What's the Difference Between Racquetball and Squash?

Ah, sports: the grand amphitheater of human emotion, greatness, and achievement. But also: completely arbitrary, melodramatic constructs that humans have created for the sole purpose of entertaining ourselves, of making our time on this planet feel a little less dull. (And this is coming from a sports fan.) Imagine an alien arriving on our planet and observing, without any context, the Masters. Or the Superbowl. Or a sport in which grown people brandish stringed paddles, run around a small, enclosed room, and thwack a rubber ball as hard as they possibly can against the walls of it.

Now, think about the fact that we humans have created not one, but two of those sports. Welcome to squash and racquetball.

Because as it turns out, squash and racquetball are two very different things. Let’s get into it. 

History

Squash dates back to 1830, when it was dreamed up by particularly creative English schoolchildren. Racquetball was created by an American named Joe Sobek in 1949, who was looking for a game that was easier to learn and more forgiving on the hands than handball. He ended up combining aspects of handball, squash, and tennis into a brand-new game. 

Balls

Both squash and racquetball have hollow, rubber balls, though the sizes differ: a squash ball has a diameter of 4 centimeters, while a racquetball ball has a diameter of 6 centimeters. Also: racquetball balls are bouncier.

Racket/Racquet

You didn’t realize you were getting a bonus What’s the Difference, did you?! Racquetball is played with a racquet, which is 22 inches long and has a teardrop-shaped head. Squash is played with a racket, which has a narrower head than a racquet and is 27 inches long. 

Court

Both racquetball and squash courts are enclosed spaces, though racquetball courts are larger. (The exact dimensions are 40 feet x 20 feet by 20 feet for racquetball, and 32 feet by 21 feet by 18.5 feet for squash). In racquetball, all surfaces, including the ceiling, are in play; in squash, the ball needs to be kept off of the ceiling, and there are also out-of-bounds areas on each wall that the ball cannot touch. 

Serving

In racquetball, players serve by standing anywhere behind the service line, bouncing the ball, and hitting it anywhere on the front wall; the ball must then bounce behind the service box before it hits the back wall. Players are given two serves per point, like tennis.

In squash, the players must have at least one foot in a demarcated service box and hit the ball into the opposite corner on the front wall; they do not bounce the ball before hitting it; and they only get one serve per point.

Scoring and Winning

In racquetball, players can only score points if they're serving. The first player to win 15 points wins a game (though it’s win by two), and the best of three games wins a match. If the score is tied two games to two games, then a tie-breaking game is played up to 11 points. 

In squash, players can score points whether they’re serving or returning. Each game is to 11 points (win by two), and the best of five games wins the match.

Popularity

Squash is by far the more popular sport of the two, with 20 million players across the world; racquetball, on the other hand, only has 5.6 million. But honestly, thinking about it, that’s pretty impressive for a game that was made up only 70 years ago by a guy named Joe. Way to go, Joe.

If you liked this, subscribe to the What's the Difference newsletter here

What's the Difference Between Rowing and Crew?

Lessons one learns as an adult: you may have grown up in New England (🙋), attended an Ivy League school (🙋), and even gone through a short-lived adolescent phase in which you regularly wore rugby shirts and cable-knit sweaters (🙋), and you still may not know the different between crew and rowing. This is okay; What’s the Difference is here for you. 

Rowing, or sweep rowing,” is a sport in which the participants row across a body of water with one oar per person. When the participants row with two oars per person, it is called “sculling”—and the oars are referred to as “sculls.” In rowing, there are 2, 4, or 8 rowers to a boat; in sculling, there are singles (1x) , pairs (2x), and quads (4x). These boats may or may not include a coxswain, who sits or lies down in the front or back of the boat and calls out directions to the rowers/scullers. 

“Rowing” and “crew” are in fact the same sport; the word “crew” is used by American schools and colleges to refer to the sport of rowing. The term comes from the nautical term for people who operate a boat—the term “crew team” is therefore redundant. Outside of the academic sphere, the sport is simply known as rowing.

Some more fun facts:

  • Rowing was the first intercollegiate sport in the United States; the first race was between Harvard and Yale in 1852.

  • Coxswains are typically very light, as not to add extra weight to the boat. Most leagues have a minimum weight for the coxswain; if the coxswain is below that weight, then they have to carry a bag of sand on board to compensate for the difference. 

  • Physiologists claim that rowing a 2,000-meter race (1.25 miles) is equal to playing two back-to-back basketball games.

If you liked this, subscribe to the What's the Difference newsletter here