Trailblazing referee Alicja all set for Bucharest

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Trailblazing referee Alicja all set for Bucharest

Aged just 22, Alicja Ciszewska has already been a referee at several WSF and ESF junior events - but next week's European Team Division 3 Championships will be her first senior tournament outside her native Poland.

Alicja, from Lodz, is currently studying PE and sports club management at university in Warsaw as well as working in e-commerce and online content production. Highlights of her refereeing career to date have included the WSF World Juniors, the European Under-19s and the British Junior Open (she refereed the girls' U17 final in 2023). 

The European Squash Federation sat down with Alicja to find out how she has gained confidence in the role and being a trailblazer for female squash officials.

How did you first get into squash refereeing?
It started when I went to my first Polish national championships when I was 15 playing in the U17 category. My father was a referee at that tournament, so when I wasn't on court, I was his marker and he taught me the basics. I then marked alongside other referees too. Being a marker is how I think everybody should start. I could see the match through the referee's eyes and if I made a mistake I had someone there to correct me if I got it wrong.
I realised then that refereeing could be a great way for me to be a part of important matches - many more matches than I would be as a player [Alicja is just outside the top 50 in the Polish women's rankings]. As a referee, you have the best seat for many very good and important matches.

What early challenges did you face in the role?
When I had my first assessment at an international tournament I was refereeing a game with really loud coaches. They weren't doing it during rallies and although they said a few things to me, it was nothing offensive, so I ignored it. After a while they calmed down and I just tried to focus on the match and the players. The assessor told me I dealt with the pressure really well. It was actually a great opportunity for me to learn how to handle the situation.
Dealing with situations like that is the worst part of refereeing, but the best part is being an important part of a really, really good match. I have witnessed some excellent matches and having some input is a good feeling.

What was your first international tournament?
It was in May 2022 at the ESF European Mixed U15 & U17 Championships in Eindhoven. I remember there was only one referee's t-shirt left and it was a large men's! I already felt like I didn't belong there, but the t-shirt made it worse! You might think it's just a small detail, but your image as a referee is important. I was worried what the players and coaches were thinking - that I looked like I didn't belong. It was a difficult start, but since then I have grown in confidence.
What lessons have you learned along the journey?
Confidence is a really big part of refereeing. If you start doubting yourself, everyone can see it. Even the way you say 'Time' at the end of the warm-up or how you read out the score can affect the way people look at you. People might ask for an easy let or fish a little and they will look for my reaction. These little things are all part of learning.
If you make a mistake, it's important to continue as you were before. I don't think you should try to make up for giving a bad decision one way by giving a later decision to the other player. I've seen some people do it but I don't think it's a good tactic. Making one mistake is better than making two mistakes!

I was often told by other referees that I wasn’t loud enough. I know that’s something many female referees strugle with and I’m proud to say that I have improved a lot. A few tips from me would be to stand up or sit up straight, open your mouth more and use you diaphragm. You need to feel as if the words are coming from out of the bottom of your lungs.

Once players are able to hear me better, regardless of whether they thought I'd made a good or bad decision, they had more respect for me.

What would you say to other women and girls about squash refereeing?
I would say, go for it! It's great for anyone who wants to play a role in elite squash. It's just a great way to be part of this community. Squash has so many great people.
I hope I can inspire women and girls who have ambitions in refereeing. More people should give refereeing courses a try. There are a lot of online resources on the WSO website. It's not expensive and you can do it remotely. I think it's great that the WSO Introductory course is now obligatory for junior players at ESF championships. It improves players' understanding of the game and makes our jobs as referees easier.
Thank you Alicja, we are looking forward to seeing you at the ESF European Team Division 3 Championships in Bucharest!

Follow the 2024 ESF European Team Division 3 Championships here from 17-2 April

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