Monday, May 17, 2010

A (very brief) Comparison of Racquetball and 4-Wall Handball

by Peter Stern

For starters, racquetball and 4-wall handball are played on the same court. The dimensions of the court usually are the same, although I have seen some 4-wall handball courts on the east coast that are one-quarter larger in length, which adds an interesting twist to the game. The general rules for each sport are the same, e.g., the sever stands in the serving box and is the only one who can win a point. If the receiver wins the volley it is a "side out" with no points and the receiver becomes the server. Speaking of points, to win a racquetball game a player wins reaching 15 points first; however, the points can be more or less if the players predetermine it. In a handball game usually whoever reaches 21 points first wins, although games may be 11 or 15 points if the players agree to it before the game. Sometimes games can run to 25 points in special circumstances.  Handball players must wear gloves on both hands.

When serving each, sport requires the server to bounce the ball on the floor before hitting it and it must first hit the front wall before hitting any other wall. In addition, the serve off the front wall must return past the short line either straight off the front wall or off the front wall and in combination of a side wall. Two short serves equals a side out. A long ball is when a serve hits the back-wall without a bounce. Two longs or one long and one short is a side out. You get two chances to make a good serve.

The ball used in each sport is very different. The racquetball players use a larger and softer ball that can be squeezed considerably, while the handball is much smaller in diameter and cannot be moved inward with a squeeze. The two balls bounce and carom off the walls very differently. For example, when e ball hits the front wall, then a side wall, bounces on the floor and then hits the back wall the handball will continue its trajectory towards the other side wall while the racquetball will hit the back wall with a carom straight towards the front wall.

In addition, if we throw a racquetball to the front wall it returns to us with less speed and bounce than a handball. When a handball player wants to hit a ball hard, he must set up and take the shot putting his entire body into the swing with extra force while a racquetball player may instead swing the racquet which has nylon strings that make the ball jump off the racquet with additional power and speed. Both sports use the ceiling as an "additional wall."

Naturally in racquetball the players have a longer reach using the racquet than do handball players; consequently, a handball player must move more and faster in order to set up for a shot. The racquet also adds at least an extra foot to the players reach, which makes it easier to get to the ball. Furthermore, racquetball players use a backhand to return shots while handball players use both hands and usually no backhand shots, although a backhand shots may be used defensively in retuning a shot. It takes some effort to develop a good backhand swing in raquetball. It takes a lot of effort in handball to develop two good hands and to learn how to set up your body on either left or right side to make good shots. You also have to think and act quickly to determine which hand to use on different shots and many people still have problems after years of playing. So, handball player who are good with either hand also have developed both sides of their brain more than racquetball players. Good handball players usually are ambidextrous in other areas of life in addition to the game.

Over time racquetball players damage their racquets and need a new one, while handball players often hurt their hands and get "bone bruises" which is nothing more than a hematoma of the palm or finger areas.

Lastly, racquetball is a fun game that virtually anyone can play fairly easily. Naturally it takes time and increased skills to become a proficient or professional racquetball player. Handball is a very difficult game to learn. It takes a long time and great skills to become a good handball player or a professional.

Frequently a beginning handball player may get very frustrated trying to return the ball consistently and may also hurt either or both hands when hitting the very hard ball. The hand-eye coordination for racquetball and handball players is very different since a returning a handball means that you must first get closer to the ball to hit it and a person's hand is much smaller and narrower than a racquet.

In closing, both sports are fun and challenging to learn well. However, handball is the more difficult game to first learn how to play and you need to be in better physical shape to play it. Playing either sport will keep you in better shape for your entire life.

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