Which Came First Squash Or Racquetball? (Get The History!)
If you’ve been to a gym or an indoor sports facility, you’ve probably walked by a large indoor court for squash or racquetball.
With 4 walls (one of which is glass), these courts are used for fast-paced racket sports games.
Squash and racquetball have unique and intertwined histories, both being popular indoor sports enjoyed by many today.
Which came first: squash or racquetball? Squash was invented before racquetball. Racquetball was inspired by squash and other racket sports with slightly varied rules. Squash originated in the mid-nineteenth century in England while racquetball was invented in the 1950s in the United States.
Squash may have a longer history than racquetball, but both have unique beginnings that were influenced by earlier versions of their sports.
These sports both had surges in popularity in the mid 20th century and are still enjoyed by millions of players around the world today. Players range from recreational to professional, competing at local gyms and elite tournaments.
The History of Squash & Racquetball
Squash and racquetball are similar in terms of concept.
Both require a racket, ball, and the goal is to hit the front wall strategically so your partner cannot return. In squash, the players must return the ball in one of two service boxes while you can hit any part of the wall in racquetball.
There are minor differences in serving, bounces, court boundaries, and equipment sizes.
Click on this article to see all the differences between both sports.
Squash originated at the prestigious Harrow School in England in the 1850s.
It was based on the games of “racquets” and “fives,” two popular sports at the time. Squash was developed when the boys at the school used newly invented rubber balls against a wall. The ball would “squash” against the wall, making shots harder to return and requiring more skill to play.
Squash continued to spread throughout England, becoming popular at sports clubs, boarding schools, and in private residences.
There were even squash courts on the Titanic!
Squash made its way to the United States in 1884 via a graduate of the Harrow School.
City clubs began to develop, which increased the popularity of the sport. Clubs and tournaments formed in Boston and Philadelphia, leading the founding of the oldest governing squash body, the United States Squash Racquets Association.
Squash also developed as a professional sport, allowing the best players in the world to compete.
The Professional Squash Association was developed in 1975, governing both male and female players. The worldwide spread in popularity created differences in rules, such as what type of ball was used. Rules were finally fully standardized by the 1990s.
Racquetball was invented in the 1950s by professional tennis, squash, and handball player, Joe Sobek.
After its founding, Sobek introduced the rules to YMCAs across the U.S., and it became popular by the late 1960s for its high intensity. Racquetball courts and clubs started to open around the country.
Racquetball is the combination of multiple sports:
By the 1980s, the sport’s popularity started to decline.
Racquetball clubs started to be converted into fitness clubs for more general use, and fewer people were introduced to the sport. This drastically declined the number of participants that racquetball had throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Despite this decrease, there were still many high level players worldwide.
The first professional matches were held in the 1970s for men and women.
These developed into elite tours still in existence. The International Racquetball Tour was founded in 1990 as the premier men’s professional tour. The Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour was established in 2005, after many changes in pro tour organization dating back to the 1980s.
Popularity Today and the Future
Now that you’ve seen where squash and racquetball have been, let’s see where they are going.
According to US Squash, there are over 1.7 million players in the U.S. and 20 million players worldwide.
The United States has the fastest growing squash participation in the world, resulting in the creation of more tournaments and competitions.
While most compete recreationally, professional squash continues to grow with elite players from many countries.
Racquetball has fewer players worldwide, currently around 5 million people.
Recreational racquetball is not as popular as it once was in the 20th century but still boasts a prominent following. This includes a professional tour for both men and women. Most high ranking professional players are from North America, where the sport is most heavily concentrated.
Neither sport is included in the Olympics, but they both continue to fight for its inclusion. There are many factors that influence their lack of inclusion, and these are dependent on the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) standards for considering a new sport.
A sport is evaluated on certain metrics to determine its likelihood of inclusion:
- Popularity: Do people play and watch the sport?
- Past inclusion and history of the sport: Has it been included in the Olympics previously? What does the sport’s history look like?
- Value Added: How does this sport add to the Olympic mission and spirit?
- Business model: How does this sport make money? Will it bring in revenue for the Olympics?
- Governing Organization: How is the sport’s governing body set up and organized?
- Equity (gender equality): Does the sport promote equity? Is there gender parity?
In these categories: neither have past inclusion in the Olympics; the two sports may not bring in as much revenue as others in ticket sales, TV advertisement money, and merchandise; and it may be questioned as to what value they bring compared to other sports being considered.
The IOC wants to include sports that people want to watch and that bring value to Olympic efforts.
The continued fight today is for Olympic inclusion, which may not occur if there isn’t a dramatic spike in popularity in participation and viewership.
Both sports organizations work to launch campaigns to garner support for inclusion as they put in Olympic bids for coming Olympic Games.
Most nations have national teams that compete in other international competitions.
How To Start Playing
You really only need a racket, ball, and court to start playing either sport.
You can play individually to work on your skills or more formally with friends for a little competition. Both can be played in singles or doubles competitions. The easiest way to access a court is at a gym or fitness center, which should provide the equipment for you.
Many community parks also have outdoor squash and racquetball courts, but you’ll need to bring your own gear.
This can cut down on costs associated with purchasing a gym membership to access courts.
Squash courts are typically more popular as the sport has more players, but most facilities will have at least one of each. You can play racquetball on a squash court.
If you aren’t with someone who has played before, these videos on how to play squash and racquetball are a great introduction.
Knowing the rules beforehand will make the game that much easier and more fun for all those involved! You can start working on improving your skills and mastering tough shots that will challenge your opponent.
With the fairly short history of each sport, squash and racquetball are still enjoyed by millions of players today. They promote a healthy lifestyle, can be played year round, and require very little barriers to entry. The best way to keep the sport alive and relevant is to try it for yourself! Grab a friend, a racquet, and head to a nearby court for a tough and fun workout!