Clearing the ‘T’ Mind-Set?

By Barry Faguy, WSF Referees and Rules Committee

This question is from a while back, and though we have touched on some of its principles, it’s worth a review since what happens here is extremely common, and the attendant ‘mind-sets’ are a pervasive part of the game.

Hi; This must be one of the most common ways people fall out in beginners squash.

Scenario: Player A, who is standing on the T, has made a return (retrievable) low to the right front after Player B hit it out of the back left. Player A stays on the T—and is now, therefore, in Player B’s direct line to the right front.

Dilemma: Either: a) Player A needs to move off the tee, or b) Player B has to run round Player A. Option ‘a’ doesn’t often happen as players seem to feel they have the right to remain on the T. Option ‘b’ sometimes leads Player B to be unable to reach the ball.

One of the more challenging referee decisions occurs when the outgoing striker clears directly back to the T…directly into the path of the incoming player.
One of the more challenging referee decisions occurs when the outgoing striker clears directly back to the T…directly into the path of the incoming player.

Consequently many points are won and lost in this rather unsatisfactory fashion. What do you think? —Philip

Fundamental points: That type of scenario is extremely common in Squash—both in terms of real play and as a question to Referees. The quick answer is that the rules make no exception to the provision that allows the incoming striker direct access to the ball. If significant interference is encountered, assuming the ball was reachable and that the striker was making every effort to play it, then it’s at least a Let. And, strictly speaking, if the non-striker is just standing there at the T, making no effort to clear? Then a Stroke against that non-striker is justified.

However, what the rules say and what we do in real life (as we’ve outlined previously – see April 2011) differs. We often fall prey to a convention that, in my view, has the following characteristics:

The mind-set of the non-striker (now on the T in a ‘position of advantage’) is often that the incoming striker should be forced to go around as punishment for having played a poor shot back to the middle, thus suggesting a ‘No Let’ decision is proper.

The mind-set of the striker (now in a poor position) is often an acceptance of the need to go around the interference (to a certain degree) as punishment for having made that previous poor return.

The mind-set of the Referee often reflects a tendency to demand a stricter standard for effort—and to consider that if the return is the least bit difficult, then the striker should be the one to pay the price. Also, the same mind-set reflects a tendency to pay no attention to the non-striker’s clearing effort. The feeling is that the incoming striker is considered primarily at fault for ‘causing’ the problem, and so we often see the non-striker granted an apparent absolution from the usual requirement to make ‘every effort to clear’.

None of those three concepts are found in the rules!

What’s going on here?

Now, we don’t want to get too technical here, but the rules reference for the above scenario is found in the last paragraph of Guideline 11—and is known (though not well-known) as the ‘position of advantage’ concept. Contrary to most instincts, this guideline makes it clear that such situations (as well as ‘wrong footing’) are not—I repeat—not to be considered ‘created interference’ situations—a label which would entail an automatic ‘No Let’. (Created interference refers to instances where the interference is artificial; where there is “no genuine reason” for it—in a word, deliberate cheating.)

To paraphrase the guideline, it simply instructs you, the Referee, to mentally take the interfering player out of the picture. Then, simply ask yourself, with the opponent now gone, whether that striker would have been able to return the ball. That’s it. How the situation came about is not a consideration.

Making the decision

This is often tough to do because:

Your instinct often tells you to blame the striker for that situation.

The opponent expects you to demand more of the striker.

The crowd typically feels the same instincts—and will often ‘boo’ any ‘Yes Let’ .

Fortunately, even though these ‘position of advantage’ situations happen all the time, mostly there is no appeal and play continues. That’s because the incoming striker, sensing a stricter standard and therefore an increased risk of a ‘No Let’, usually does indeed play around the opponent. The result can often be unfair on two counts—since the striker has been forced into a compromised return, all while the non-striker makes no effort to meet his or her obligations.

Go online

Interestingly, if you watch some pro matches on YouTube and pay attention to the ‘No Let’ decisions, you’ll see this concept in action quite often. Referees at all levels (myself included) fall victim to these instincts by frequently declining a Let when it’s fairly obvious that the ball is retrievable—albeit difficult.