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Why Do Professional Squash Players Touch The Side Wall before Serving?

There are two answers. Firstly, to remove sweat from the palm of the hand and secondly to mentally “reset” before the next point.

Why Do Professional Squash Players Touch The Side Wall before Serving?

I also would like to start by saying it’s not just professional squash players that touch the side wall, it’s a lot of players. I believe it’s a habit that has developed because players see other players do it. I wonder if you looked at a group of players who didn’t do it, would somebody develop the habit on their own and then other people would copy them? Who knows.

Reason 1: Sweat

Squash players sweat. It’s a fact. Some more than others, but we all do it. Fun fact, you even sweat when swimming, but of course you don’t notice it! Anyway, sweaty palms can make it harder to grip the racket. A few days ago I wrote about Using Gloves for Squash1, but you really don’t need to do that. Some players, wear sweatbands around their wrist that can stop sweat running down their arm into the palm, but most people simply sweat from their palm.

Not gripping the racket tightly except at the moment of contact with the ball can help, and many players are squeezing the racket all the time, which doesn’t help. You can wipe your palm on your clothing, but that might be wet or at least damp. I have seen players have a little towel tucking into their shorts to dry their hands between points.

See the towel? Of course American Footballers play outside in the snow and rain, but the concept is the same.

Wiping your hand down the wall really does seem to remove any sweat from the palm. I am lucky – I hardly sweat, but during long, hard matches, or on very humid courts I found it help.

However, during the Coronavirus pandemic, players were told not to do it and use towels provided at the front of the court. Some people said the act was unhygienic and I suppose wiping sweat on a wall where somebody else has just done the same might not be the smartest thing to do. However, we are breathing in the expelled gases from our opponent, which sounds even more unhygienic to me. I certainly won’t fight to keep the wall touching, but I suspect it will take quite a few years to stop completely. habits take a long time to change – especially bad ones!

Reason 2: Grounding/Centering

The next reason is even more important. Sports performers needs ways to refocus, techniques to bring themselves back to reality, to stop worrying about mistakes just made or what “could” happen. These techniques are often called Grounding or Centering2. A great example of a similar visual representation of this process is what Rafa Nadal does just before serve.

Why Do Professional Squash Players Touch The Side Wall before Serving?
Rafael Nadal’s pre-serve routine has received much scrutiny.

Some have suggested it borders on OCD or superstition, but Mr. Nadal simple says that it helps him focus3, which is exactly the concept of grounding or centering. Older players may remember a professional squash player called Peter Marshal. He was noteworthy because he sued two hands when hitting the ball. However, I mention him because he also had a very interesting pre-serve routine. He would roll the ball along the service lines until it was where he wanted it. Then he would pick it up and serve. I am sure there are other examples too.

One other point about the hands touching the side walls is that it can be performed even when receiving serve and most players don’t have a pre-return of serve grounding process.

Final Thoughts

If the PSA4 and governing bodies decide that hand scrapping should stop, then so be it. If I were still playing I would probably get one of those little towels tucked into my shorts. Be aware though that if it fell onto the court, it is immediately my opponents point. Having a grounding process before serving or receiving serve is definitely something players should develop and I recommend you find a process that works for you.

Are you a wall scrapper? How do you feel about being told you can’t do it any more?

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Resource Links

  1. Can You Wear Gloves When You Play Squash? – BetterSquash
  2. Learn to Focus Your Attention with the Grounding Technique – Stack.com
  3. “When I do these things it means I am focused”: Nadal – EssentiallySports.com
  4. Professional Squash Association – psaworldtour.com

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5 Comments

  1. I have my little ticks between points and it is definitely a focus thing. The mental side of the game is massively neglected and it’s something I try and encourage our young players to think about.

    A brief note about the towel you mentioned. If the towel falls and you lose the point how is that different from diving and causing an interruption to the rally? Watching Makin Coll last night Coll dived when under pressure and received 3 let’s. It’s an unfair advantage they should be banned or result in a stroke against the diver if the rally is stopped.

    1. Agree with you Ian. Diving has brought sensation to the sport but at the same time creates a disadvantage to players whom might have gain an advantage that led to a player to dive, make the court unsafe to play, rally stops and a let is played. Agree that penalisation need to occur if such play happens frequently. However if after the dive the court maintains playable then all well and good.

  2. On your point of saying there are 2 reasons a PSA wipes the wall to reset and remove sweat, unless you have gone to each PSA player or obtain a pool of questionnaire on the reasons why PSA players wipe their hands on the wall, it is a little prediction to say these are the 2 reasons. I understand you are making a common/logic sense causation here to the wiping of hands but I think there needs to be empirical reasoning to the claim put forth in this article. It would be better to have the article written in the light of these might be the 2 reasons why PSA players wipe their hands on squash walls.

    It’s a good article but can be a little too predictive with the facts. I find there are more reason PSA players and squash players wipe their hands on the wall. Good day 🙂

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