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As a game that was first cultivated in aristocratic circles in which concepts surrounding good sportsmanship and fair play were both celebrated and even demanded, it should not come as a surprise that the sport of squash is defined by a series of stringent and even arcane rules that have steadily evolved over the course of the last 150 years.
One important rule in squash addresses what to do if you hit your opponent during a match.
In this article, we’ll explore this concept in greater detail. So what happens when you hit an opponent in squash with a ball or racquet?
The history of the Sport
First created at the elite Harrow boarding school in England just prior to the reign of Queen Victoria in the early-19th Century, squash became a popular pursuit of upper class students keen to use whatever materials were at their disposal to create new games within an austere and almost monastery-like environment.
As resourceful as their reputation for ingenuity would suggest, the students at Harrow found that the act of hitting a deflated India rubber ball against school buildings could make for a challenging and fast-paced sport.
Squash gains traction abroad
Always prone to emulating English manners, customs, and pastimes, wealthy Americans soon adapted the principles of squash to suit their own needs and cultural sensibilities.
Over the course of the late-19th and early-20th Century, for example, elite New England boarding schools and Ivy League colleges began providing squash courts to new generations of players, and squash still remains a popular sport at country clubs and elite universities throughout the United States.
In large part, however, squash has become a more egalitarian sport than its ruling class origins would suggest.
Over the last several decades, players from all economic backgrounds have been given access to top-notch squash courts and first-rate equipment.
This democratic approach to the sport fits well with the ethos of squash; as we shall see, players have always been encouraged to respect fair play during matches.
Understanding the basics
For many people who are new to game, however, the relatively small size of a squash court and the strong emphasis within squash on fair play can create a bevy of confusing circumstances.
In comparison with tennis, for example, the proximity of players to one another within squash courts and the constant possibility of hitting an opponent is a serious issue for players of all skill levels; because all players in squash occupy the same “side” of a court and face the same wall, moreover, the rules of squash were developed to adjust for intentional or unintentional interference between players.
What happens in Squash if you hit an opponent?
These rules are especially relevant in cases where hitting an opponent with a ball or racquet is a distinct possibility.
Primarily, a game of squash will tend to operate around a system of “lets” or “strokes” to modulate interference between players: A let occurs where a player feels that they can not adequately return a shot due to the position or actions of their opponent; a stroke (or automatic point to the striker during a rally) occurs when an otherwise good shot is blocked by an opponent’s body or racquet.
From these two concepts, it is easy to see how striking an opponent with a ball or racquet can produce different results and even different penalties or advantages.
Largely, these results will depend on the likelihood of the striker being able to adequately hit the ball to the front wall of the court.
Squash: Hit opponent with ball
Suppose for example that a striker is returning a shot that has been hit to the back of the court.
In this case, their opponent may attempt to anticipate the likely path of the ball as it is returned.
But suppose also that the opponent misjudges the ball’s path forward and blocks the shot.
Because the striker is concerned about hitting their opponent, the referee would likely call a let.
This will also be the case if the opponent is actually hit by the ball.
But there are also cases in squash matches where an opponent will simply not make a good-faith effort to escape from the path of the squash ball as it makes its way forward across the court.
Because the onus is on the opponent to clear a path for the striker’s hit, the striker will be awarded a stroke whether the opponent is hit by the ball or not.
Squash: A No-Contact Sport
This rule may be confusing to new players.
However, the rule exists to ensure fair play between opponents; without this point of procedure, in fact, a player might lose a game due to circumstances outside of their control.
To wit, a player in squash should not lose a deciding point in a match simply because they are unable to return a shot; this outcome would be unfair and thus counter to the ethos of squash.
Moreover, a stroke may be given when an opponent blocks (or would block) a shot despite making attempts to clear a path for the ball. In this case, an opponent would not have to be hit by a ball or racquet to receive a penalty.
In terms of squash rules getting out of the way of an opponent’s shot is paramount, but it is important to bear in mind that a striker must feel comfortable taking a shot in the first place.
As we have seen, it is not fair for a striker to have to compromise a shot simply to avoid the possibility of hitting an opponent.
For this reason, a good player should always be aware of where their opponent is standing and should make way for a hit.
Squash: Hit opponent with racquet
However, not all cases of player contact will fall under these specific rules.
For example, a referee may award a point to a player if that player’s opponent is recklessly swinging their racket or interrupting play with their physical presence.
Indeed, a player who hits their opponent because they are reckless during the playing of a rally may lose a significant advantage on the court.
While gamesmanship has become tacitly accepted in many sports over the last fifty years, the practice of psychologically intimidating an opponent prior to or during a squash match is still regarded as offensive.
Indeed, a player who is prone to blocking others will quickly earn a bad reputation with both other opponents and referees.
There can be no two ways about it: Being a good sport and attempting to ensure fair play are essential courses of action for all squash players regardless of their skill levels or backgrounds.
While the game of squash can provide a lifetime of fun and enjoyment, players who are new to the game may feel overwhelmed at times by the many rules involved in the sport.
However, a bit of time playing squash will quickly bring the underlying logic of these rules to light.
To really excel at squash, players should simply consider the importance of providing an open field of play to their opponents.
Most rules related to lets and strikes are centered around this principle.
By remaining mindful of the space that our opponent is occupying within the squash court, most of us will quickly learn how to avoid unnecessary blocks or hits from balls and racquets.
Above all else, having respect for other players will create the best conditions for a quality game to play out. Truly, that is squash at its best and most worthwhile!