Sports and Fitness

How to Play Squash – The Ultimate Guide

Since its inception in 1800s, squash has spread internationally at an enormous rate. There are almost 50,000 squash courts in 188 countries around the world, and over 20 million active Squash players, according to the World Squash Federation. It’s been included in the Pan American games, and is a candidate for inclusion in the 2024 Olympics.

The game requires exceptional hand-eye coordination, stamina, and resilience, and is often called one of the most physically demanding sports at the professional level, due to professional rounds of squash often lasting for 30+ volleys.

If you’re interested in getting into squash (and curious as to what makes it different compared to, say, racquetball), this is the guide for you. We’ll cover the basics of play, gear, and mechanics, so that you’ll be able to up your game, and quickly gain a comprehensive knowledge of the sport.

Read on, and learn with us.

Table of Contents

What is Squash?

Squash is a racquet and volley-based sport, bearing many superficial similarities to American cousin, racquetball, though it is much older and has far more players around the world.

Played either in singles or doubles, the game is played in an enclosed, artificially lit arena, measuring 9.75m high, 6.4m wide, and 5.64m height, using composite racquets and specially designed squash balls.

Basics of Play

Squash is a great example of the adage “Easy to learn, hard to master”. The basics of play are simple. We’ll get into them more later, but for now we’ll just give you a brief overview.

One player serves the ball towards the front wall of the arena, above the “service line.” Once the balls has been “served”, the second player must hit the ball back to the front wall before it hits the ground more than once, similar to table tennis.

After the non-serving player hits the ball back into the front wall, play alternates once again, and the serving player must hit the ball back to the front wall.

The ball may hit the back or side walls at any time, provided it does not go out of bounds and hits the front wall before hitting the floor.

When either player fails to reach the ball, commits a fault, or goes out of bounds, they give up a point to their opponent. In this way, using the PARS standard scoring system, play continues to 11 points, and players must win by two clear points – if the score is 10-10, play continues until one player reaches 12-10, 13-1, etc.

Basics of a Squash Court

As mentioned above, the squash court is an enclosed arena made up of four walls, and it measures 9.75m high, 6.4m wide, and 5.64m at each of its maximum points. These courts reach maximum height over the front wall, and slope down somewhat towards the rear, where the entrance typically is.

Generally made of cement, plaster, wood, or glass, they are marked with several guide lines important to the service and play of the ball, which we will go over now

Boundary Lines and Service Areas

1.83 meters from the top of the ceiling, there is a line that marks the top boundary for the front squash wall. If the ball is hit above this line, it is considered out of bounds, and your opponent gets a point. The side-wall boundaries taper down from this line at an angle of approximately 30°, until it reaches the back wall, where it is 2.13 meters from the ground.

0.48 meters from the floor of the court is the “tin” line. This line marks the lower boundary of the front wall; any shot hit below this boundary is considered “out”, somewhat like a net in tennis.

Beyond those two boundary lines, there are several sets of service-specific boundary lines, which are as follows

There are two service boxes measuring 1.6m x 1.6m on the left and right sides of the court. Each player serves the ball from one of these areas to begin play.

There is also a “service line” which is only relevant during the serve. It is 1.78 meters above the floor of the court, and the player who is serving must hit the ball between this boundary and the upper boundary of the arena, giving a playable vertical area of approximately 3.8 meters. After the serve, this line is disregarded.

The serve must also land in the opposite player’s “quarter court”, which is the 3.2m x 4.26m section of the court closest to the rear which includes the other player’s service box.

Squash – Progression of Play

Now that you’ve got an understand of the equipment used to play squash, and the courts in which squash games take place, it’s time to move on to the basics of the progression of play in a squash match.

Determining Who Serves First

The players spin a racquet to determine who serves first, similar to flipping a coin. After the racquet is spun, the winning player chooses which side of the court he would like to serve from, and his opponent gets the opposite side.

Initiating Service

While initiating the serve, the serving player must keep at least one foot entirely within his service box, without touching any part of his service box lines.

The player strikes the ball and sends it towards the front wall; during the serve, you are not allowed to make contact with the floor or ceiling. This shot must strike above the service line, and below the top boundary of play, and it must be moving toward the receiving player’s “quarter court”, and allowed to bounce there, although the receiving player may elect to hit the ball before it hits his quarter court.

The receiving player then makes his shot, and play begins. If the serving player wins the point, he maintains his server status and swaps places with his opponent for his next serve. If the receiving player wins the point, he becomes the server and swaps places with his opponent for his serve.

