Mindset for returning the serve

20th May 2019

All too often I see players not getting into the right frame of mind when looking to return the serve. I believe this moment, right before the ball goes into play, is a key few seconds that players need to try and be more mindful about.

Let’s remember that you have just lost the previous rally and the risk is that with a weak return of serve that one point lost immediately turns to two within a few seconds. This happens often and can cause a bit of a snowball effect with negative momentum occurring. This negative momentum can sometimes be really hard to stem and if happens towards the business end of a game can be quite catastrophic. Before you know it you have lost the game and maybe even the match.

A great suggestion would be to attempt to get the rally on a positive footing as soon as possible. This would mean concentrating hard on visualizing the ball being hit well and true and deep reaching the back wall. If this gets done, and with good body momentum, you should be able to send your opponent long into the back while you skip forward and look to take control of the T and ultimately the rally. Some of the best returns of serve I notice is when a player hits a true length and their next shot is either a volley follow up or moving onto a short ball in partnership. This is the definition of the rally being on positive footing.

Something as simple as this can set the tone for the remainder of the rally whereby you are dictating and commanding what is happening. I see players very casual with some return of serves especially at key moments of a game where the momentum shift can go one way of the other.

I would encourage players to have a little self-talk with themselves when the ball is just about to be served. I would suggest phrases or statements along the lines of:

  • “Look to volley this long”
  • “Be positive and extend the follow through”
  • “Really watch and track this serve”
  • “Hit the ball high and true”
  • “Get yourself onto the T ASAP”
  • “Work hard for a good base”
  • “Link my bodyweight to this shot”

You may come up with some more of your own ones but these could be a good start to practice getting in the right frame of mind for some positive returns of serve. I believe a high percentage of good return of serve is in the mind.

One alternative tactic to consider when returning the serve is the scoreboard and the lack of pressure you may feel under. If you are feeling confident and good about things and you have quite a cushion on the scoreboard, there is nothing wrong with going for an outright winner off the serve. Pick and choose the correct serve to do this on but you can get in the right mindset to look for this as when it appears you can attack it.

Be cautious with this as one or two wild return of serves can gift back the momentum to your opponent so be sure to do it when the risks are low to you but the rewards could be potentially high. Doing this well and at the right time can really deflate your opponent and snuff out any comeback they were thinking of mounting.


Jesse Engelbrecht

Turn the backhand return of serve into a strength

Whatever level of squash you play, a good serve hit onto the backhand side can be a tough shot to deal with. With practice, it’s possible to turn your return into strength and feel confident returning the ball, no matter what type of serve you are dealing with.

Learn more