January 17, 2022 What is the Call

by USA Racquetball

In these uncertain times, it’s nice to know that some things don’t change, even if the list is becoming ever-shorter!


This goes for the questions and answers from the July 2015 issue of Racquetball magazine, provided as “What’s the Call? by Otto Dietrich. We all adore rules questions, and the age-old debate about penalty hinders gets our blood going: past, present, and assumedly future! 


What’s the Call?

By Otto Dietrich

Former USA Racquetball National Rules Commissioner


A quick note to those of you who serve as announcers on [live streamed] racquetball events in the United States -- please wipe the archaic term “avoidable hinder” from your vocabulary. Although the concept was unaltered, the term assigned to describe it was. It was renamed “penalty hinder”! That change happened many years ago and still remains. Conversely, the other category of hinders is properly deemed “replay hinders” and not just “hinders.” So, if a referee shouts the word “hinder” to stop on-going play, you could very legitimately ask him, “But what kind of hinder?”


A question I am often asked is, “How can I tell if the right call is ‘penalty hinder’ or not?” Here’s a simple key I’ve concocted that works in most instances. A penalty hinder happens when a player (1) does something that he didn’t have to do, or else (2) fails to do something that he could have done – and as a result, his opponent was hindered. Of course, whenever that happens, the rally is lost by the offending player.


Here are several questions and my related answers.


Frank G. asked:  After hitting his shot, my opponent hit me with his racquet on my way to my shot. I stopped play because of it. He said it was not a hinder; I said it was. Who is right?

I responded:  If the contact (with you) occurred on the follow-through of his shot, then, unfortunately, he is likely right -- it is not a hinder. Why? Because you were probably standing too close to him when he took the shot -- a violation called crowding. Please read the last few sentences of Rule 3.14(a)3. I often describe this rule as being the cruelest rule in the game. What usually happens in such situations is the person who swung stops playing out of sincere concern for having harmed his opponent, while the more knowledgeable (but harmed) opponent just keeps playing and often wins the rally because his opponent stopped play.

Jerry A. wrote: At National Singles, my opponent served the ball and immediately raised his hand indicating that he thought it was a short serve. I hesitated for a moment and lost the point. The referee indicated that I should have not stopped, which I agree, but I feel there should be some consequence to him raising his hand. What’s your feeling?                 


I answered:  Actually, the rules encourage players to raise their hands during a rally to silently indicate that they saw something wrong. Doing that is most useful when line judges are used as it is a way of referencing the “non-called” problem so that all three officials can agree on the play that may be appealed/assessed once the rally is over. So, a player doing that during a rally should just be ignored by his opponents. Also, signaling like that during a rally does not require the player to appeal once the rally is over.

Gary N. emailed me this: Who has the right to call a back wall/long serve in doubles – the player who the ball was hit to, his partner, or either one? It seems if his partner calls it long after the player that the ball is hit to hits it, then that should still be a fair ball in play. Besides making it dangerous if someone looks back.  

I told Gary: Just to be very clear, a serve is never "long" until it actually touches the back wall without being touched at all by a receiver. After anyone calls it “long,” all play should stop immediately and everything that happens thereafter should be ignored. By the way, a serve into the "crotch" formed by the floor and the back wall or either sidewall is a good serve (not long). Anyone on the court (no ref, I assume) who is sure that a serve was long before it has been returned should call it ASAP.

Gary followed up with: What happened in this case was the person who was served to hit the ball even though it might have been long since it was three feet off the floor. His partner stopped the play by picking up the ball in the rally and calling the serve “long.” Does he have the right to do that if his partner hit it, even though it was “long”? He says that either person can call it “long” even after it has been hit.

So, I added:  Once again, the serve is not (never, ever) truly long until it actually hits the back wall! A serve could be ten feet high as it gets to the receiver, but if the receiver jumps and hits the ball (before it reaches the back wall), then the ball is "in play" and the serve is NOT (never was) long. Moreover, if anyone were to call a serve like that long before it touches the back wall, then that would be interference with the on-going play and be therefore a hinder -- most likely a penalty hinder and a loss of that rally -- for the person/team who did that. Also, if the receiver were to simply catch or even touch the served ball before it touches the back wall -- even if it obviously would have been long had it not been caught -- then that would be an ace (point) for the serving team. Lastly, since the serve you described was actually never long (because the receiver hit it before it touched the back wall) then play should have continued and his partner was wrong for stopping the rally for a reason that never existed. The serving team should win that rally.


Back to the Present!

Always “Play by the Rules” and, if you don’t have a copy of them, you can go online where you can find, review, and or download them at

Do you have a rules/refereeing question?  National Rules Commissioner Dan Horner welcomes questions from members and will respond timely. Write to Dan at You may even see your question in a future issue of this newsletter!

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