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Squash Rules - The Basics Explained

Squash Rules - The Basics Explained

Played predominantly as a competitive one-on-one sport, squash has been recognised as one of the most physically demanding sports in the world – but one which also tests your mental strength, ability to think under pressure, tactical skills and fine motor skills!

Below you will find some information that will help you get up to speed with some of the game's common terms, basic rules and some of the intricacies that you will encounter on the court.

What's The Score

Winning points, winning games, winning matches – we've got you covered from serve to finish.

Scoring Methods
There are two main scoring methods used by professional and recreational squash players around the world – they are P.A.R (Point A Rally) and HIHO (Hand-In-Hand-Out).

All PSA World Tour matches, across both men’s and women’s competitions, are played using PAR – Point A Rally – scoring. This is also the scoring method used at most junior and recreational competitions.

PAR is played using a best of 5 games format – with each game scored as the first to win 11 points. If the score in a game is tied at 10-10, play continues until a player wins by 2 clear points.

Under PAR scoring, players can wins points during every rally – with the winner of the rally earning a point.

An older form of scoring, hand-in-hand-out, or English scoring, was used prior to the introduction of PAR scoring.

In HIHO, you can only score points when you are serving – so if the player receiving serve wins a rally, the score does not change, but he or she becomes the server.

If you are facing serve, you need to win two rallies to register a point – with games being played under a first to 9 points basis.

Matches under HIHO are also played using a best of five games format.

Scoring A Point / Winning A Rally
A point is earned when the opponent either;

  • fails to play a shot before the ball bounces for a second time (double-bounce),
  • hits the ball on or above the market ‘out lines’ or hits the ‘tin’ – the hard strip on the front wall which acts similar to the net in tennis
  • connects with the ball more than once in the act of striking (carry)

Refereeing Decisions
With two players occupying space inside the court, there are occasions when players will obstruct each other's path to the ball and ability to play a shot.

In such a scenario, a penalty point may be awarded to either player, or the rally may be replayed with no penalty depending on the decision of the referee or the competing players.

After playing a shot, players must make every effort to ‘clear the ball’ so that when the ball rebounds from the front wall, the opponent has both;

  • a fair view of the ball and
  • unobstructed access to the ball with the space to make a reasonable swing at the ball and the freedom to strike the ball to any part of the entire front wall.

The incoming player must then also make every effort to play through minimal interference and complete their shot.

A striker who believes that interference has occurred may stop and request a let at which point the referee must make a ruling, awarding either a ‘Let’, ‘No let’ or ‘Stroke’.

  • A Let decision results in the rally being played again – with the referee deeming that the interference was accidental and both players have made equal effort to allow play to continue.
  • A No Let decision is where the referee rules against the appeal of the striker and awards a point to the retreating player. In this situation the referee is deeming that the retreating player provided unobstructed access and that interference was minimal, therefore the appealing striker could have played a shot.
  • A Stroke is when the point is awarded to the appealing player. A stroke is awarded when the referee deems the
    the incoming striker is in position to play a shot but suffers interference due to the outgoing player not making every effort to clear.

Where there are no officials, players must agree when a stroke, no let or let should be awarded. Normally the offending player makes a sporting acknowledgement that he is at fault and agrees to give the opponent a point.

Ready, Steady, Play

Who Goes First
In PSA events and in social matches around the world, players spin a racket to decide who serves first – choosing which way up the racket will land, similar to a coin toss.

Starting Play – The Serve
The first shot in any squash rally is the serve

When serving for the first time – either at the start of a match or after earning a handover of serve by winning a point on the opponents serve – players can choose which side of the court to serve from.

To serve, players must keep one foot inside the service box during the serving motion.

The ball must hit the front wall between the service line and the out line, and then land in the area behind the short line on the opposite side of the court from which the ball has been served.

The receiving player can choose to volley a serve after it has hit the front wall. If the server wins the point, the two players switch sides for the following point.

Constructing A Rally
The basic principle of squash is to keep hitting the ball against the front wall until your opponent cannot successfully get it back – either by the ball bouncing twice, or them hitting the ball out of play.

After the serve, the players take turns hitting the ball against the front wall, ensuring the ball strikes above the tin and below the out lines.

The ball may strike the side or back walls at any time, as long as it hits below the out line, but must hit the front wall after each strike in order for the shot to de deemed legal.

The ball cannot hit the floor before hitting the front wall.

A ball landing on either the out line or the line along the top of the tin is considered to be out.

After the ball hits the front wall, it is allowed to bounce once on the floor (and any number of times against the side or back walls) before a player must return it.