Playing

After the ball is served both players take turns hitting the ball against the front wall, above the “tin line” and below the “out line”. The ball may hit the side or back walls at any time, as long as it is below the “out line”.

The ball may not hit the floor after hitting a player’s racquet until it has reached the front wall. If the ball makes contact with the floor before reaching the front wall, the player attempting the shot is at fault and gives up a point.

Once the ball makes contact with the front wall again, it is allowed to bounce on the floor once before the returning player must make contact. If the returning player fails to do so, they give up a point.

Scoring and Points

In this way, points are given up whenever a player makes a shot that is “out” due to its position below the “tin line” or above the “out line”, fails to return his opponent’s shot, or hits the floor with his own shot before it hits the front wall.

If a serving player wins a point, he maintains service of the ball. If the receiving player wins a point over the serving player, he gains possession of the ball for service. Regardless of who serves or receives, the player who wins a rally wins a point.

This continues until one player has 11 points, or, in the case of a 10-10 game, until one player has a clear 2 point advantage, such as an ending score of 14-12.

Interference, obstruction, and penalties

Given the fact that both players are in a relatively small, enclosed arena, interference and obstruction are an inevitability in this sport.

Each player is entitled to a direct straight line that gives them access to the ball, enough space to perform a swing, and an unobstructed shot towards the front of the wall. If any of these conditions are violated, the referee (or player, if it’s just a casual game) will declare a “let”.

Depending on the severity (and intent) of interference or obstruction, the referee may declare that the point is to be replayed, or even award a “stroke” to the appealing player, which gives him a point.

If the interference was unintentional, didn’t block the continuation of play, and the player who interfered made a good-faith effort to avoid interfering, the appeal may be declined outright, with the point awarded to the interfering player.

An exception to all the above is made if an interfering player is directly in the path of the appealing player’s swing, and obstructs it. In this case, a point is always awarded to the appealing player.

In addition to the above scenarios, a let can also occur when the ball strikes the opposing player. Generally, if the ball has hit off of the side wall, or is traveling in straight line toward the front wall after hitting the side wall, and then hits the opposing player, a let is given and the point is awarded or replayed. This is because, if the opposing player had not been in the way, it would have been a fair shot, and play would have continued.

However, if the ball is hit in a straight line and hits the opposing player, a let is given against the player who hit the ball. This is because the player would have had the opportunity to simply hit the side wall for a fair shot, rather than take a straight shot.

Generally, when playing in amateur scenarios, players referee themselves. If you feel that your shot was interfered with, simply bring it up with the person you are playing against, and ask them for a let.

General strategy

Squash is a game of strategy and skill as much as it is a game of raw power, endurance, and physical fitness. All the speed and power in the world won’t save you if your opponent is making smart shots, and getting you out of position.

Positioning is the single most important part of a good squash game. The most common strategy for positioning yourself in a way where you can deal with just about every shot is called “dominating the T”.

The “T” is the intersection of the two red lines that mark the back quarters of the court, used for service. From this position, a player is usually able to react to almost any shot on the court, and return to it once they make a reaction shot. By correctly “dominating the T”, you are able to react to shots with a minimum of movement, meaning you will be able to preserve your stamina for later rounds, and react more quickly, given that you don’t have to cover a long distance between each shot.

The next general strategic approach has to do with hard vs soft shots. We’ll cover different types of shots and when to use them in the next section, but for now we’ll cover a couple basics.

A hard shot directly up the side wall to the front wall is known as a “rail” shot, and is the most basic of squash shots. Used to clear the ball and get yourself into a better position (or take your opponent out a good position) these shots are easy to make, but have relatively low potential to end a round against a good player.

However, if you’ve been making lots of hard, fast “rail” shots, and you switch it up with a soft shot that lands closer to the front wall, you will confuse your opponent, and he will have to unexpectedly cross a long distance in order to return it, often winning you the point outright, and certainly putting him off his game.

This sort of variance between soft and hard shots can pretty much be thought of as the strategic basis for squash. But let’s get a little more in depth with the sorts of shots that squash players typically make, so that you can fully understand the different situations that you’ll be in, and the options you have to throw your opponent off of their game.

In addition to the above strategies, it’s also beneficial to disguise the direction you’re planning to hit the ball until the time of impact. The less you give away, the less your opponent will know about the shot you’re trying to make, which makes winning the rally easier. Know your body language, and get practice doing both forehand and backhand shots, and quickly changing the angle of your racquet so that you can surprise your opponent with directional switches.

