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.
Mohamed El Shorbagy touching the wall before serving
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 Squash, 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 Centering. A great example of a similar visual representation of this process is what Rafa Nadal does just before serve.
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 focus, 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.
If the PSA 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.
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