Tournaments: Rules and Etiquette, General Advice
Before the match
Read the Entry form carefully, be aware of the check-in times. If you are late you will be scratched from the event. Please be sure to pay your entry fee (it is much easier for tournament organisers if all players from a club submit a combined entry).
T-shirts and shorts must be worn (the shirt must not be white in colour - the ball may be difficult for your opponent to see against a white background). Rubber-soled shoes must be worn. Bring practice balls with you - it is not fair to ask the tournament organisers to supply free balls for warm-ups.
If you have entered in more than one event, it can be a very long day. Bring lunch and drinks as required. Catering facilities vary considerably depending on the venue. If you must leave the playing arena please make sure that someone is still in the hall to listen for calls for your matches. If you do not respond to calls for your matches you will be scratched from the event.
To be eligible to play in Provincial or National Ranking events you must be affiliated to Table Tennis Ireland. Click here for to visit their web-site for further information.
Listen carefully for announcements throughout the day. If you have to leave the hall for any reason make sure that someone is listening out for your name. If you do not respond to repeated calls you will be scratched from the event.
During the match
At the beginning of each match, players are permitted to inspect their opponent's bat to identify what type of blade and rubber are being used, you are not allowed to touch the rubber. Bats must be fully covered with an ITTF-approved rubber, one side red and one side black. You are not permitted to change your bat during a match, unless your bat is damaged.
A maximum period of two minutes warm-up is permitted before each match. Usually players will play forehand-to-forehand and backhand-to-backhand and sometimes do some forehad loops. This is not the time for any fancy shots or tricky serves!
Who serves first? By the rules, it is decided by the toss of a coin. Usually, however, the umpire (or one of the players) hides the ball in one hand under the table, and the other player guesses which hand: if he/she wins, he has choice of service (or choice of end). Each players serves two points, then the other player serves twice, and so on. If the score reaches 10-10, each player takes just one serve before service passes to the opponent.
You will lose points if you do not serve legally; you should know the rules for serving by now, if you are unsure feel free to ask any of the coaches, or just watch the video on the right! The umpire may give you a warning if the legality of your service is in doubt, but a definite illegal serve will lose you the point.
Have a bottle of water and a towel beside the court during every match. Remember that you are only permitted a short “towel break” after every six points during a game, and of course between games.
Between games, you are allowed a maximum of one minute's rest. You must leave your bat on the table when you step to the side of the court for time-outs and between sets. If you do not have a coach, it is a good idea to step to the side of the court rather than standing at the table, it gives you an opportunity to gather yourself for the next game.
You (or your coach) may call one “time-out” in a match, for rest or coaching purposes. You may not have a coach, you are still permitted to take a single one-minute time-out once during a match. If the opposing player/coach calls a time-out, you should stand to the side of the court or talk to your own coach if there is one present. The time out ends immediately when the player who called the time out returns to the table.
No coaching or time-outs are allowed in U-11 matches.
A player may receive advice/coaching from only one person during a match.
If a ball from another table enters your playing area, the umpire or one of the players will usually call a "let" - the point in progress is replayed. If your ball goes into another court, wait until a "let" is called before retrieving the ball (one of the players will usually throw it back!). Never run across the court while other players are playing.
(Why is it called a "let"? Well, no-one really knows. The term is used when the point in play is voided for any reason, such as the ball catching the net on the serve, interference from outside the court etc. It may originate from the word "filet" which is a French word meaning "net".)
Never, ever hit, kick or punch the table or surrounds. They are expensive and can be easily damaged by rough treatment.
It is considered sporting to apologise for strokes of good luck such as net cords or edge balls which win you a point. You should not celebrate these, remember that what goes around, comes around!
When one player (or doubles pair) reaches five points in the deciding game of a match (i.e. fifth set in a Best-of-Five), players change ends (and in doubles, the order of service also changes - the player who was due to receive changes with his/her partner). For the umpire: remember to change the scores on the scoreboard!
You will be expected to umpire matches, there will be scoreboards to help you keep track of the score. Please concentrate when you are umpiring, do not wear headphones or engage in conversation with spectators, etc. It is the responsibility of the umpire to record the score for each game, and return the ball and scorecard to the "Top Table".
