Ref your Own

Have you ever lost a game of racquetball 15-17 (15 representing the opponent’s score and 17 your total score, notwithstanding the multiple rallies replayed)? There is nothing more frustrating than a game fraught with dispute. In a typical game of racquetball, the vast majority of rallies are played without contention with an occasional call questioned by one of the players. In most sanctioned tournaments, referees serve as an independent official, providing some reassurance that the outcome of most rallies will be correct. However, most games of racquetball are played recreationally without the luxury of a referee.

The question for many players is how to resolve the inevitable disputes that arise during a recreational game. USA Racquetball, the governing body for racquetball, has attempted to address this issue in the 2011 USAR Official Rules of Racquetball. Section ‘D’ under the Competition Policies and Procedures tackles the subject of self-officiating. In this article, I will address the highlights of self-officiating and provide some ideas for making recreational games safer and more enjoyable.

One of the most common and easiest disputes to resolve is the score. No, you do not need to take your shoes off to count past ten. Simply ensure that the server clearly calls the score before every first serve and receives confirmation from the opponent. Confirmation may be expressed silently with a nod, or by some other agreed upon method. The continual verification of the score will help avoid those awkward moments of reconstructing the previous rallies and maintaining the pace of the game.

During the rally, it is the hitter’s responsibility to make calls such as two-bounces, skips, or carries. It is acceptable for the opponent to appeal a shot after a rally has ended to have the hitter reconsider a questionable shot. As a matter of etiquette, players should make the call against themselves when they are not sure. If both players fervently dispute the call, the rally should be replayed at first serve. If the hitter is certain of the shot, and the opponent is unsure, the outcome of the rally stands.

The receiver has the primary responsibility to make the call on the serve, although either player may make a call for a fault serve. The receiver must make a call before opting for the outcome of the return and is not entitled to play fault serves at their discretion. The screen serve call is the sole responsibility of the receiver. As outlined in rule 3.9(i) regarding screen serves, the receiver must assume proper court position near center court. It is important to note that in order to request a screen; the ball must pass closely to the hitter or partner (less than 18” is a good rule of thumb) AND impair the receiver’s clear view of the ball.

Replay hinders are normally the discretion of the offensive player or team, much like a screen serve call. Offensive players may stop play under the conditions outlined in rule 3.14(a), or elect to continue play through inadvertent contact. However, if the offensive player chooses to continue play, they cannot assert a call of hinder afterwards. When there is doubt, players should err on the side of safety – according to the rulebook, “Players are entitled, and expected, to hold up their swing, without penalty, any time they believe there might be a risk of physical contact.”

As outlined in the previous article on penalty hinders, defensive players should be inclined to give the offensive player a penalty hinder when warranted in order to preserve safe play. If the defensive player does not offer the call, the offensive player should point out the possible infraction for reconsideration. If both players do not agree that a penalty hinder occurred, the rally should be replayed. 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. Sportsmanship is still an esteemed attribute and will go a long way in building rapport with your opponent.

There are certain aspects to the rules that are difficult to address when self-officiating, including: 10-second rule, signaling not-ready, foot faults, safety zone infractions and technical fouls. Recreational play does not invalidate these rules, but does make it difficult for one side to enforce against another. If a player feels like the opponent is violating one of these rules, it should be clearly pointed out as soon after the infraction occurs as possible. If there is question over the rules, players should consult the official rules for clarification.

In situations where continued disputes occur between players, efforts should be made to obtain a referee. Sometimes, a third party’s opinion is enough to satisfy a questioned call. Racquetball coordinators that manage leagues, shuttles or tournaments should be knowledgeable of the rules and, preferably, a certified referee. The CRA encourages all players to attend a local rules clinic to improve understanding of the rules and the on-court applications during matches. To schedule a rules clinic, please contact me at

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