Referee Duties

Ray Cornell

Fall is traditionally the start of the racquetball season, and that means we get busy with tournaments after a little “quiet time” during summer (unless you competed in the Rocky Mountain State Games, or World Seniors). Anyway, the release of a new season calendar seemed like a good time to expound a little on being a referee.

A couple of years ago Dave Stone wrote A Player’s Guide to Officiating that covered highlights of the referee’s appointment, scope of authority, use of line judges, and players’ use of appeals. As Dave observed, referees sometimes think they are mainly there “just to keep score” – but there’s much more to it. Understanding what a referee does can help everyone have a better match experience. In essence, the referee is the manager of the match. With that in mind, let’s look at some specific referee duties, before and during a match.

Section B of the USAR Rulebook covers Officiating. Much of the content there involves the use of line judges and how to handle appeals and protests, but local events typically don’t use line judges, and they are seldom used even at the national level. Any player can request them if the need arises [see rule B.6(a)]; however, there are several other areas the referee needs to address,
even without line judges.

Beforehand, many referees only identify the players, help determine who will serve first, and then start the match. That is less than the minimum described in rules paragraph B.5(a) – Pre-Match Duties. A summary of those duties (italicized examples added) in that paragraph states “it is the duty of the referee to:”

  1. Check on the condition of the court (e.g., lighting, wall imperfections, secure door).
  2. Ensure you have balls, towels, scorecard, pencil, and timepiece.
  3. Check the readiness and qualifications of the line judges and scorekeeper (if used); review
    procedures, duties, rules, and local regulations.
  4. Make introductions; brief the players on designated court hinders; identify any out-of-play
    areas and any local regulations and rule modifications for this tournament; and explain
    often-misinterpreted rules.
  5. Inspect players’ equipment (e.g., protective eyewear, legal racquet and wrist cord,
    clothing and shoes, etc.) and identify the line judges (if used).
  6. Toss coin and offer the winner the choice of serving or receiving (various methods can be
    used besides a coin toss).

As you can see, the typical approach only covers a very small part of what’s required. I also like to try to set the tone for the match by reminding opponents that – since safety is a priority – those holdups are easily justified and that I’ll decide on a replay or  penalty hinder right away. In addition, I try to go over key aspects regarding the safe management of the match, including rules regarding the safety zone for server and receiver, the server checking the readiness of the receiver, plus the 10-second rule to serve and be ready to serve. I also explain my approach to quickly calling screens and hinders, and advise players to listen for me to call the score, fault serves, second serve, and to respond immediately when play is stopped.

Again, the referee is the manager of the match. As such, a timer of some kind is needed (like the stopwatch feature on a smartphone clock app) in order to ensure that players do not extend their allowed warm-up time (5 minutes), timeouts (30 seconds), or the time between games (two minutes between game one and two; five minutes before a tiebreaker). The referee must also ensure that players take no more than 10 seconds to start each rally, and it’s fine to mentally keep count here, unless/until any infraction occurs.

In summary, the referee must be confident in their knowledge of the rules and in executing their responsibilities, be fully engaged in each rally, communicate clearly with the players before and during the match, and manage the match time – all of which helps to create a positive tournament experience overall.

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