Refereeing blog – Daryl Selby

In squash two players can sit next to each other and disagree on a decision. Two referees can sit next to each other and disagree with a decision. Two spectators can sit next to each other and disagree with a decision.

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Refereeing blog

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I have tried to write a blog on refereeing on numerous occasions but am yet to finish one so hopefully this attempt will end more successfully.

Refereeing in sport is one of the most difficult jobs known to man. Bold statement but when you look at sports nowadays, football, cricket, rugby, tennis, squash etc the players and balls are moving so fast that referees are bound to make mistakes. Couple that with the improvements in technology where tv audiences can see replays from all angles in super slow motion, and often a decision can be proved incorrect. What we forget is that 95% of the time when a correct decision is made, no one blinks an eyelid.

Agreeing to disagree…

In squash two players can sit next to each other and disagree on a decision. Two referees can sit next to each other and disagree with a decision. Two spectators can sit next to each other and disagree with a decision.

Squash is down to interpretation and people see the action in different ways. Players in all sports rarely make it easy on the referees as they always play right on the edge of the rules, seeing what they can get away with if it will mean an advantage is gained. In football it happens far too much, in squash it happens, and for some players far too much in my opinion.

In squash the referees are not professional and this is part of the problem we are having.

That is one side of the argument, one where I am sticking up for the refs (that might surprise some people!). It is a difficult job with not many incentives.

ScreenHunter_82 Apr. 07 17.27Trying to make a living…

Some people forget that we squash players do not make a lot of money and this is our full time job. So when a bad refereeing decision is made at a crucial point of the match, people have to understand the consequences for us as people trying to pay a mortgage/rent, support a family, have enough money to follow your dream and stay on the tour.

Sometimes we get upset and rightly so. Bear that in mind when you heap criticism on us for moaning, shouting, letting the emotions run. I’m not saying it’s right and some players handle it better than others, but just bear it in mind.

Improving communication Players/Refs

The relationship between referees and players is not ‘toxic’ as someone suggested. Far from it, we speak to each other like normal human beings and even have a laugh and a joke away from the court on occasion!

One thing that definitely needs improving if we are to take our place in the Olympic Games one day is the communication between players and referees in working together to produce a better understanding of where the other is coming from. The referees needs to be more receptive to this as I believe there are only a handful of referees competent enough to officiate at the top level.

The players need to want to be part of this as well, and unfortunately I don’t think enough of the players seem to care abut the future of the game. There are always the same few who are actively involved in trying to make improvements to our game at the professional level.

ScreenHunter_81 Apr. 07 17.26Here we go

Here is a little criticism of our referees. We often have different referees at the big tournaments and therefore the consistency of decisions goes out the window. We often have a case of ‘the blind leading the blind’. Not really at the top level but lower down where referees, who in my opinion aren’t good enough to ref, are teaching other referees or assessing them! This results in a downward spiral.

With the three referee system, the central referee often hides behind his/her ‘team decision’ explanation and doesn’t assert some control on the game ( if there is blocking, do something about it!).

I feel the video review has been mostly positive but I think the video referee needs to either not know the decision that’s been made so not have been influenced already. Or sometimes the thing that frustrates me is when they don’t watch from all the available angles and make too rushed a decision.

Another simple thing that annoys the hell out of me is when a player calls his or her ball down and the referee can’t even have the courtesy to thank the player. This leads to me on to the referee’s demeanour and attitude, it needs to be non-confrontational and relaxed. The players get worked up enough, so all situations that can be diffused, need to be, and not the other way around.

If we don’t get this part of the game more consistent, if the governing bodies don’t put more resources into funding such a massive part of our beautiful game, then when we come to the Olympic Games it won’t be the spectacle that it should be as such a lot is at stake. We need to try and eradicate the blocking and fishing, with stricter, better refereeing this can be done over time but it won’t be easy, especially with the way some kids are taught these days.

ScreenHunter_83 Apr. 07 17.30Back to One Ref?

Some players have suggested going back to just one referee who controls the whole match, i’m definitely not against this idea.

There is lots to discuss on this matter and I’m sure lots of people will have an opinion. In fact I hope lots of people will have an opinion as it shows people care.

