Clarifying Confusing Rules
Dr. Timothy Baghurst
It is said that one point does not determine the outcome of a match, which is true. But how that one point transpired can certainly influence the outcome of a match. What I mean by this is that how a player interprets an outcome of a point can alter how they play, which then translates to potentially changing the match, either for the better or worse.
It also means that if a player (don’t forget a coach also) knows the rules, they can ensure that an opponent does not gain an unfair advantage because of a failure to enforce the rules by the official. Recognize that officials are human, and they do make mistakes, but if a player does not know the rules then mistakes can and do happen.
Here is a classic example from my international refereeing experiences. Two juniors were battling it out at the world championships in a tight first game, 11-11. An avoidable hinder was called on Player A, who was upset at the call believing that the call was wrong. Frustrated with the supposedly bad call, Player A then begins to over swing and loses four quick points to lose the game. Fortunately for Player A, he regrouped and managed to win following a tiebreaker. Yet, he lost the first game primarily because he did not know the rules, and let a supposedly bad call, which was the correct one, affect his play. Knowing the rule would have eliminated that mental breakdown, but the extra effort expended in securing the win might have cost him later in the tournament.
The International Racquetball Federation (IRF) has rules that differ sometimes from USA Racquetball (USAR). However, the WRT used the IRF rules as an international tour. Therefore, here are a few rules that might be considered confusing, are sometimes missed, or are discussed periodically that are worth remembering. The IRF rules can be downloaded on their website at http://www.internationalracquetball.com/rules.html
The Avoidable Hinder
“But I jumped!” is a classic phrase used by many players to justify why a dead-ball hinder (Rule 3.13) should be called instead of an avoidable hinder (Rule 3.14). There are nine different types of avoidable hinders, but (3.14.a) “failure to move” is a controversial one.
Rule 3.14(a) states: “Failure to move. A player does not move sufficiently to allow an opponent a shot straight to the front wall as well as a cross-court shot which is a shot directly to the front wall at an angle that would cause the ball to rebound directly to the rear corner farthest from the player hitting the ball. Also when a player moves in such a direction that it prevents an opponent from taking either of these shots.”
Note within this definition there is no mention of how high the ball has to be! Many players believe that the ball has to be a set-up. Many players believe that the ball has to be an offensive shot. The rules state neither.
Think about it like this: if jumping, set-up, and offensive were all words tobe considered in this rule, it would become a lot more open to interpretation. How high would the player have to jump? What is a set-up? How do you define an offensive shot? Remember that according to the rules, any shot in which an opponent impedes a player from hitting straight and crosscourt is an avoidable hinder.
Rule 3.3 states that “A serve is commenced as the ball leaves the server’s hand.” What can sometimes happen is that a server drops the ball, looks back and notices that the receiver is not ready, and catches the ball before hitting it. Some referees (and many players) do not realize that this should be a fault serve and therefore the server is now in a second serve or sideout situation.
A screen serve is defined in Rule 3.8(h) as “A served ball that first hits the front wall and on the rebound passes so closely to the server, or server’s partner in doubles, that it prevents the receiver from having a clear view of the ball. (The receiver is obligated to take up good court position, near center court, to obtain that view.)” There are three things to note here. First, yes you can call a screen serve on a Z serve (although it is rare). Second, the referee calls the screen serve only if it impedes the receiver. The referee should not call a screen serve if the receiver’s view is not impeded (i.e., what could be called a screen serve should not be called a screen unless it is a disadvantage to the receiver). This happens sometimes, where an official calls a screen serve when the receiver wanted to take the shot. The official should let the receiver play. Third, the server should not be punished with a screen serve if the receiver is not standing in an appropriate location to see the serve.
Here is another one: “Rule 4.3(a). The server’s partner is not in the service box with both feet on the floor and back to the side wall from the time the server begins the service motion until the ball until the ball is struck.” In other words, if the player has their foot propped up against the wall or places it over the service box area, it is an automatic fault and should be called immediately as soon as the ball leave’s the server’s hand (i.e., the beginning of the service motion).
Technicals are always controversial, but if enforced correctly they help to establish and maintain professionalism within racquetball. One of the most underused technicals (outside of international racquetball where it is enforced well) is the use of eye guards and safety cords during matches and practice. According to Rule 2.5(b), “Players must wear acceptable eyewear during play as well as during warm up after being summoned to their court. The first offense is a referee technical. Thereafter, players are disqualified from the match.” Most referees would interpret eyewear technical to be enforced when hitting a ball rather than just being in the court.
Rule 3.16(a.11) is also a rule that can be forgotten. Players can (and should) receive a technical when they fail “to secure safety cord around the wrist during play and warm up.”
Sometimes it is not the player who is causing problems but the coach and/or fans of the player. According to Rule 3.16(b) a coach and/or team representatives can receive a technical. In this situation, team representatives can be applied to an audience. For example, if a set of fans are considered to be abusive or are perhaps calling out during a rally, the referee is entitled to issue a warning followed by a technical, or may be issued a technical without a warning if the infraction is severe enough.
A better knowledge of the rules by both officials, players, and coaches can improve how matches are conducted. This knowledge helps to eliminate confusion and frustration, and ultimately results in a fairer and more professional experience for all.