It’s a unique seat. Perched in the crowd with mums, dads, brother and sisters, friends and just random spectators surrounding them, squash referees can’t avoid instant feedback.
Unlike most codes, where the referee or umpire is on the field or court, in squash when you make a call the crowd don’t like, you find out, straight away, from those sitting beside you.
It’s a situation Glenn Carson relishes.
“You feel the pressure but you have to stay focused. You can’t let the oohs and aahs of the crowd effect you.
“Most of the top referees enjoy that environment and that aspect of performance.”
Carson was in the thick of it in the men’s final at the World Junior Squash Championship in Tauranga.
It was a tricky match between Egypt’s Marwan Tarek and France’s Victor Crouin on his way to a five game victory.
Many felt the referees – there are three with Carson the centre referee for that match – were too hard on the players, turning down too many let calls.
Carson says the number of strokes was up for the match, but the decisions the referees had to make was down – as it has been for some time. A typical game will have about 20-25 calls compared to as many as 50 only a few years ago. The goal is to get down to about 15.
Carson says crowds can get agitated by the referee’s calls, but abuse, though it does happen, is rare.
“This tournament has been good. There’s been some difficult decisions given and not too much dispute.”
Carson, 45, took up refereeing in 2010 after a playing career that saw the then Palmerston North-based project manager represent Central and feature in the top 50 players in New Zealand.
He shifted to Hamilton at the beginning of 2011 and is now New Zealand’s top ranked squash referee.
As it in in other sports where top players have turned to officiating, Carson believes his knowledge and experience as a player helps as a referee. “It certainly helps understand their tactics.”
But just as officials from other codes do, he bemoans the lack of knowledge many top players have about the laws of the game. And while a referee doesn’t have to explain his or her decision, Carson says it can help to do so.
And he thinks the game is improving, getting cleaner, with players accepting they have to make a decent effort to clear the ball, and to find a path to it that doesn’t involve running into the other player.
Carson is one of 16 referees at the world champs in Tauranga, one of nine Kiwis alongside four Australians, and one each from Egypt, India and Pakistan.
In the big match they officiate as a trio, with a majority rules decision making process.
The goal, he says, is to have games that are free flowing with as few calls from the referees as possible. It doesn’t always happen, of course, with some players notorious for blocking and running into the opponent.
“We do know who the naughty players are,” Carson says. “You try to have an open mind. We talk about being prepared, but not prejudiced.”
When you might have the player’s mum sitting beside you, you’d be hoping she feels the same way.