Many beginner’s or those unfamiliar with squash often have similar questions when starting out. One of the most common of these is squash a contact sport? Sure, it is clear that there are two players in an enclosed space, moving in and out of each other. But do they ever make contact? And is this legal?
Squash is not a contact sport. All players are aware that contact with others is to be avoided, and that you should take safety precautions not to hit your opponent with either the ball or racket. If in doubt that this may happen, it is always better to play a let, where you play the ball again.
Of course, sometimes some minor contact does take place in squash. But what happens when that occurs? And how can that be best avoided?
Squash Is Not A Contact Sport
In an age when professional demands have taken over the sport, squash is one of the few sports where change has not been forced upon those who govern and administer the game. The spirit of fairness and consideration for the opponent is as meaningful now as it was when the first was first established.
Central to the squash principle of fairness is that of avoiding the possibility of inflicting harm on the opponent.
You do not hit an opponent on purpose with the racket. You do not hit an opponent with ball on purpose. You do not impose yourself physically on any opponent.
Most critically, though, doing any of those things by accident is seriously frowned upon and the consequences thereof tend to be severe.
Interference – An Overview
Although serious physical contact very rarely happens in any squash match, there will always be little nudges or knocks, and it is good to understand these. They are generally labelled ‘interference’.
Interference is the most match-defining element of the game, so much so that it has two and half pages dedicated to it alone in the World Squash Federation’s Rules of Squash. There are contingencies in place for every potential outcome.
Match officials have their work cut out in most sporting codes. However, squash officials really do earn their salaries. That is primarily because every single match they preside over will require at least one critical – and perhaps game defining – intervention.
When judging interference there is actually a lot for an official to consider on a squash court. Among those considerations are a fair view, direct access to the ball, the racket swing and the freedom of movement.
Fairness in the game extends beyond just interference though. It is also about limiting the danger of injuring your opponent. I cannot overstate just how critical it is that new squash players understand just how much is at stake when they step onto the squash court.
Player safety is at a premium in squash and if you adhere to some of the core principles, you don’t just protect your opponents but you also protect yourself and the integrity of the sport.
The one thing squash players dread the most is the prospect of playing against somebody with an exaggerated swing.
It is the most terrifying thing in a space as confined as it is on a squash court. Those who are often most guilty of that exaggerated swing are former or even current tennis players.
Those who have been trained in squash for a long time are prevented from developing those habits from the outset. While the swing itself can be dangerous the follow through is even more terrifying.
The Follow Through
The basic principle with the follow through is that a player should make every effort to clear the way for his opponent. There are four things in particular that need to be taken into consideration when making that clearance.
- At the forefront of your thinking should be the intention to ensure that your opponent has a clear and fair view of the ball once it ricochets off the front wall. Deciding if a player has been given a clear view or not can be a subjective judgement but what matters more than anything else is the endeavour to do so.
- Secondly, when making a clearance, the endeavour should be made to give the opponent full access to the ball. In other words, get out of the way. When an opponent tries to retrieve a ball he should not have to dodge you on his way.
- Thirdly, your opponent should also have a decent opportunity to make a reasonable swing. Again, steer well clear. If his racket touches you there is the distinct possibility officials will rule it is your fault and not his. Do yourself a favour and try to avoid the argument ever coming up.
- Finally, when your opponent eventually makes contact with the ball, he should have the option to hit it anywhere he chooses on the front wall. The onus is on you to make sure that ball never hits you on its way to the front wall.
Failure to adhere to any of those basic principles can and will probably be ruled as interference.
Lets And Strokes
More often than not, your opponent will ask the official for a ruling on interference. However, there are cases when the official will step in himself. If your opponent believes there has been interference of any kind, he must stop play immediately and request a LET. We will touch on what a LET is later in this segment.
The decision to bring play to a halt must be clear and the request must be clear to the official presiding over the fixture. Ordinarily, the opponent or to be more technically correct the ball striker is the one that will seek an intervention for interference.
However, there are cases when the non-striker will request a LET for interference. It is not common though. In addition to this, there is also the distinct possibility that a request for a LET could actually be converted into STROKE. That is a judgement call for the match official to make though.
There are also moments in the match when an official will make an intervention or judgement call himself, without a request being made by the striker – or sometimes non-striker. When an official does make a direct intervention, it is normally because there is a serious safety issue to be taken into account.
There are also moments in a contest when a request is made and an official is not entirely clear on why the request is being made.
The player making the request is well within his rights to clarify, upon the request of the official.
Squash officials are generally no-nonsense people. In the age of professionalism, when there is a considerable amount more at stake LETS have become precious commodities. You don’t just grant them.
These are normally decent opportunities for the spirit of the game to prevail too. Players can – and some do – push the boundaries. However, it seldom goes beyond that. It goes without saying that if an official does not think there was any interference, or potential for grievous bodily harm, he will not allow the LET.
Likewise, if the official establishes that the interference would not have had a material impact on the outcome of the point, he will not allow the LET either.
Also, it would be disingenuous for a player to continue the point, lose it and then request a LET. Officials have no tolerance for that kind of thing.
It gets more complicated though. For example, if there is minimal interference but a non-striker has made no effort to get out of the way, an official can rule against him. Under those circumstances a STROKE can actually be awarded to the striker.
