PSA Squash TV has posted a few clips on their YouTube channel in a series called “So You Think You Can Ref?” The video below is one example. In this series, squash fans view a tricky refereeing situation like this one and then have the opportunity to (tactfully) weigh in with their opinion on the ref’s decision.
It’s interesting to deconstruct the point and see how it “should have been called” according to the current rules. But I’m also interested in how we could tweak the existing rules to make the game more exciting. I’ve written about this before, and others have weighed in too.
You could argue whether making the game more exciting should be one of our goals. In my opinion, it should be. I want to help more people get into the game of squash. I want squash to be in the Olympics. Improving the fan experience is key to both of those, as long as we don’t degrade the experience of playing the sport in the process.
Squash would be more exciting if there were fewer lets. Other commentators have said much the same. But if we’re going to reduce the number of lets, how do we do it, practically speaking? I thought I’d explore the idea a bit here.
If there are to be fewer lets, then by definition there must be more non-calls, strokes, and/or no-lets. I think the best outcome is more non-calls. That makes the game more exciting for spectators.
The easiest way to control the number of non-calls is to take away the players’ ability to stop play. Currently, it’s the players who have the power to stop play and ask for a let. This is a longstanding rule in squash, which, when you think about it, is a very unusual practice compared with the wider sports world. They don’t let football players stop play. Ideally we’d take this power away from the players and give it to the refs. But I don’t think this would realistically happen anytime soon. It’s too much of a departure from the current flow of the game, and making a radical change like that might have unexpected disruptive consequences.
To get more non-calls, we’ll have to get there indirectly, with incremental changes. We can’t very well tell the players to call fewer lets. Or rather, we could try, but they’ll do what’s best for them during the match, so it’s not an effective approach. Instead we have to tweak the rules to encourage players to play on.
Giving out more strokes wouldn’t really help. If you give out more strokes, then players will still be tempted to fish for strokes. If anything this might result in more stoppages, rather than more non-calls.
This leaves us with only one option: more no-lets. In order to get more no-lets, we’d have to raise the bar on the amount of incidental interference allowed.
Here are the relevant parts of the rulebook, I think:
12.2 To avoid interference the opponent must make every effort to provide the player with:
- unobstructed direct access to the ball after completion of a reasonable followthrough;
- a fair view of the ball on its rebound from the front wall;
- freedom to hit the ball with a reasonable swing;
- freedom to play the ball directly to any part of the front wall.
You could think of those four items as dials, any of which could be turned, either in isolation or in combination with others, to create more no-lets.
I’d rule out making changes to #3. This has to do with safety. We don’t want to force players to make swings that result in injuries.
I’d rule out making changes to #4. If you’re going to make less of the front wall available to the player, where do you draw the line? The corners are an absolute point on the court and the only sensible place to draw lines to.
This leaves us with the first two items as the potential dials to be tweaked.
I would start by changing the wording of #1. We could reword it so that the opponent — the person who just struck the ball — is merely not allowed to deliberately block the other player. In other words the opponent no nonger needs to provide unobstructed direct access to the ball. They merely have to avoid causing deliberate interference.
Let’s use our clip as an example. In this case, Willstrop hits his shot and then begins recovering to the T. This is a natural squash motion. It’s probably not deliberate interference, but he does obstruct Grant’s direct access to the ball. Under the current rules that results in a Let.
Under my proposed wording, Willstrop is only responsible for avoiding deliberate interference. He’s allowed to get back to the T as part of his normal movement. But Grant is obstructed — what should he do? He must run around Willstrop. If he runs into Willstrop, as he does in this clip, it would result in a no-let because there was not deliberate interference.
If enforced evenly, this would over time result in more non-calls. It would a challenging adjustment, as we’re all used to playing under the current rules, but eventually players would get used to it. Returning to our example, Grant would know instinctively that this situation would not result in a let. He would probably not call for a let in the first place. Instead he would run around Willstrop and try to retrieve the ball.
Overall, the number of non-calls would increase, making the game more exciting.
I would be glad to hear others’ thoughts. I encourage you to weigh in in the comments!