Hey Ref: January 2018

by Barry Faguy

HEY REF I often hear some referees’ explanations that strike me as kind of weird. Is there some advice to help me get it right when it’s my turn to give explanations? 

As you’ve realized, many explanations are unfortunately either flat-out wrong, incomplete, irrelevant or nonsensical. Proper explanations should help improve communication, minimize dissent and promote desired changes.

  1.  “There was interference.” You’ll usually hear these words spoken to the non-striker who is complaining that a let given to the opponent (the striker who made the request) should have been a no let. Alas, that wording isn’t much help because it’s stating the obvious. The complainer typically knows full well that there was some interference and is expressing the view that the let should have been denied because of what the non-striker sees as his opponent’s lack of effort to play through a relatively minor degree of interference.

The problem is solved if you change the explanation to “The interference was significant” or “The interference was enough to compromise the return.” The complainer may not agree, but that explanation shows that you understand the concern.

  1. You were in the swing” or “You were too close to your opponent.” These are typical explanations offered to justify a stroke in the context of swing interference. Again, they don’t do the job. The fact is that any amount of interference to the swing qualifies for such descriptions. A proper decision needs to have considered the distinction between prevented or affected—the two rules-recognized levels of swing interference.

Your explanation will be clearer if you say “You prevented the swing.” That amount (a lot) of interference always results in a stroke. For a lesser degree of swing interference (meaning affected), a stroke can still be justified with this additional, important consideration: “The swing was only affected—but your clearing effort was poor”. Finally, and again for a lesser degree, a let can also be justified with “Your swing was only affected—and your opponent was making a good clearing effort.” For lesser amounts of swing interference, it’s the clearing effort that determines the decision.

  1. You took an indirect line.” These words imply that the striker created the interference and are often used to justify a no let. Again, they are a poor choice of words because they can also describe wrong footing—an extremely common, but honest error of play and very distinct from created interference. Being wrong-footed (going the wrong way by mistake) is not by itself a justification for a no let. All three decisions are still possible.

The better wording to deny a let in a true wrong-footing situation would be no different than the usual explanations: “You would not have been able to make that return” or “You did not make every effort to recover to play the ball.” However, if you do have a true created-interference situation (meaning it was deliberate, not an error)—then use: “That was created interference” or alternatively “You played your opponent.” In fact, these last two explanations are euphemisms for cheating.

  1.  “You failed to clear.” We often hear these words as an explanation to justify a stroke. However, if failing to clear was truly the standard, then all interference decisions would be strokes because that is exactly what has happened if we have legitimate interference. What the rules really require (along with other considerations) is for the opponent to make every effort to clear. The proper justification is: “You did not make every effort to clear.” Having said that, we need to add that there are two cases where a clearing effort doesn’t matter: for a prevented swing, and for path-of-the-ball interference.
  2. The ball was past you.” These words don’t make the cut because they fail to reflect reality. Players at all levels can make returns that have gone past them—either by reaching back or hitting it off the back wall. There is nothing intrinsic about the ball being past a player that makes it not retrievable. The more realistic explanation would be: “You would not have been able to make a good return” or “That shot was a winner.

Perhaps this quote from Robert McCloskey is a fitting end to this column:

“I know that you believe that you understood what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”