Please disagree with me, agree if you really have to but most of all let’s all work together to try and improve the refereeing in all parts of our game from top to bottom.

16 thoughts on “Refereeing blog – Daryl Selby”

  1. Daryl, been waiting for this for some time and it was worth the wait. You hit a lot of nails on the head here and are probably more balanced than some people expect.

    I do think that having a pool of professional referees would be ideal, however, and you touch on this yourself when you say, “I don’t think enough of the players seem to care abut the future of the game”, how would they be funded when almost inevitably it would have to come out of small prize pots as it is?

    To be honest, I pretty much agree with everything else in the piece, well done for sticking your head above the parapet, hopefully other players (and maybe a ref or two) would be prepared to enter the debate and give their views.

  2. ” Players in all sports rarely make it easy on the referees as they always play right on the edge of the rules, seeing what they can get away with if it will mean an advantage is gained. In football it happens far too much, in squash it happens, and for some players far too much in my opinion. ”

    Good example of that…

  3. Beautifully written, one needs only re-watch the recent match between Ashour and Shabana in Kuwait to see how poor reffing can cost a player a match. I especially agree with the part on refs learning to be non-confrontational and calmly diffusing a situation rather than basically rudely telling the player to shut up and move on. Ugly confrontations between player and ref make matches unwatchable and give them a very negative vibe, the last thing our sport needs. And there’s nothing wrong with a little friendly banter, I’ve seen the crowd go hysterical after a good humored ref-player interaction (Power and White come to mind). There’s nothing wrong with lightening up a bit, it ups the entertainment value.
    Finally, I have not seen an improvement in the quality of reffing with the 3 ref system. Worse if anything. I’ve rewatched numerous classic matches from the 80’s and 90’s involving only 1 ref and have found the quality of decisions to be as good or better than nowadays. Far more courteous as well (yes they do thank players for calling double bounces). As for replay, keep it but extend it to all major events. Why Kuwait didn’t have it (when it was BADLY needed) is beyond me.

    1. For yr info, Jonathan, the three referee system was mooted because the Pro’s were complaining and unhappy abt the One ref and one marker system, which was the norm since Squash started.

      To blame a ref for yr poor performance is a joke in itself.

      The reason for earning a living as a Pro , is the main reason,why some cheat and fish to win match and became dishonest.

      Respect begets respect and it need earn and most Pros on the regular . Knows the who are the negative ones, but everyone is guilty at times ( when the othwer keeps getting what he wants, now’s my turn and the good behaviour thrown out of of the court)

      It clear shows that u are also guilty of learning yr rlues by ear as Banter is also know as time wasting ( more so when after 40 minutes into the third game and a 50 to 60 strokes rally , u opponent turns to argue with the ref, buying time to rest )

      Finally the ref have to tell U to shut up, because we are told that tv air time is expensive and that too many stoppages , is a waste of sponsors moolah ( most ref are told during briefs before the start of tournaments )

      I cannot agree more that the antics are good for the audience and that they are in part paying for yr earning, but as a Pro , u job is to train to yr best ability as a sportsman to win matches and not to entertain the crowd. ( go jopin the circus if u must )

      As much as Im for the refs and am also appalled at the standard of refereeing this days, much is needed, to be done by all concern and it would do the sport no harm if the Professional Bodies make it a mandate that all Pro’s meet up and attend the Ref’s brief on the eve or morning of every tournaments.

      Every tournament has a quota for international or world referees and mostly , u will see a handful of regulars ( these are those retired ones) for the part-times they have a quota to meet too, ( so they have to juggle and schedule their tournament , just like the lower ranking Pro’s)

      I part with the hope that we will make it to 2020 Olympics , and every ones doing their part in every small way not only for the Olympics but to continuing improving our beloved sport.

      One last parting shot , for the Pro’s ,put yr mouth , where yr mouth is , and do what u got to do , about the refereeing problem,( and especially , would like to see JP as a referee,as he is the chief advocate , that only the referees need to be a Pro, before they are allow to ref a Pro)

      Have a good squashing day


  4. Well here we go, my take on refereeing mirrors a lot of Daryl has already placed in his blog. I without hesitation after watching the three referee system from its outset to its present state would go back to a main referee/marker and at the the tournaments that have the facility have the added benefit of a Video ref. This ref has to be also capable of judging not up and down calls not just Let situations. What is the point of having the technology and not using it to its fullest potential.