If a player fails to hit the ball before it bounces twice, hits the ball into the floor before it hits the front wall, or hits it outside the out line, then they lose the rally.

A player can also lose a rally if the ball hits them or their clothing before they strike the ball.

Points can also be won or lost when a physical obstruction occurs on the court between two players – see the ‘Let, No Let and Stroke’ explanation above.

Tactical Supremeacy
After playing a shot, players will typically look to return to a central position on the court when awaiting their opponents shot.

The central area of the court is called the 'T' and denoted the area where the short line and the half court lines meet.

Most squash players will agree that the player who dominates the “T” is generally in control an in a position to win the game.

Equally as important as controlling the T, is the ability to control the back corners on the court.

The back two corners are arguably the next most important areas on a squash court. Playing the ball constantly into the back corners will limit your opponents ability to attack and if they do manage to get the ball out of there, you're likely to be in a strong position to attack and control the rally after that.

The Shots
The best squash players in the world master the basic shots before trying anything fancy, so here's a quick summary of the most frequently played shots.

The most commonly played shot (known in some places as a rail shot) the objective of a basic drive is to hit the ball deep into the back corner and take your opponent away from the central T position.

A drive is usually played at mid height around the service line on the front wall and hit which a level of power that will ideally see the ball take a second bounce on the floor just before the ball wall.

A good straight drive will be as tight as possible along the side wall to make it difficult for the opponent to get their racket fully on the ball.

A drop shot is essentially the opposite of the drive and is a very attacking shot, designed to place the ball in the front corners of the court.

When executed well, a good drop shot will be played at a slow pace and very low on the front wall and will force the opponent to cover a lot of ground to reach the ball.

A drop shot aimed close to the side wall or into the nick (where the wall meets the floor) makes a return especially tricky.

The lob is a shot that is played high and slow off the front wall, making the ball arc high with the aim of landing in the back of the court as close to the back wall as possible.

Lobs are a useful defensive shot as the slow pace and high trajectory can allow you time to recover from a difficult position and get back to the T in preparation for the next shot.

Played correctly a lob can not be intercepted with a volley and is a good weapon to use against an aggressive player that is always looking to control the T.

It is also useful if you are tiring and want to by some time to recover your breath.

A great squash shot for creating angles and stretching your opponent, a boast is a shot hits the side wall first, followed by the front wall, and moves your opponent forward quickly.

Mostly used as a defensive shot to get out of the back corners or when reaching to connect at full stretch, the boast can also be used as a devastating attacking option as well.

A traditional there-wall boast is played against the wall closest to you at a slow or medium pace from the back corners to allow you time to recover a central position on the T.

A more attacking version of the shot is the two-wall boast. Struck harder and lower, the idea is to get the ball to bounce twice before hitting the side wall further away from you when playing.

Played low with a lot of power, the kill shot is an attacking, aggressive shot.

A kill shot is played with a lot of power and aimed just above the tin on the front wall.

It forces the opponent to get down low at the front of the court and is useful to use when playing at a high tempo.

A volley is any shot that has been played before the ball has bounced on the floor.

Normally an attacking shot, the volley can be used to inject pace into the game, take time away from an opponent and take control of the central T area.

The volley can be used to strike the ball anywhere around the court and at any pace – although the volley drop, volley kill and volley drive are the most commonly used variations.

All of the above can be played as straight shots – meaning played in line with the side wall you are facing – or as crosscourt shots – meaning played from one side of the court, with the ball's trajectory going towards the opposite side of the court.

The Terminology
A glossary of some of the basic terms above and that you’ll start to hear around the squash club.

Serve – starting a rally by hitting the ball (underarm or overarm) against the front wall.
Nick – the area where the side walls meet the floor, if the ball hits this area, it is usually an outright winner
Let – when a rally breaks down due to interference, a let decision can be made when neither player is at fault and sees the rally replayed.
Stroke – when a rally breaks down due to interference and the incoming player's swing is prevented by the re-treating player, a stroke is called and the incoming player win the point.
No Let – when a rally breaks down due to interference and the incoming player is deemed to have made minimal effort to play the ball, while the outgoing player has made every effort to clear a path to the ball, a no let is called and the outgoing player wins the point.
Out line – the line running around the top of the court. If the ball hits the red line that marks the top of the court then it's out.
Service line – the line on the front wall in between the tin and out lines.
Tin – the area below the lowest red line on the front wall. If the ball hits this line or below then it's out. 
The T - the T shape in the middle of the court where the lines meet and denotes the strongest place to be during a rally.

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