The World Squash Federation estimates there are around 50,000 squash courts globally, scattered across 188 countries and territories, embracing 20 million players.
So isn’t it time you learned how to play squash?
If you are seeking a sport that gives you a great cardiovascular workout, look no further than squash. In fact, in 2003 Forbes hailed it as the healthiest sport you can play.
We look at want you need to get into this fantastic racquet sport and give you a rundown of the rules to get you started.
Before we tell you how to play squash, there are a few things you need before you hit the court.
Firstly, wear comfortable sports clothes – shorts and a short-sleeved top are best so that you can move easily. You are going to be running around and getting sweaty!
You have to have some basic squash equipment:
- A squash racquet
- Suitable level squash balls
- Squash shoes – or other sports shoes suitable for running around on the court
- A squash court to play on
For detailed information on what you need and why, please see our piece on squash equipment.
You also need at least one other person to play against. Squash can be played as a singles or doubles game, though singles is the most common form.
How to Play Squash
The basic aim of squash is hit the ball against the Front Wall.
You and your opponent take turns to hit the ball against the Front Wall. When one of you fails to return the ball successfully, the rally ends and a point is scored by the last person to hit the Front Wall.
However, there are a number of rules which change squash from a game of simply whacking a ball against a wall into a highly skilled sport.
The Rules of Squash
If you want to know how to play squash, there are a number of rules relating to different aspects of the sport. Let’s break them down:
The Front Wall
- You can’t hit the ball below the Tin (the bottom line).
- You can’t hit the ball over the Out Line – this line runs along the top edge of all the sides of the court. The ball has to stay below this line to remain in play.
The Warm Up
It’s common for players to ‘warm up’ in most sports and in racquet and ball sports like tennis and badminton, this usually involves the players amiably hitting the ball or shuttlecock back and forth for a few minutes to get themselves limbered up.
In squash, there is an added importance to the warm up as not only are the players loosening up, but the ball is being warmed up as well.
Beginners and juniors usually play with blue and red dot rubber balls that bounce fairly well even when cold.
However, higher level squash players use a single yellow dot ball and professionals a double yellow dot ball both of which have little bounce (making it harder for a player to get too mid rally). This means it’s vital to get the ball warmed up and bouncing as much as possible before the match begins.
For this reason, competition matches start with a 4 minute warm up period, with the players swapping sides of the court after a 2 minute interval.
Deciding Who Serves
One played spins their racquet with the end of the handle pointing upwards and the other calls which way up they think it will fall.
It’s the racquet spin equivalent of tossing a coin.
- The server must have at least one foot in the Service Box.
- The server must hit the ball so that it hits the Front Wall between the Tin and the Out Line.
- The ball must come back to the opposite corner of the court – your opponent’s side.
- The server must alternate their serve between the right and left service box – just as a tennis player serves from opposite ends of the baseline.
Change of Serve
Whoever wins the point serves next.
This is called a ‘hand out’ and you will often hear a referee say this if you are watching a competition match.
- You play the ball by hitting it against the Front Wall.
- As the squash ball comes back off the Front Wall, it can hit any of the other walls.
- The ball can only bounce on the floor one time.
- If the squash ball bounces on the floor 2 or more times, before you return it, a point goes to your opponent.
So the object of the game of squash is to make it difficult for your opponent to get to the ball and return it within the correct zone of the Front Wall.
You score points off of them by making it too hard for them to return your shot, by making them commit an error, or if they hit the ball out of the designated area of play.
If you hear this, it means that either the ball has bounced twice before the chasing player got to it, or that the ball hit the Tin.
Both of these events result in the point going to the other player.
The ball is out of play, going above the Out Line.
This refers to the serve.
If you serve down below the Tin or above the Out Line, this is a fault and the points and serve go to your opponent.
This is a continuous series of successful shots.
It is where the players put together a number of shots, back and forth, between one another, before someone makes an error.
There are 4 main shots in squash:
- Straight Drive – the ball hits the Front Wall and comes straight back along the side wall heading to the back of the court. It is an important shot for keeping your opponent behind you.
- Drop Shot – the ball hits the Front Wall and drops to the floor soon afterwards. This is an attacking shot designed to catch your opponent out and win a point.
- Boost – the ball hits a side wall or the back wall at an angle before it hits the Front Wall.
- Cross Court – the ball is hit against the middle of the Front Wall from the left side of the court so that it bounces back into the right side of the court – and vice versa.
There are a number of other shots, but these are the most common and all can be played as either a forward or backhand shot.
Once you have taken your shot you must:
- Get out of the way of the returning ball.
- Get out of the way of your opponent.
If you fail to get out of the way of either the ball or your opponent, your opponent is given a point. This is known as a Stroke.
Obviously, sometimes a player will try to get out of the way of their opponent, but can’t manage it.
When this happens, it is called a Let and, as in tennis, the point is played again.
A No Let
This is when a player failed to hit the ball as they felt (or claimed) that their opponent was hindering them, but the referee decides that they could have got to the ball.
If you’d like to review all of these rules in video form, please see here.
Not surprisingly, knowing how to play squash well isn’t just about following the rules, there are also a number of tactics that players use to their advantage.
Dominating the T Zone
The T Zone is where the Front Line and the Half Court Line meet on the floor of the squash court.
Players will try to dominate this area by constantly moving back to it between shots as being as close to the middle of the court as possible gives you the greatest chance of being in the right place for your opponent’s next shot. It’s much the same principle as a tennis player moving to the centre of the baseline when awaiting a return.
So know you know how to play squash, but how do you win?!
- To win a game of squash – the winner must have scored 11 points and be at least 2 points clear of their opponent. So if the players have 10 points each, they will continue to play until one of them gets 2 points ahead.
- A match is the best of 5 games – this means that the first played to win 3 games wins.
There are a couple of different ways to win points, and so the match, in squash.
The most common method is Point A Rally (PAR). This is when whoever wins the rally takes the point.
All matches on the Professional Squash Association (which is the governing body of both the men’s and women’s professional squash circuit) World Tour, as well as most recreational and junior competitions score using this system.
A PAR game is won as soon as a player gets to 11 points, as long as they are 2 points clear of their opponent.
Hand-In-Hand-Out (HIHO) scoring – also known as English scoring – is similar to scoring in badminton, where only the player serving can take points.
So, if I serve and win the rally, I get the point. If I serve and lose the rally, my opponent doesn’t get a point, but they get the next serve and may score a point from that if they take the rally. This means that if you aren’t the opening server, you’ll need to take 2 rallies to get 1 point.
A HIHO games only goes to 9 points, but it is still the best of 5 games to win the overall match.
This is an older scoring format and has dropped out of fashion in many places, though some countries still prefer it.
Squash 57 – Racketball
Also known as British Racketball, it is virtually the same as regular squash, but the equipment has been modified to make it easier to play.
This makes it a great sport for someone learning how to play squash and wanting to get a taste of the game.
Racketball has been renamed Squash 57 to differentiate it from American Racquetball, which is quite different.
So now that you know how to play squash, why not grab a friend, head to the nearest court and start your warm up!