    I agree with Daryl about the refereeing being non confrontational and even arrogant on occasion this is not what is required in our sport. My pet hate is the referee making a point of asking if the player is asking for a let if he did not quite make it plain enough to him in the first instant and then in a condescending way saying “No Let”. Why they seem to get off on a sort of power trip here beats me.

    Daryl touched on the problem of assessing the competence of referees. I have a straightforward solution which would not be too difficult to put into practise. We need a panel of appropriate people from a broad spectrum of Squash (i.e Coaches, players, promoters and referees) to meet the referee at a tournament a sit down with him and view some of the widely available video footage from a series of matches he has officiated on. Then with a general consensus award him a competence award so he may continue at that level or may be considered for a higher level. This way we are getting a good amount of debate acroos the board which would hopefully in the end elevate the level of coaching that is required in our Sport.

    The last point involves money which is a difficult subject but one that needs addressing. Referees are doing for there love of the game or some other altruistic reason at the moment. This must change so that we work towards having a group of professional referees on tour that know the players and vice versa this will help the controlling of matches as these referees will know the players games inside out and be aware of any potential problems that may arise and be able to deal with it early on in the match. We need to find funding for these from the Prize money, the promoter, the governing bodies and sponsorship and it is a large mountain to climb but if we don’t start climbing it we will never get to the top.

  5. Daryl

    Firstly a very interesting read and like Mainser has said you’ve hit a lot of nails on the head with your comments.

    If I remember rightly in the PSL in Bristol there was only one referee during the 5,4,3 and number 2 strings then if the match had finished on the other court the referees would then join together and mark the number 1 string. This would then lead to many problems as they would hesitate on decisions and often get them wrong to the players disgust.

    I’m no professional but would think the one referee would be good to see again but also the 3 ref system is a step in the right direction as with the video ref, but then saying that why have the 3 ref system when you have the video ref aswell…….. In big tournaments a single ref to mark all the matches in a row to keep the consistency would be a near impossible task.

    Great write up on an interesting but difficult subject to talk about.

  6. Wonderful piece. Great addition to the debate. Let’s hope more players & refs at the top level join in.

  7. I think a lot of good points by Mr Selby, but surely its time to put refs in as full time pro’s, either a percentage from the tournaments or 1 of are friends from the middle east investing in the refs, simple job done.
    I think as someone who has refereed at national and international level that there are goods points on both 1ref or 3.

  8. As a response to what the answer is… short answer…more money! IF…(not sure it’s all the players) the professional squash-players feel extremely upset, or strongly enough over the quality of refereeing, then they should be willing to have a percentage of whatever prize-money (for the big events) is being put up for major events dedicated to paying “qualified” referees more.

    Doing that (perhaps) would entice some of the (retired) pros to become referees. Let’s face it, many of them (after retirement) don’t have much choice but to become teaching pros. However, there are only so many of “those” (good) jobs out there.

    Becoming a (well-paid) “professional” referee would (at least) give them another option. And…it isn’t widely known by those not involved with the sport, but in order to be a “judge” in the world of figure-skating (Olympics, World Championships, etc.) one must have actually competed at (whatever) the level they are being assigned to officiate.

    In the sport of gymnastics, again at the Olympic and World Championship level, the “head” judge (there are four plus the head judge) must have also COMPETED at that level, i.e. Ludmilla Tourischeva, Nadia Comăneci, Muriel Grossfeld, Yukio Endo, Boris Shakhlin, Vladimir Artemov, etc.

    That (kind of) addresses the opinion of some that in order to referee at the professional squash level, one must have competed at that level. I know…there are many (Jonathon Power for one has stated it) who feel they are the ONLY ones who really understand the (pro) game well enough to make the “right” decisions. Could you ever imagine players arguing with the likes of Nicol, Power, Parke, Heath, Walker, Ricketts, J & J Khan, Devoy, Fitz-Gerald, Owens, Atkinson, Grainger, etc. I don’t think so!

