With 30 years of refereeing under his belt, Canada’s David ‘Dave’ Howard is one of the most experienced officials in squash. Having refereed at the top of the game, with highlights including the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia and the glamorous Tournament of Champions on the PSA World Tour, Howard will take on the role of Championship Referee at The World Games in Birmingham, where he will lead a team of eight officials when the squash competition begins tomorrow, July 13.
To get an insider’s perspective on the life of a top squash referee, WSF media sat down with Howard for a refereeing Q&A.
Dave, thank you for chatting with us today, could we begin by asking you about how you first got involved in squash?
“You’re very welcome. I actually started out as a badminton and tennis player and only hit a squash ball a few times as a kid. But then I wasn’t getting what I wanted in badminton so I decided to switch.
“For quite a few years I played the game the same way I played badminton, lots of wrist, always facing the front wall! It wasn’t until I actually took a coaching course, coaching kids, that I learned from [1979 World Team Championship winner and former England and Canada national coach] Barb Cooper and learned how I’m supposed to be doing it! I’ve played competitively and for fun ever since.”
And how did you begin refereeing?
“When I started playing, there were a lot of calls that I disagreed with – funny as that may seem – and I wanted to do something about it. Of course, referees are notoriously bad for being reffed! But even before I reffed I didn’t like some of the things that people were doing. So, I figured I better go and learn the rules and do things right.”
What is it that you enjoy about the role?
“Well, I like to have a little bit of stress and I guess you have to have kind of an inner masochistic streak to be a referee! But I enjoy that. The group together, too. The community of referees is a group with lots of great people, I really enjoy the camaraderie referees share.
“I like the travel part of it, too. I’ve always been a bit of a traveller even in work, but I’ve seen some amazing places around the world through squash.
How would you describe yourself as a referee? Do you have a refereeing ‘philosophy’?
“My philosophy is that I don’t really want to be noticed. I want to be low key. And I want to try and get as many calls right as I can, but if I get it wrong, I’ve got to get over it and do better.
“I try and be empathetic, especially when refereeing juniors. I think part of that is because when I was just starting as a referee I remember a junior tournament one of my daughters, Ellen, was playing. It was her first tournament and she was drawn with the top seed in the opening round, who was absolutely crushing her.
“Then, she finally won a serve [scoring Hand-In-Hand-Out] and the referee called her on a foot fault. Of course, there was no question that it was a foot fault, but I remember thinking ‘Why would you do that to a young kid who was getting crushed?’ So I’ll always try and give a warning if I notice anything in their positioning.”
When the squash gets underway tomorrow at The World Games you’ll be the Championship Referee, how do you perceive that role?
“I think the best metaphor for it would be ‘president of the board or the board of directors.’ So I’m kind of running the meetings, but I want everybody to work together and I want them to be thinking along the same lines.
“My biggest role will be putting the right people on the right matches, so that the referees get a challenge and good games, but they’re not in over their heads. If I know that one player has had trouble with a ref, I’m not going to put that same ref on their next match. So it’s more of a just a an organisational thing. I want us to work as a team and I’ve done it enough times that I think I’ll be successful.
It’s a diverse team of referees travelling, with Bermuda, France, New Zealand, the United States and Venezuela represented. How well do you know your team?
“There are just three who I haven’t met before. The rest I’ve worked with before, but the whole group will be a great team. As referees, you get to know each other quickly, even though we probably won’t see much of each other because it’s a busy schedule. We’re going to be going from eight in the morning until eleven at night, for the first couple of days at least. We’ll get together before we start, but for those first couple of days it’s going to be hard to get together with anybody but the marker you’re working with.
“Usually, I’d take my racket as most of the the referees are a fun lot and we can get get some bangs in sometimes early in the morning, but not this time unfortunately.”
Once the tournament is over, how do you like to unwind?
“I like visiting with friends family. We have a cottage in Peterborough, Ontario, so we all travel up there and get together. There’s lots of swimming and I’m a big card player; bridge is probably my favourite game. I’m a bit of a computer geek, too, so I like to have some fun with programming.”
The 2022 World Games will be held in Birmingham, USA, between 7-17 July 2022, with the squash tournament beginning on July 13. The event, which this year celebrates its 40th anniversary, is an international multi-sport competition comprising sports that are not contested in the Olympic Games.