Hey Ref: April 2019

by Barry Faguy

HEY REF Last call!

Well folks, nine years later, it’s the end of my writing the officiating column. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a Canadian doing it, but it’s fitting that someone issued from the US Squash Officiating Program should now be taking the helm. It’s been a treat for me and I can only hope I’ve helped many of you with your decision-making. I thought I’d wrap things up with some observations on three key areas that to me define a competent Referee.

Interference decisions: This is a huge topic, but one aspect in particular comes to mind—the unfortunate tendency among many to pay disproportionate attention to the striker’s obligations, a focus that creates an imbalance that more likely leads to unfair decisions. I’ve stated several times here that any legitimate interference must be the fault of the non-striker; that player has either cleared too slowly, or in the wrong direction, or has hit a shot that could not be cleared in the first place. There is quite simply, no one else on the court to blame. However, that realization can’t be the end of your thinking; you can’t just start penalizing the non-striker for every interference because then you’d have an imbalance in the other direction. The rules guide us to a fair decision by requiring consideration of several other requirements, namely: the non-striker’s effort to clear; the striker’s effort to accept some interference; whether the effect of any interference was minimal; the degree of any swing interference; and the possibility of a winning return. If you take this job to heart—then you must bring those things to mind.    

Marking performance: We haven’t talked much about the Marker role, but it’s integral to being a competent Referee. Every ref is routinely called upon to act as Marker—often simultaneously while acting as Referee. Good marking, when the calls and announcements are made clearly & promptly, helps greatly to produce a smooth-running match. Among many duties, your match announcement should include the name of the event, the round, the server, the receiver, and of course that classic: “Best of 5 games, love all”. Project a competent look by sticking with the recognized calls; that means we shouldn’t hear things like “Play”, “Not good”, “Out of play”, “Foot-fault”, “90 seconds”, and other no-no’s. Using “Not up” & “Down” appropriately will show that you understand the differences. Calling all errors, like “Out”, “Fault”, “Not up”, and “Down” is not only stipulated in the rules, but also helps the audience (and sometimes to the other player) know what’s happening—although if the error is obvious, you can simply temper your tone of voice to avoid making a big deal of it. Stay alert to direct a player to the proper service box when you spot any hesitation. And when the score reaches 10-all for the first time in a match (and only for that one time), the correct wording is: “10-all: a player must win by 2 points”. Be sure to announce the match status at the end of each game and before the start of the next. Finally, and where appropriate, the correct sequence of calls after a decision is: the decision; any change of server; the score; and any potential outcome.

Match management: A hallmark of a competent Referee, good management of a match uses approaches aimed at promoting continuity and proper player behavior. The first approach focuses on interference decisions, where you have the opportunity to issue judicious “No Let” and “Stroke” decisions that can send a clear message about your expectations (e.g., about the effort to clear, the effort to play, etc.). This is especially applicable early in the match, but also later on when faced with repetitive ‘Yes let’ situations.

However, the biggest challenge to management generally has to do with poor player behavior, which can indeed cast a dark shadow over a match. We have available a range of escalating approaches (i.e., warnings, strokes, games and match penalties) which are generally applied in a progressive manner (unless of course there’s an egregious incident)—but there’s much to be said for use of a casual warning. When faced with borderline circumstances (e.g., a player tapping a racket against a wall when upset)—a matter-of-fact comment to the player to refrain from that action serves to get your message across. It’s a minimal intervention, all while alerting the players that you are attentive to poor behavior. Some players take silence on an issue as indicating that it’s acceptable to you.

So, there you go; have fun; don’t worry too much; remember the Referee lament: “You’re expected to be perfect when you start the match…..then improve!”