Safety First

The sport of racquetball has inherent hazards due to multiple bodies in a limited space and a ball travelling at high velocity. How many players are struck with a ball or racquet during each tournament? My son received eight stitches after being struck with a racquet in the mouth. Additionally, there are court hazards that can wreak havoc on the body … ask Alvaro Beltran what a wet spot on the floor will do for your knees. In this article I will discuss the equipment necessary to ensure safety, and the application of rules designed to promote safe play.

The official rules of racquetball mandate the use of eyewear approved by ASTM International, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials. Some recreational players abstain from wearing eye protection, or wear sub-standard glasses not designed for sports protection. A common mistake is believing polycarbonate lenses provide sufficient protection – keep in mind the frame must provide adequate support for the lenses. Typical prescription eyewear is rarely designed to the rigid standards necessary to protect your eyes. Please reconsider and adopt safety eyewear designed for racquetball – this is a small investment for the protection of your eyes!

In addition to rules outlining necessary equipment, there are several rules intended to encourage safe play. Hinder calls are absolutely necessary to the game to prevent injury. Safety hinders, as described in rule 3.14.(a)6, allow “Any player about to execute a return, who believes that striking the opponent with the ball or racquet is likely, may immediately stop play and request a replay hinder.” A safety hinder may qualify as a penalty hinder, resulting in loss of rally for the offending player or team. However, many players feel the need to hit around another player because the defensive player or referee will not award penalty hinders.

Whether playing in a tournament with a referee, or playing a recreational game on the weekend, players should not have to hit another player before receiving a hinder call. The earlier article in this series entitled Penalty Hinders, described the hazards of playing without acknowledging penalty hinders. To reiterate a couple of significant points from that article, “The defensive player should be aware of his position and inclined to give the offensive player the call in order to preserve safe play. It is in the defensive player’s best interest to allow the call when warranted so his opponent will not feel it is necessary to hit around him. This posture of sportsmanship initiated by the offending player should promote a safer game.”

Another important aspect of the rules often overlooked by players and referees is the safety zone. The safety zone is a five foot area marked by the short line and the dotted receiving line. This area is used during the serve as a buffer between the server and the receiver. Rule 3.11.(a)1 states, “The receiver may not break the plane of the receiving line with the racquet or body until the ball either bounces in the safety zone or else crosses the receiving line.” This rule, commonly referred to as encroachment, is penalized by a loss of rally for the receiver. However, the less commonly known (and enforced) rule outlined for the server is described in 3.10(i):  An immediate loss of serve shall result if,after the serve has been struck, the server or doubles partner step into the safety zone before the served ball passes the short line.” These rules are necessary for a safe game and should be considered as important as any other rule.

Finally, it isessential to maintain a safe court free of impediments and wet spots. Courts should be swept and dry mopped as often as necessary to prevent slippage.Similarly, the court should be dried as necessary during the match to prevent slippage. Rule 2.5(b) mandates that wet clothing should be exchanged, and according to rule 3.16(c), a referee may award an equipment timeout as deemed necessary to continue safe play. The time needed to dry a wet spot is insignificant compared to the time needed to rehab a knee.

It is important to promote safety as you enjoy the sport of racquetball. Additionally, promote safety to others within the sport and enforce the rules as written when you officiate a match.  The CRA encourages all players to attend a rules clinic for a more detailed explanation of the rules.  For additional questions related to the rules, please contact me – Dave@coloradoracquetball.com.

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