Squash shots

  • Straight Drive – This is a shot delivered close and parallel to a sidewall, delivered directly into the front wall of the court. Often referred to as a “good length” shot, this is the most basic squash shot there is. Smash the ball, move it forward, and get yourself into a position to return your opponent’s shot.
  • Boast – This is when the ball is played off of the side or back wall before hitting the front wall. A “Three-wall boast” occurs when the ball is hit so that it bounces off the side wall, front wall, and opposite side wall before hitting the floor. A “back-wall boast” occurs when the ball hits the back wall before hitting the side or front wall. This shot is difficult to make for beginners, and you run the risk of hitting your opponent, and giving up a let.
  • Volley – This occurs when the ball is hit by the returning player before it hits the ground, or “On the full”. Any player may choose to hit the ball before it hits the ground on a fair shot; this can be a good way of varying your shots, and getting your opponent off balance. If you’ve been mostly hitting the ball after it hits the ground, consider going in for a volley shot or two, just to keep your opponent off their guard.
  • Drop shot – delivered with a minimum of power, a drop shot is sent to the front wall and intended to drop down into one of the front corners. These shots require the returning player to be quick in their response if they have any hope of returning, as they must cover a lot of distance quickly to keep the ball in play. These are often delivered after a succession of quick volleys, as the receiving player may not be expecting a slow, gentle shot after rapid, hard shots.
  • Lob – Similar to a drop shot, but delivered in a lofting arc rather than a lower drive. Intended to fall into one of the front corners of the court.
  • Cross Court- A shot where the drive is delivered in such a way that the ball ends up on the other quarter court from the shooting player.
  • Kill – This is a shot delivered hard and low, in such a way that it will quickly hit the lower part of the wall, and bounce no farther than half court. This quick shot requires quick reflexes to react to, and the name is apt; it’s often a great way of closing out a point, due to its quick delivery and low profile.
  • Nick – This is a tricker shot to pull off. Similar to a Lob or Drop shot, the shot is delivered with low power toward the corner of the front wall, in such a way that it’s intended to bounce between the two corners of the wall, and (ideally) drop down to the floor, ending the rally. This shot is tricky to pull off, but the numerous bounces along with the very forward position make it effective for quickly ending rallies when it’s done correctly.
  • Philadelphia/Corkscrew shot – This shot is a hard shot, delivered diagonally towards the corner of the front wall. It impacts the front wall and then bounces upwards off of the side wall, bouncing it towards the opposite side wall, and even parallel to the rear wall, if delivered with enough power. The awkward angle that this shot usually comes in at makes it quite tough to react to, though it’s equally difficult for an inexperienced player to make the shot in the first place.
  • Skid Boast – Similar to a Boast or modified Corkscrew shot, but played from the back corners of the court and hit high along the sidewall with a slight angle that causes it to impact the sidewall, then the front wall, crossing the court to hit the other sidewall, and ideally falling past the opponent in the back corner of the court.

Drills for Practicing Your Shots and Technique

The best way to practice different squash shots is to practice with a partner, especially one who is a similar skill level as you. This will allow you to quickly progress your game, and improve in a friendly, healthy environment.

Of course, you can’t always find a partner to play with, but may still want to practice anyway. Not a problem; unlike some other racquet games like tennis, you can practice quite a few squash skills even when you’re all alone, without any specialized equipment.

The below videos go over some simple drills that you can do to improve your game, even when you’re alone.

After practicing these drills and getting a good feeling for ball movement and control, you can move on to some more intermediate drills, such as these in the video below.

Still, you can practice all you want by yourself, but it won’t be quite the same as playing against a real live opponent. So once you’ve practiced to your heart’s content, find a partner, get out there, and get playing!

Conditioning for Squash

Squash is a very physically demanding sport – a one-hour session of squash can burn as many as 600-1000 calories!

Because of this, players who are very physically fit will have a huge advantage in top-level play, because expert volleys can consist of 30+ shots.

At lower levels of play, the sport is still quite physically demanding, and having a higher level of physical fitness than your opponent will certainly give you an edge, so good conditioning is essential to quality squash play.

The best way to condition yourself as a squash player is, of course, to play squash. But just playing squash and not doing any other workouts can get repetitive, and it’s sometimes not possible to put in all the time at the squash court that you’d like to, so it’s important to know some methods of cross-training.

While just about any cardiovascular workout will improve your health and conditioning, here we’ll focus on two shorter workouts that focus on quick acceleration, directional change, and explosive muscular engagement, as these are the exercises that translate best to your squash game.

Jumping Rope

Jumping rope is an incredible cardiovascular workout, and really increases your aerobic capacity, while being a low-cost and fun.

