Tuesday, March 28, 2023

World Squash Officiating denies referees told to avoid ‘yes lets’

Lee Drew says there is a “misconception” among players that squash officials have been instructed to avoid awarding lets on the PSA World Tour. 

A recent tweet by world No.34 Aly Abou Eleinen called for referees to make more use of the simple ‘yes let’ for contentious decisions, rather than the more punitive option of a no let or stroke. 

Eleinen’s tweet – which received support from the likes of world No.10 Victor Crouin and Wales’ Emily Whitlock – mirrored the views of three-time world champion Nick Matthew in his exclusive Squash Mad blog earlier this month.

Drew has now given Squash Mad an official response to the comments of players, ex-pros and squash fans on the issue.

Drew is former Referees and Refereeing Director for the PSA and now the driving force behind World Squash Officiating (WSO). He works with players and officials to help develop understanding and interpretation of the rules, decisions and movement. 

Lee Drew
WSO chief Lee Drew

“It’s a misconception that referees have been instructed not to award simple ‘yes lets’,” he states. “The direction has definitely been that we need to reduce the number of decisions in a match and ideally that would be through players looking to play the ball, go round each other and keep the game flowing.

“Something younger players perhaps didn’t experience is ‘bad matches’ of the past when we were getting close to 100 decisions. It was completely unwatchable. We’ve looked at the data and now the ‘worst’ matches result in less than 50 decisions. 

“The number of decisions has definitely come down and maybe that has resulted in fewer ‘yes lets’ being awarded, but I can tell you there has not been an instruction to referees to stay away from ‘yes lets’.” 

Drew attends all PSA World Tour Platinum events to liaise with referees, players and commentators, study clips of key decisions and discuss learning points. Behind the scenes, Drew is leading the WSO’s extensive long-term drive to raise refereeing standards and consistency globally. 

“Referees are always adapting and learning from mistakes they may have made or what has worked for others. We encourage self-reflection,” reveals Drew. 

“They really care about performance. They are trying to perform at the best of their ability in a role which carries with it enormous pressure.” 

Drew agrees with Nick Matthew’s assertion that every refereeing decision needs to be looked at in the context of ‘managing’ the match – for example, judging players’ intent, controlling behaviour where possible, the stage of the game, whether the scoreline is tight, whether fatigue is setting in and how their performance is changing. 

Drew says: “Every decision is situational and circumstantial. A yes let should be a yes let, a stroke should be a stroke and a no let should be a no let in accordance with the definition of the rules. Before anything else, we need that consistency and standardisation in place. 

“But it then comes down to the referee’s interpretation of any given situation and their ability to steer and manage a match, based on all the information they’ve got that results in the decisions they give. It’s about reading the big picture the whole time. The rest is up to the players and whether they want to play squash.” 

Drew, the former England national junior coach, agrees with Matthew’s points about the referees’ consideration of the wider context when making marginal decisions. “I think that is very appropriate for decisions that could go either way,” he says. 

Referee Roy Gingell
Referee Roy Gingell at the Canary Wharf Classic

“With the grey areas, so much is down to interpretation of the individual. You could have three players watching the same incident all giving a different decision – but each having a very good rationale to explain those decisions. 

“With those types of decisions, that is absolutely when the referee can steer it and use the context of the match. i.e. the evidence that has presented itself with the players’ behaviour, movement and performance. 

“Quite often, I hear players tell referees that one decision was exactly the same as a previous one, so why did they give a different decision? I’ve also seen comparisons of decisions online. My response would be that I have never seen an identical situation. 

“There are so many variables in a decision – the trajectory of the ball, how short the ball stays, the starting position of both players, the movement of the player clearing, the movement of the incoming player, the distance to the ball, the bounce of the ball… No decision is ever an exact replica. It’s all happening at such a pace and a referee is having to digest all that information very quickly.” 

Players’ behaviour has been under intense scrutiny recently in the men’s game with several high-profile recent matches descending into chaos. Drew says the onus to improve is on the protagonists inside the court as well as those in the chair. 

“Players have been instructed how they should behave and what is and isn’t acceptable. They should be able to ask for an explanation of a decision but they shouldn’t be contesting every decision or be overly-aggressive. In a day-to-day environment you wouldn’t accept someone shouting at you in your face. 

“I understand emotions are running high, but I also feel that a lot comes down to the match management of the referee and how much they are willing to tolerate. In the examples where it has descended, it’s clear you’d want the referee to tolerate less and manage the match earlier.” 

In part two of our interview with Lee Drew, he explains efforts being made by WSO, PSA and the WSF to improve refereeing standards across the world. 

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  1. I’d be interested in seeing a World Tour level event on SquashTV trial the “stroke/ no stroke, let/no let” system in which a player has to ask for the call they want. Asking for a dubious stroke and being denied results in a no let, instead of a “free roll” scenario where the player either wins their cheap stroke or gets to replay the point. Also, players charging into the front corners will likely have to take a more conservative route and ask for just a let in those classic no let/stroke scenarios we are seeing all too often.

  2. I think with the current technology, if we want to see the sport gain traction, a simple thing has to be done by the players as well. If you don’t like the decision, review it, else play on. If you’ve lost your reviews, means you’re reading things wrongly. Don’t argue with referees excessively.

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