whippiness’ of the model.
The head – squash rackets have heads of various sizes and shapes depending on the model. In general, larger racket heads give you additional power and greater leeway in case of errors. Racket heads also vary according to the size of the grommet holes, which are the holes used to string the racket. A racket with larger grommet holes is the best choice for an amateur as larger holes give the racket more flexibility by allowing the strings to move more, with better odds of getting good hits.
The Throat: There are two types of racket throats – ‘open’ and ‘closed’. The string area on open rackets is larger, which is better for amateurs. These rackets also have a larger sweet spot and therefore are more forgiving for the less skilled player. Closed throat squash rackets have a smaller string bed and sweet spot and is better suited for more experienced players.
It is recommended that you consult a squash professional on the design and shape of the racket’s throat when choosing a model as certain designs make for decreased racket durability. The price of a racket varies according to the throat design and typically, the stronger rackets are also the more expensive ones.
The Beam: Racket beam widths tend to be between 16 and 21 mm. It is recommended that first-time players choose a racket with a wide beam as a thin beam requires players to precisely direct their shots. This type of beam does offer greater control and maneuverability so you can consider switching to a racket with a thin bead once you have gained some experience.
The Grip: Most players have a preferred grip shape and build up the grip on each new racket to feel the same. This helps them keep their shots consistent even after changing rackets.
The grip is a part of the racket you should consider customizing. A simple method is to replace the original grip of the new racket with the specific brand or type of grip that you are used to. You can also build up the thickness and/or change the shape of the handle before wrapping on the new grip but this is a much more complicated process.
You need to look for strength and durability in a racket. The material you choose ultimately depends on your style of play. Power hitters prefer rackets made of carbon, boron, and graphite since they make it easier to hit hard. Other players prefer materials such as Kevlar that are more flexible and absorb more impact.
Titanium rackets blend the best of both worlds and offer great power and control but they tend to be more expensive. Furthermore, there have been reports of players having problems of breakage with some of the titanium composite models.
If you are just starting out, you will probably want to opt for a racket with multi-filament or monofilament strings rather than professional-grade natural gut stringing which is much more expensive. Once you have decided on your material, it is recommended that you seek advice from a squash retailer as well as about other squash players on the durability record of the various racket models featuring your choice.
The weight of a squash racket varies from around 120 grams to about 210 grams or more. Typically, rackets in the 140 to 170 gram range are used. A lighter racket allows a player to ‘feel’ the ball while striking and as such, it gives a beginner a feeling of control. However, because of the reduced weight, it generates less momentum and players need to add their own strength to put power into a shot. You need skill and technique to make the maximum of a light racket and as such, it is more useful for a more experienced player. What is more, the lighter a racket, the more it is going to cost you since the material needed to fabricate such a racket tends to be more expensive.
Different rackets have differing centers of balance. The best way to determine a racket’s center of balance is to try it out on court. Try out the rackets and reject ones that do not feel right. An unevenly balanced racket generally feels like it is “head heavy” or “head light”. However, there are players who deliberately go for non-balanced rackets in a quest for more power (head heavy) or more control (head light). The balance also varies within rackets of the same model. Therefore, you need to try out the specific racket you are planning to buy.
Different rackets have different degrees of give. Different people prefer different levels of stiffness depending on their personal styles of play. It is therefore recommended that you try out various rackets and test out how your shots perform with them. If you can control it, a stiffer racket is usually superior for both shot making and the power game. Just make sure to avoid very cheap rackets that tend to vibrate as they are hit. Once you ascertain the stiffness level that works for you, make a note of it and try to be consistent in the rackets you use.
Buying a Racket
When buying a squash racket, the main consideration should be whether it fits your style and expertise level and of course your wallet. Consider how much you are going to play. If a cheap racket does everything you want and feels good, there is no reason to spend more just to be loyal to a certain brand. Unless you are a dedicated player, it is better to opt for a cheaper racket made from aluminum. However, if you plan to play consistently, you can consider investing in a racket made from titanium or premium graphite.
Select your racket based on what you wish to accomplish. If your goal is to maximize the power of your swing, choose a lighter racket. If you have a fast swing and need to control the ball better, pick out a heavier racket.
Finally, always test a squash racket before purchase. Choose a store or pro shop that gives you the opportunity to "demo" a racket and then experiment with several different rackets on court. Try to get a feel for the swing and balance of each model and determine the differences in how they feel. The combinations of weight, balance, stiffness, etc. are endless and the choice ultimately depends on personal preference.