It’s also a great way to warm up. Before you get on the squash court, do some stretches, pull out your jump ropeand pump out a quick 5-minute session. You’ll warm up your leg muscles, joints, and ligaments, reducing your risk of injury, and you’ll get your blood pumping, and be ready to go.

HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training

Running is a great cardiovascular workout, but long-distance endurance running isn’t exactly directly applicable to your squash game. So, instead of 5k or 10k runs, you’ll want to do some sprints, or HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training).

This method of sprinting combines active recovery (walking) with fast, intense sessions of sprinting, simulating the bursts of quick action and rest that are common in rounds of squash.

HIIT can be performed anywhere you would normally run; a track, the street/sidewalk, a large field, or even a squash court, if you’d like. All you need is a stopwatch, or some other way to measure time.

The basic formula for an effective Tabata HIIT workout is based off of a 2:1 ratio of 20 seconds of high-intensity sprinting to 10 seconds of active recovery (walking), performed 8x and followed by a short rest.

Simply begin by walking a bit to warm up, and then begin your sprint. After 20 seconds, walk for 10 seconds, and repeat this cycle 7 more times, at which time you can walk for a few minutes, and repeat the cycle as desired.

This method of training combines aerobic exercise with anaerobic exercise, which is essential to a good squash game.

What do I need to play?

One of the many reasons that squash is a great sport is that it’s easy to get into, and quite inexpensive. All you really need is a racquet, some squash balls, and the appropriate fitness gear (including eye protection).

However, not all racquets and squash balls are alike; the ones that you’ll want to choose depend on your individual skill and experience level with the game, so let’s take a look at some of them now, so you can choose the equipment that’s right for you.

Squash Racquets

Squash racquets are quite reminiscent of tennis racquets, and for good reason; almost all racquet-based sports have influence from tennis, which is one of earliest racquet sports – dating to the12th century in France, according to historians!

Squash racquets used to be a more ovular shape, similar to tennis racquets, but as the game has evolved, the squash racquet has adopted a more aerodynamic teardrop shape, which allows for more racquet surface area, and a more ergonomic design.

Generally made of lightweight composite materials such as graphite, titanium, or boron, they are almost always strung with synthetic strings, and because of this they are incredibly lightweight, usually weighing in at 3-5.4oz, though the permitted maximum weight is 9oz.

When it comes to purchasing a new squash racquet, there are many factors to consider, most of which come down to tradeoffs between power and control. Let’s look at the 5 most important aspects of choosing a squash racquet.

Weight

If you’re a beginner player, you’ll probably want a lighter racquet, because lighter racquets are easier to control, and easier to move for reaction play. This is because beginners generally lack much of the reflexes and game-sense necessary to react quickly with a heavier racquet. Lighter racquets, in general, make it easier for players to gain superior control of the ball.

However, heavier racquets will give you more power when you do hit the ball, so they’re generally used by players who like driving the ball into the back of the court, and are looking for more “power play”. They are a bit harder to react with, given their heavier weight, but certainly aid you in making powerful shots.

If you’re just starting out, you’ll probably want a mid-weight racquet such as the Dunlop Blaze Pro 180. Weighing in at 180 grams, and made from graphite alloy, it’s a good jack-of-all trades racquet to learn the game with, and determine your personal preferences and playstyle.

Balance

Balance is closely related to weight – it’s another factor in how hard you can smash the ball.

“Head heavy” balance gives you more power at the cost of a slower reactions, “even” balance gives you a blend of power and control, and “head light” balance will give you maximum control at the cost of power.

Generally, heavier racquets are balanced towards the head, while lighter racquets are balanced away from it, emphasizing their characteristics for power and control, respectively, while moderate weight racquets are more balanced towards even.

This racquet by Prince is a great example of a lightweight racquet balanced for a mix of both speed and ball control, and if you’re looking for an all-around balanced racquet that’s made of more advanced materials, it’s a great place to start.

Shape

Shape is generally a matter of personal preference. Racquet shapes can range from “teardroppy” shapes that are strung nearly to the bottom of the grip, towards more round, tennis-racquet-like shapes that offer a larger surface area on the “head” of the racquet.

No matter the shape, all racquets are made to max dimensions of 27 inches long, 8.5 inches wide, with a maximum strung area of 90 sq in (500sq cm.), so there’s really no advantage or disadvantage to choosing a racquet shape; it depends on personal preference and playstyle.

This lightweight racquet by HEAD is a good example of a racquet with an intense teardrop shape, which leads almost all the way down to the grip, while This Prince racquet maintains a more rounded, tennis-style size and shape.

