Dear Sean,
A shoeshine is when on the serve, the server hits the person in the shoe and they're automatically out. It can be used as a strategy. I can barely possibly hit it! -Will, 4/24/2008

Will, thanks for the note, and thanks for bringing this up. It's complicated and I see at least two ways of looking at it.

You could approach this as the receiver's fault, and this is how lots of officials might see it too. Our league rules say that you may only hit the ball with your hands and should the ball be hit with something other than you hands then you should be out. If the receiver on the serve can't get his or her feet out of the way then this rule says the receiver is out.

You could approach this as the server's fault. Our league rules say that the serve must be delivered to a specific square fairly. Some people might call this "no blood on serves" but the principle is points should be earned on good plays and not aggressive serves. Actually, the common misunderstanding about serves is people think the server is in charge of the round, but instead the receiver is the one who determines the first clever play. The server's job is to just start the game. This whole approach would mean that the server served the ball poorly and should be penalized.

We usually go with the second approach, but its a soft target. One frustrating part for kids (and teachers who supervise them) are the softness of the rules and how many kids can just argue better about the rules rather than be a good player. So the trick to running good games is to have firm rules that can't be interpreted. And you need rules that work together as a system to be make decisions like this clear.

My final thoughts are these. Hitting the ball at another players' feet is totally okay and should be used as a strategy for getting players out. If they can't move out of the way or reposition themselves in the square then certainly they aren't playing hard enough. But strategies should not be allowed on serves and creating firm rules on the right way to serve will prevent this from happening.

Thanks again for the note, Will. Hope this helps you sort it out, and come back to us if you decide on a set of rules that work for you.