August 7, 2014
“Hey, can you ref the A final?”
For most of us, even hearing that brings up bad memories, nervous thoughts, and an immediate “no”. Even for the most experienced officials, the prospect of a officiating a high tension, hotly-contested match is just not worth the grief. Maybe you have been argued with, yelled at, sworn at, or intimidated while you were officiating in the past. Maybe you don’t have confidence that you can ref without making mistakes. Whatever the cause, it is often very difficult to get people to officiate matches. I want to talk a little bit about who the referees are, who the players are, and what tools the referee has at his disposal to make sure that the two players are the ones who decide the outcome of the match.
First, to establish why it is so important to have an official, just think about how difficult it would be to try to convince an opponent that he deserves to have a stroke awarded against him on match point when he honestly believes it should be a no let. I have witnessed this exact scenario many times, and there is no simple solution without an official. Before I make this next point, let me be very clear about this: it is absolutely best that the official make every effort to make the correct call in every case. When you are unsure of a call, you should have the players play a let. That being said, even a wrong decision is vastly better than no decision. If you are making an honest effort to understand the rules, and make the right decisions, every decision you make is a favor to the players, and they need to be grateful.
In squash, the referee is the boss. What he says goes, and his decisions are correct, even when they are wrong. The goal of this is to let the players focus on what they need to do, and not on the decisions of the game. On the other hand, the players are the whole reason for the game. The players are the stars, the focus, and the feature. When players and referees understand these roles, matches go smoothly, no matter the importance of the match, the quality of the calls, or the experience of the official. There is a very small amount of discussion that is allowed on any decision by a referee. A player may ask for a reason for a decision. He may appeal the decision, based on something that he believes may have been overlooked. He may question whether the referee is sure about a call, or had the proper view of a play. He can appeal any call made by the marker if he believes it was incorrect. Beyond that, the player has no room for further talking. The saying “this is a decision, not a discussion” is almost always literally true. The referee should, politely and firmly, give decisions, brief explanations, and demand that players “play on”.
When these roles aren’t filled properly, there are many ugly situations that can arise. Some referees are tempted to get into discussions with players. They want to show off their knowledge of the rules, and convince the players that their call is correct. They often feel like a joke or a snide comment back to a player will help end the conversation. Often, long discussions could be shortened to a terse, polite, “No let. Play on, please”. The result of this is that the focus moves from the players to the referee, which makes for ugly squash. On the other hand, almost every player (I only have to add in the almost because I have never seen Garth Lewis argue) is simultaneously refereeing their own matches in their heads, while playing. They are also judging the job the referee is doing. Basically, they feel that the referee either needs to agree with them in order to be right, or he needs to convince them that he is correct. Nothing could be further from the truth. The referee alone decides the calls. He needs no one to agree with or confirm his decisions. When you argue with a referee, you are putting your entire match on the line for one point, since the referee can award your opponent the match at any time.
The referee has a lot of tools at his disposal during the match. He even has the power to ask players to change their clothing if necessary. He can demand that spectators remain silent or even remove them from the gallery. He can issue conduct warnings, strokes, games, or even matches, and he can even make recommendations and reports to Saskatchewan Squash to have players suspended from tournament play. Conduct that can and should be penalized by warnings, strokes, games or matches includes:
- Time wasting
- Deliberate distraction
- Audible profanity
- Intimidation of opponent of officials
- Unsafe play
- Racquet abuse
- Court abuse
- Any type of excessive physical contact
It may seem like there is a serious imbalance of power in the player/referee relationship. This is deliberately true. Yet, in most situations, the referees find themselves in fear of the players instead of the other way around. There is an informal expectation that, at the end of a match, no matter the outcome, each player will shake the referee’s hand and thank him. That is simply because the referee is doing a massive favor to the players by allowing their match a chance to proceed smoothly. All of us have to wear multiple hats in the squash community. We are all players and officials. We need to change the way that we act to allow the power to rest with the referees, and let the players be the stars.
Note: This article was addressed to referees, but I hope you noticed that it equally applies to all of us as players. We have all been in emotionally-charged situations on court, and gotten into discussions with our referees. If you have ever reffed me, about half of you have endured some level of excessive discussion (i.e. abuse) from me. I hope that I have apologized to you if this is true. Hopefully, further articles will follow that cover topics like how to improve as a ref, and clarify certain rules and interpretations. But, for now, we need to bone up on these topics, and help make our squash matches more fun, more safe, and more entertaining.
- Steven Bachiu