There’s no particular advantage or disadvantage to each style, so we recommend going with a middle-of-the-road offering, and getting a feel for the way you play before you branch out into different racquet styles.

Grip

Grips are made either rectangular or more rounded, and can be expanded as desired by adding grip wrap to your racquet yourself. It’s pretty much a matter of preference, so we recommend purchasing a racquet and some overgrip tape, so that you can try out both the stock racquet grip, and get a feel for a thicker grip. The tape is easy to remove, so if you don’t like it, you can always go back.

Strings

Again, this mostly comes down to a preference of power vs. control.

Looser strings have more “give” and allow you to hit the ball harder, while being a little more mushy and harder to handle when doing controlled shots. Conversely, very tight strings give you great control at the cost of some power.

In the same vein, thinner strings increase ball control and ball feel, while thicker, heavier strings are more durable and enhance your power over the ball.

Most beginner racquets are strung to be somewhere in the middle of this, but if you’re interested in changing it up, you can always buy some extra strings of your own, and get your racquet restrung.

As this can be expensive, we recommend you get a feel for your playstyle and preferences before doing so.

Squash Balls

Unlike many other racquet-based sports, not all squash balls are created equal. They are graded from easy to very hard, based on their bounce level and their speed. Check out the above video to see different squash balls in action!

Generally, the lower the speed and lower the bounce of a ball, the harder it is to play with. While this may seem counter-intuitive, it makes sense if you think about it, because higher speed and bounce balls return to the players more easily, and require less chasing and advanced techniques.

They come in a range of colors, designed for different grades of experience and skill. If you’re just starting out and trying to use a double-yellow ball, chances are you’re not going to have fun.

The 4 internationally recognized colors in the game are as follows

  • Blue – These balls are very fast, and have a very high level of bounce, making them suitable for beginner players, and younger players who lack hitting power.
  • White – These are quite a bit slower, yet maintain some bounce. Good for medium/advanced players, these are what you should use once you’ve gotten a feel for the basics of the game.
  • Yellow – Quite slow, and not very bouncy, these balls are good to progress to once you’ve gotten a good feel for white balls.
  • Double Yellow – The slowest and least bouncy of all the squash balls, these are used in top-level play, and are not for beginners due to their low bounce and very slow speed. Once you’ve got quite a few games of squash under your belt, you’ll be ready to move up to these.

Start out with some blue and white balls, and you’ll quickly get the experience and skills necessary to move up to the competition-standard double-yellow dot balls.

Eye protection

This is often an overlooked aspect of squash gear, but many squash courts won’t allow you to play without it, and given the speed of squash balls and their ability to fly at you from anywhere on the court after a hit, you’ll really be taking your chances if you don’t buy a pair of protective glasses or goggles.

Clear plastic are standard, and inexpensive. These Impulse clear glasses are low profile and comfortable, but not appropriate for people who wear glasses.

If you are a glasses-wearer, you’ll want to look into a set of goggles like the these goggles by Prince, which feature a breathable vented design that can accommodate almost all sizes of glasses.

Squash Starter Kits

If you’re interested in getting started in your squash career, but intimidated by all of these options, an ideal starting place is an all-in-one squash starter kit.

This kit by Wilson offers everything you need to get started – 2 high bounce balls, a racquet, and eyewear, along with a convenient carrying case.

Shoes

Now, technically, you don’t have to have a pair of squash shoes to play squash, but almost all squash courts require you to have shoes with “non-marking soles” in order to play, and many standard running shoes and basketball shoes fail the non-marking sole test, making them inappropriate for squash play.

Basically, a non-marking sole is made of a white or neutral-colored rubber that that doesn’t easily come off on the floor, and won’t leave a bunch of markings on it. If you’ve already got a pair of indoor soccer shoes, for example, or a pair of basketball shoes that don’t leave scuff marks, you’re covered.

If you need a pair of shoes that won’t leave a mark on the court, the best ones to search for are “Indoor Court Shoes”, such as these Asics Indoor Court shoes.

Now you’ve got everything you need to get started playing squash.

Next Steps

Hopefully this guide has been helpful in getting you started in your journey towards squash mastery. If you are excited about this sport, and looking to get further into squash training and advanced techniques, there are tons of incredible resources out there for you.

Whether you’re looking to become a top 50 world player, or just find a way to get a good weekend workout in with friends, squash is as fun to play as it is healthy, and once you get your first taste of what it feels like to smash a 140 mph serve, or kill a tough corner shot with a quick backhand, we’re sure you’ll never want to stop playing.

So strap on your shoes and eye protection, grab your racquet, and get swinging. See you on the courts.

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