As a squash purist and someone who has always enjoyed playing squash at a high level, I’ve never been a fan of racketball (I’m not willing to refer to it as Squash 57 by the way!). I always considered racketball to be a sport that is ideal for older people who can’t move fast enough to return the squash ball before it bounces twice, so the bouncier racketball ball is perfect to be able to maintain rallies and still have an enjoyable workout. It always baffled me why younger players who are physically able to move to the front of the court, would choose to play racketball.
Traditionally there has been small pockets of the The UK which have had considerably more players playing racketball than others – for example – Sheffield. When I went to Sheffield University I couldn’t believe how many people played racketball. Growing up in south Manchester I had never seen anybody play it, then I went to Sheffield and I couldn’t book a squash court in the evenings because all the courts were already booked up by racketball players. Grrrr! Extremely frustrating as a young professional!
However in the last few years I have seen how certain clubs have utilised racketball to great effect. They have used it to encourage participation in both juniors and seniors. They run it alongside squash – not instead of squash. They get players playing both sports – not suggesting they choose one over the other.
One perfect example of this was thought up by Ali Gorrie in Aberdeen and is also being implemented by Mike Hegarty in Colchester. They run the following fortnightly team night for their members, culminating in an end of season finals night (which also includes an additional ‘Shoot Out’ round):
Teams of 6.
4 x singles matches (minimum 1 squash and 1 racketball, captains to decide how many of each).
1 x doubles squash match.
Players can play twice (singles and doubles) if short of players.
Squash singles: 3 x games PAR (Point-A-Rally) to 15 (play all 3 games).
The player who loses the first game starts on +3 vs 0.
If that player goes 0-2 down, they start on +6.
If games are 1-1 then the handicap resets to 0-0.
Every game won counts as 1 point for the team.
Doubles and racketball are PAR 11, with +2 and +4 handicaps (in relation to above game scores).
This means even after being 2-0 down you still have to try to play well and bag a game point for your team. The handicaps especially trailing by +6 to 15 make it tough to win 3-0. The 3 game format means you can keep reasonably accurate control of timings for each of your courts.
The idea of the format is to make it open and flexible for participation, while making people try new things such as doubles and racketball, that they may have been hesitant to try before.
A £5 match fee per person is changed, which covers food. Local bands are encouraged to come in and play practice sets for free drinks and a members whip-round.
These evenings proved to be very popular for the 3 years they ran before lockdown. Very few people left without staying for a drink and eating.
I feel this is a brilliant idea and can have even more place in our squash clubs after lockdown. It’s a relaxed event as it is only within the club, there is no added pressure of playing against other clubs. The additional option of racketball and doubles offer a slightly less physical option, and the evening certainly fulfils our social desire.
Back to racketball specifically – I’ve really become open to the idea that it can, not just run alongside squash but actually increase squash participation. Where once I saw it as an ‘old man’ version of squash, and even a rival to squash, now I see the benefits and how it can increase the overall health of squash as a sport, not just in The UK but the world.
In many places racketball is used for beginners and juniors to quickly develop their competency by using the bigger, and bouncier racketball ball. When they’re ready, they are introduced to squash as (hopefully) a more permanent alternative. Returning from injury is also another obvious area where racketball can be used to support squash, not to lure people away from squash.
I think the overall take away is to have squash and racketball running alongside each other – to have joint initiatives and joint club nights. In a club, when squash is kept completely separate from racketball, and racketball kept separate from squash, then the two sports become rivals and the player will feel they have to choose one or the other. Even if some players only ever want to play squash, or only play racketball, with initiatives like we’ve just read, the members are at least mixing to create a thriving social network, which in-turn attracts more people to the club. We need situations where squash and racketball run together, where players are encouraged to play both – this way racketball will help squash and we can introduce more and more people to squash, building a very bright future for the sport.
By Andy Whipp.