Likewise, if there is interference and the officials believe the striker could have produced a winning shot, a STROKE is generally awarded to him.
The main barometer used in all these cases is an assessment of danger. The critical element, which ensures squash maintains its integrity as a non-contact sport, is that no leniency is granted. Potential for danger is viewed in as serious a light as actual danger.
Let us imagine a squash court was a motorway. Squash officials are the traffic lights which strive for avoidance. In contact sports, officials are merely stop/go signs. The prospect of a fatal collision is increased significantly in contact sports.
Squash seeks to prevent a collision altogether, let alone a fatal collision.
Failure to provide a clear view for a striker is an immediate STROKE.
There are a few subjective calls for officials to make on a squash court. Many of them have to make with the ruling on direct access to the ball. One of the provisions for a LET is that the official must be convinced that the striker made a genuine effort to retrieve the ball.
Then there is also the possibility that two options exist to retrieve the ball. One of those options will be through direct access, while the other will be through indirect access. In this particular instance, taking the road less travelled is not as rewarding.
In fact it is penalisable. Choose the path of least resistance on a squash court. In other words always opt for direct access as oppose to indirect access. Otherwise your appeal for a LET will be dismissed with the greatest deal of disdain.
Officials generally adopt a zero tolerance approach to players who swing their rackets like a rusty gate and those who follow through more than they need to. This is a genuine life and limb scenario.
Likewise, a striker’s opponent can be equally liable for failure to avoid a situation where is he might or might not be struck by a racket. The non-striker’s intention to get out of the way is not always good enough. The LET will be award to the striker if his racket touches the non-striker or if the swing is even slightly interrupted.
To compound matters, if it is established that the striker had a realistic chance of winning the point under those circumstances, a STROKE will actually be awarded. So the message is clear. Get out of the way.
If a striker’s swing is totally prevented, regardless of the circumstances, a STROKE is usually awarded. The match official will not be interested in any stories about you trying to get out of the way. The bottom line is that you didn’t get out of the way.
Squash players generally have a conscience and sometimes strikers fear they might hit an opponent with the racket and don’t actually continue with the swing for fear of inflicting grievous bodily harm, a STROKE can be awarded.
If it is deemed that a striker is totally responsible for the interference then a LET is not allowed. The basic rule here is that you should not use an excessive swing. It is generally frowned upon.
An excessive swing can really work against a player. For example, a striker can be well within his rights to request a LET but the official can rule against him if the swing is excessive, regardless of how responsible for the non-striker was.
It also stands to reason that a striker’s excessive swing can actually lead to a LET being granted to the non-striker.
A striker is well within his rights to hit the ball anywhere he deems fit on the front wall. If a non-striker prevents him from doing that, under any circumstances, he shall be sanctioned accordingly for it.
Lets And Strokes – The Rules
Any one of three things can and are likely to happen.
“If the striker refrains from striking the ball because of front-wall interference, and
requests a let, then:
“8.11.1 if there was interference and the ball would have hit the non-striker on a
direct path to the front wall, a stroke is awarded to the striker, unless the
striker had turned or was making a further attempt, in which case a let is
“8.11.2 if the ball would first have hit the non-striker and then a side wall before
reaching the front wall, a let is allowed, unless the return would have been
a winning return, in which case a stroke is awarded to the striker; or
“8.11.3 if the ball would first have hit a side wall and then the non-striker before
reaching the front wall, a let is allowed unless the return would have been
a winning return, in which case a stroke is awarded to the striker.”
Officials have also adopted a zero-tolerance approach to players being hit being hit by the ball. Normally, but not always, it is the striker who is found to be liable.
The first element that needs to be taken into account is that of a ball hitting the non-striker’s racket or any part of his clothing. Critically the direction of travel for that ball needs to be the front wall. If either of those things happen play stops immediately.
Firstly, if it is established that the ball would not have been in, the non-striker gets the point. The exact ruling is made if it is determined that the ball would have been in and that there are no other mitigating circumstances.
It gets more complicated than though. Let us imagine – well it happens often under these circumstances – that the ball would have ricochet off the side walls before hitting the front wall, the LET is allowed.
That LET can turn into a STROKE, if it is determined that the shot would have been a winner.
Then there is the small matter of a ball coming off a front wall and then hitting a non-striker or even his racket for that matter. The striker automatically wins the rally. There is one mitigating factor and that is the striker himself.
If he is in anyway responsible for the non-striker’s failure to get out of the way, a LET will be awarded.
In addition to this, if the striker has a genuine swipe at the ball before it hits the non-striker, a LET is generally allowed. The major consideration centres on whether the striker was in a good position make a decent return.
If there was no chance of this happening, then the non-striker will win the rally.
There will also come a time when the ball ricochets off the front wall and actually hits the striker. granted there is no interference, the non-striker will actually win the rally.
Now here is the biggy. If a striker hits a non-striker with the ball, the match official must consider if that was dangerous, at the very least, or even deliberate. The consequences can be quite severe for striker on both counts.
Squash is definitely not a contact sport. However, there is always the potential for some minor contact, and this should be avoided by all players. Injuries to others through contact are rare in squash, and this is mostly because the rules are respected by the vast majority. Good luck playing squash, and if ever in doubt, go on the side of caution every time.