    Once having “qualified” referees willing, able and available, the two major area’s needing improvement is: 1) A better view point (location) for them to do the job, i.e. return to the platform behind and above the back wall. The argument that it “blocks” the view of the paying patrons, in my view, is not valid. Shouldn’t the referees have the “best” view of the action!? 2) A “core” of (well paid) referees needs to be created and used whenever possible for the major events. This would result in more consistent calls being made, for sure!

    Lot’s to discuss regarding this for sure. Regarding the system(s)…one referee with access to replay, three-referee’s, referee/marker, etc. it still comes down to the one very basic attribute…after having the acquired (book) knowledge…it’s experience, experience and more experience.

  9. Many good points from Daryl. I also think there is merit in players marking matches when they are no longer in tournaments. This may not work at the largest events, but can certainly work in the smaller tournaments. In my experience, the respect from the players is often greater (as they appreciate the player has played at the same sort of level) for their ‘colleagues’ than it is for the official referees. This process also keep costs down, or rather attributes them correctly to the struggling pro, but more importantly it provides additional data for the governing body to review. It would be very interesting if a ‘committee’ of refs and players reviewed decisions from both ‘professional’ refs and player refs and debated any obvious differences. With respect to the professional markers, many of which are over 50 and have not played professionally, it would hardly be surprising if different conclusions were drawn – particularly on whether a player could get to the ball. This process could aid mutual understanding, as learning and appreciation is likely to be two way.

  10. A very interesting blog, Daryl. It is great to have players broaching the Refereeing subject.
    I think one way of achieving better understanding between players and Referees would be to involve professional players in Marking and Refereeing courses where new Referees are trained. Lively discussion always follows and players have a better understanding of the interpretation of the rules by the Referees. A minor problem is that all professional players do not bother to get to know the rules properly. Rules are interpreted in a way their peers do it, but it is not necessarily the correct way.

    Another way of getting good co-operation between Referees and players is to use 2 players and a qualified Referee in the 3-Referee system in smaller tournaments. After each match the group can then quickly discuss the calls and share their stats with one another. In that way, refereeing should become more consistent. (With Referees’ rules knowledge and players’ playing knowledge combined.) Who better to recognize blocking by a player on court than 2 of his/her peers whilst refereeing?

    Another good idea would be to involve interested (professional) players in Refereeing, in order to use them in the smaller tournaments as Referees, once they have lost in the earlier rounds. If there is money to pay out, it will supplement a professional players’ income (that he did not get by losing in an early round). Once the playing career of a professional player is then over, he will then be an experienced Referee, that can put back into squash by Refereeing, not only by coaching. We can then build a new generation of ex professional players that integrate into the “professional Referee” body and so cross-pollinate each other.

  11. As said above, there is only one way to to make professional matches run professionally and that is with Referees that understand the game. Sorry to say but with my many years of Squash experience also at a Pro level, I have come to the conclusion as has many other players have, that only players or ex players can understand the speed of the game. Three referees that have not played at a certain level do not make the decisions any better but have a certain entertainment factor. I as an ex player and at the moment coach of a certain European National team appreciates all the referees that through the love of the game have put alot of effort into doing an unthankfull job. The only solution, is to create some sought of funding to attract ex players to referee the professional matches. A video referee is for the TV an extra entertainment level, which is nessessary for the promotion of the game, and I am sure that we can all agree that is a very important factor at the moment shortly before the Olympic decision is made. I am not saying that ex players always make the right decisions but they are more respected from the players and they accept the decisions more readily.

  12. A good article Daryl .My comments as a referee are that generally decisions even out over the course of a match.Someone has to make a decision and whichever way it goes it will upset one player.This will apply whether you have 1 or 3 refs or a committee! ( have you watched match of the day and seen Lineker, Hansen and Shearer watching a replay 5 times in slow motion and still not agreeing on a decision !!?? ) I think you have to have different referees at
    tournaments otherwise how will you get any new refs to the top level? I agree that it is better if the ref is relaxed but sometimes this is fine at the start of the match because the players are less tense , but when you get to a tight 5th there are often more arguments which could have been avoided if the ref had been harder early on to set the tone, eg. no easy lets or cheap strokes and just a brief exlanation.
    Ideally players or ex players should be refs as they are younger and have played to the same level as the players. But in my experience players do not want to ref. I have been at tournaments where players were asked to help and they were very reluctant.The alternative of paying refs a decent rate so they could spend more time studying and understanding the players would be good , but who would pay them ? Finally, Daryl is the only player I can recall
    coming to have a calm and open discussion with me after his match to understand some of the decisions . We agreed to disagree on some of them !! But it is always useful to have this type of conversation.

