Being an Effective Referee

I have heard over the years from tournament directors that one of the most difficult challenges is coordinating the referees. Some of the frustration of tournament directors comes from players that avoid this duty. Racquetball is one of the few sports that requires its players to referee matches. Sadly, many players who may have enjoyed the opportunity to play in a local tournament avoid the experience solely for the fear of officiating.

In this article I will discuss the keys to effectively officiating a racquetball match and hopefully dispel some of the apprehensions.

Let’s examine five key elements for being an effective referee:

Pre-Match Duties:

1. The referee’s authority and responsibilities begins when the players are called to the court.

2. It is the referee’s responsibility to check on the adequacy of the court including such things as cleanliness and lighting.

3. The referee should also assemble suitable materials for the match including ball(s), towel(s), scorecard, pencil, and timepiece.

4. Brief the players on court hinders, identify any out-of-play areas, and explain local rule modifications and often misinterpreted rules (clarify hinders as necessary).

5. Flip a coin and give the winner the choice to serve or receive for the 1st game.

Time Management:

1. The referee should control the pace of the game by calling the score as both the server and receiver approach their respective positions. Collectively, both players are allowed up to 10 seconds after the score is called to serve or be ready to receive the serve.

2. Each player is entitled to three 30-second time-outs in games to 15 and two 30-second time-outs in games to 11.

3. Equipment time-outs should only be granted when no regular time-outs remain and the referee determines an equipment time-out is necessary for fair and safe continuation of the match. This time-out should not exceed 2 minutes except in unusual circumstances.

4. An injury time-out shall not exceed a total of 15 minutes during a match and should only be granted for contact injuries, such as with the ball, racquet, wall or floor. Preexisting conditions, muscle cramps and pulls, fatigue, and other ailments are not considered an injury.

5. Between games, the rest period is 2 minutes between games 1 and 2. If a tie breaker is necessary, the rest period between games 2 and 3 is 5 minutes.

Safety:

1. The referee should relate the importance of safety during the pre-match briefing, and all calls during the match should reinforce the commitment to player safety.

2. Some hinders can be either a replay or a penalty hinder. This is where the skill, experience and just plain savvy of the referee truly comes into play. Although specific rules give examples of penalty hinders, if the ability of the offensive player to take or get to a potentially rally ending shot is taken away by the defensive player’s hinder, then the hinder is a penalty hinder. The failure of a referee to call penalty hinders promotes an unsafe condition for players.

3. The referee should sternly stop play anytime there is an imminent threat to player safety. The rules for hinders apply to all skill levels, but the referee must be cognizant of the players’ abilities in order to prevent injuries.

4. The safety zone exists to promote….well, safety. The referee should be mindful of the players’ proximity to the short line and safety line during the serve. The failure of a referee to call encroachment and safety line violations promotes an unsafe condition for players.

Make the Call:

1. The referee is responsible for enforcing the official rules. He does not have the option of asserting his personal interpretations or modifying the rules. It is important to remember that the rules are the same for every division and skill level.

2. Good, bad or indifferent, the referee must be decisive and vocal. The referee must make calls as the play occurs – for instance, if the ball is seen to skip, make the call immediately and stick to the call. There are remedies for players to overrule the referee in cases where they disagree with the call.

3. Referees should make only the calls they see without undue influence from players and spectators. If the referee did not see the ball bounce twice, he should not call a two-bounce get.

4. To this end, referees should officiate matches where they feel comfortable overseeing the skill level. Although some ‘C’ level players may be comfortable officiating an open match, many feel uncomfortable with the pace of the game.

5. 6 eyes are better than 2 – when convenient, referees should welcome the use of line judges to assist in officiating the match. Remember that line judges are only used on appeal. Referees must still make all calls and players may appeal (subject to rules). Under no circumstances should a referee make calls that are influenced by players, spectators or by the assistance of a “helper” referee.

Maintain Order:

1. The referee has jurisdiction over the spectators, as well as the players, while the match is in progress. The referee should exhibit restraint from arguing with players or spectators, instead relying on the authority delegated by the official rules and the tournament director.

2. The referee is empowered to deduct one point from a player’s or team’s score when the player is being overtly and deliberately abusive. Profanity, excessive arguing, threats of any nature, excessive or hard striking of the ball between rallies, slamming the racquet against the walls or floor or any other action which might result in damage to the court or injury to the other player(s), delay of game, unsportsmanlike behavior, or failure to wear regulation eyewear are examples of actions which can result in a technical foul.

3. If the player’s behavior is not so severe to warrant a technical foul, a technical warning may be issued without the loss of a point.

4. The referee should recognize the resources available to resolve player protests: (1) tournament desk, (2) tournament director, and (3) tournament rules committee.

It goes without saying that referees need to know the rules of the game before they are ready to officiate. However, simply “knowing” the rules does not translate in the ability to effectively referee, which often requires subjective alls. I highly recommend that all players attend a local referee clinic and consult the rulebook frequently.

Additionally, the USAR is rolling out a referee certification process that is available online and includes real life video analysis. I encourage the racquetball coordinators to schedule a CRA rules clinic at their facility and work with players to practice playing by the rules. Please forward requests for clinics and any questions you may have to Dave@coloradoracquetball.com.

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