While testing out rackets on court is preferred, you cannot obviously do so with the many popular online squash racket dealers. However, these online stores do have a definite advantage in terms of price and inventory. In such a case, find out if anyone you know has the model you wish to buy and borrow it for sampling.
It is very important for every squash player to get hold of a good pair of squash shoes in order to make the most of the sport. Selecting the right pair of sports shoes is crucial since squash involves a lot of rotation of the ankles as well as exerting a significant degree of pressure on them. A wrong pair can very well cause a twisted ankle or worse.
There are three major types of squash shoes: ankle-high lace shoes, standard lace shoes and slip-ons. Ankle-high squash shoes reduce the chances of a twisted ankle and as such, are the best option. While slip-ons are also an option, they fail to provide a good grip when compared to lace shoes.
Choose a pair that offers adequate cushioning at the base. Some shoes also come with cushioning on the sides and on the top from the inner side but they tend to be more expensive. If you can afford them, then go ahead but they are not necessary.
Always remember to try on the shoes before you buy them. it is recommended that you buy your squash shoes from a store instead of buying them online because this allows you to wear them and see if they are the right ones or not.
How To Learn
One of the great benefits of squash is that it is relatively easy to learn. Most local sports facilities will have at least one court and due to the current popularity of the sport, you can easily find someone who plays to explain the basics. While the rules may seem a little complicated, most people pick them up quickly and easily when they start playing.
Tips and Tricks
• Make sure to warm up before going out on court. Warming up helps stretch your muscles and will prevent potential muscle injuries from the sudden exertion at the beginning of the game.
• It is important that you keep your racket up during the match. This reduces the distance to the beginning of your swing so you will be ready to hit the ball quicker.
• Watch the ball at all times even if it means turning your head around to see the ball.
• Always go back to the ‘T’ once you have played your shot. This places you in the centre of court where you will be in a position to cover wherever in the court your opponent returns the ball. Be sure not to hit the ball down the middle of the court
• Make your opponent run. Place the ball as far away from him as possible. If your opponent is in the centre of the court, try to nudge them out to the back. The centre of the court should be your position.
• Volley the ball wherever possible. This gives your opponent less time to prepare.
• Aim the ball so that it lands deep in the court corners. Your opponent will not be able to return it easily from the back corner. If the ball lands short of a good length, aim higher on the front wall.
• Vary the pace. Do not hit the ball hard all the time; lob it occasionally to test your opponents in the air.
• Learn how to time your shot. Holding your shot when you have time to spare can help wrong foot your opponent. If however your opponent has struggled to return the ball, then taking the shot as early as possible will put more pressure on your opponent.
• Finally, Practice! Practice! Practice! The more you play, the faster you will improve.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who Can Play Squash?
Squash is a high-energy game involving constant motion. As such, it is not suitable for the very elderly, children under nine or those with joint problems. Pregnant women or women who have just delivered a child are also recommended not to take up this sport as it can adversely affect their health.
What Are The Health Benefits To Playing Squash?
There are a number of positive health and fitness benefits to playing squash. The fast-paced game is conducted with little pause which ensures that you end up burning a significant amount of calories with each match. A great aerobic workout, it will increase your muscular endurance and overall aerobic fitness. Playing squash will also help increase your cardiovascular fitness as the exercise causes more oxygen to be pumped around the body and helps energize muscles. After a few games, you will notice that your flexibility and sprint speed has increased along with your hand-eye co-ordination and concentration levels.
Where Can I Find A Squash Court?
• US Squash lists more than 1,000 squash courts across the United States
• The YMCA has dozens of squash courts across the country and often provides guest passes for non-members
What Is The Proper Care For My Racket?
The most wear and tear on a squash racket occurs on the strings and the grip. It is a good idea to re-string your racket every three months because strings lose their elasticity with frequent use. Even if you are not a frequent player, it is a good idea to change strings a couple of times a year. With regular use, you will eventually notice a build-up of dirt and grime on your racket grip. At this point, it is recommended that you have your racket re-gripped by a professional. Additional precautions include:
• Never leave a racket in your car
• Do not return your racket to your bag or its cover immediately after a game as this prevents any sweat on the grip from drying out.
• Use your racket cover. It helps protect the racket and strings from wear and tear.