    1. Hi , As a Player,( average one ) , became a Referee, with only 2 WSF matches under my belt , during the Last Singapore Open( won by a Billy Hardell an Aussie), way back in the late 1990.
      and now a Coach for the last 13 years.

      My advice to my charges are to read up WSF rules and understand them, n no fishing n argueing on court, also not to be distracted when face with biased and inconsistent referee. Go and win yr mactches on yr own merit and on a bad day ( only u hv yrself to blame and it has nothing to do with refereeing ).

      Squash is a sport that requires mental toughness to the highest degree, besides speed on court, there’s strenght and fitness, to carry u to the end of the last point also ball or racket skills ( where u play or put the ball where ever u want it to go, or kill).

      There on match days everyone plays to win, but sadly , in any racket sports there can only be one winner.

      The WSF rules if applied correctly by any one who are trained accordingly , he or she will be able to referee any match be in the Man or Woman Pro’ tour.

      I sincere doubt that any Pro will make a good referee as they are humans too and to err is human , to forgive divine.

      U need to have a certain kind of Passion in the game not only as a player , as referee and also as a coach.

      Having said that, U need to pass the right message down the line.

      Most of the post written has been about poor refereeing , what abt players poor or unacceptable or misbehaviour.

      As David said , incidents are most likely to happen later part of the match especially towards the tail end.( when one player senses that he or she is losing it and that where all hell break lose) why is it the fault of the referee ,because he has to make a call,( I don’t know!!!!) be it a good or bad call , as a sports man , u have to learn to accept it and move on, and shud it happen on match ball, good luck to the stronger player. ( most player would argue , that they hv indeed move on, but complain againn again when they are in a losing streak, I lost due a bad referee;s decision , and not that he’s not mentally strong enough or that his legs are weak)
      Have a good squashing weekend.


  13. Great article. agree on better training for refs. as well as some kind of monetary compensation. Great to work for the love of the game. however gas money always helpful.. constant assessments from certified assessors should be implemented. certainly ref meetings before pro matches should be mandatory.
    Enjoyed reading comments.

  14. A very interesting article Daryl. Like yourself, I’m certainly not against going back to a single referee system. We could use with assistant referees just like in football, but the final decision should come from the main referee. The use of a “team decision” doesn’t make sense to me and very often, that is used as the reason for a particular decision.

    I’d like to make some comments on the improving communications between players and referees part. It’s certainly something where there could be a lot of improvements. I am from Malaysia and we have 2 big PSA/WSA events every year. During these events, there are many instances where players are not happy with decisions and more so, not getting an explanation for a decision. Some do not get answers to their questions, some get answers that do not make sense and some might even be ignored and be asked to play on.

    However, the reality is that the referees in these events, they are not English educated and their level of proficiency is very low. In Malaysia at least, most of the referees are made up of the army personnel, who are major squash supporters in the country. While these guys may not have the language proficiency, they are very knowledgeable and passionate players. So there is really a language barrier we are dealing with more than anything here. It really could be, maybe we do not have enough fluent English speaking referees in this part of the world and when the tournaments are not big enough, I am assuming the WSF will not be sending foreign referees. We do have many English speaking people here, but unfortunately, refereeing is not a very appealing task/job in the eyes of many (myself inclusive).

    Sometimes, I even see players making fun or mocking of these referees saying things like “you don’t really understand me do you?!” It’s really sad to see such things happen. I feel players should be more understanding and accepting in such cases. Players could argue that organisers should ensure there are adequate English speaking referees. Then perhaps it should be a pre-requisite which the PSA/WSA should enforce. But then, isn’t it a bigger loss if a country has sponsors for tournaments but not allowed to host tournaments?

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