You should call the score as well as changing it on the scoreboard. When umpiring, remember to call the server's score first e.g. "4-5" means that the player serving is losing by 4 points to five.
After every match (or group stage) the umpire must return the score card and ball to the Top Table promptly, this is very important. Record the scores clearly and accurately, make sure you know the names of the players.
Tournaments cannot take place without umpires. When you are asked to umpire matches by the top table personnel, you should do so without complaining. Remember that they have given up their day to run the tournament, and it is not unreasonable to ask you to give up fifteen minutes of your time to keep the event flowing!
After the match.
Remember to shake hands (or often just a “high five” or a hand slap!) with your opponent, his/her coach and your own coach after every match. It looks very bad if players do not do this, it is a common courtesy. Please behave in a sporting manner at all times, refrain from bad language or un-sporting conduct of any kind. Always show respect to your opponent and the umpire.
The umpires and both players should always check the recorded scores before submitting the match slips to Top Table. Umpires: make sure you know which player is which! Record the number of sets won as well as the individual set scores and ensure that the match slip clearly identifies the winner of the match.
Do not leave the arena immediately after your last match. Check with Top Table whether you are required to umpire another match.
The usual format of tournaments is a first round of “Round Robins”, with three or four players in a group, the winner and runner-up advance to the next round, the third (and fourth) to a “Plate” or Consolation event. After that it is usually a Knockout format, if you lose a match you are eliminated but you will usually be expected to umpire at least one more match. If you reach the last eight in a Junior tournament, there will usually be a series of play-offs to determine placings, i.e. 3rd/4th play-off for losing semi-finalists and 5th-8th play-offs for losing quarter finalists.
There are usually no play-offs in the "Plate" events or in Senior competitions. The format of tournaments varies according to the number of entries.
In National tournaments, the Second Round of Junior events may be a further round-robin stage with a smaller number of players advancing to the Knockout (subject to sufficient entry numbers).
Matches are usually played "Best-of-Five" for the Group and Knockout stages i.e. the first player to win three sets wins the match. In U-11 events, the format is usually "Best-of-Three", and in the Plate events, almost always "Best-of-Three".
During matches, spectators should be careful not to interfere with play in any way. Do not walk across the playing area while a match is being played.
At the discretion of the tournament organiser/referee, tables not in use may be used for practice/warm-up. You must not interfere with any active matches if you are playing on these tables, keep noise levels to a minimum. You must leave these tables immediately when players arrive for a match, or if asked to do so by the referee or other official (particularly if there is an important match on an adjacent table). Sometimes the referee will either detach one side of the net or place the scoreboard on the table to indicate that tables are not for use. When practice tables are in short supply, you may be asked to share the table and play "cross-table", each pair of players hitting diagonally across the table.
If you decide to withdraw for any reason, please let the Top Table know this.
Photography: you are required to register your details with the tournament director if you intend to take any video or close-up photography, and you should never use flash photography while matches are being played. See column to the right for some tips (from an amateur in the early stage of the learning curve!)
Remember that in Ireland almost all tournaments are run entirely by unpaid volunteers: please help as much as you can by umpiring when required and by clearing up your rubbish at the end of the day. When you have left the arena there are several hours of hard work left for the organisers and anything you can do to reduce the workload is appreciated!
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What age groups are you eligible to enter? Click banner for 2014-15 eligibility criteria.
Discipline: visit the Table Tennis Ireland site to see a list of offences for which Yellow cards may be issued.
This video from PingSkills demonstrates the rules of service.
A Round Robin is where each player in a group plays all of the other players in the group. If there are four in the group, each player will play the other three.
"Snake seeding". Most tournaments are "seeded" and the most common format in Irish Table Tennis is so-called "snake-seeding", see below for an example:
A disadvantage of this system, particularly for novice players, is that some matches may be very one-sided, with beginners meeting very experienced players in their early matches. It is important not to get disheartened by this, it's all part of the experience and there is usually a "Plate" or consolation event for players who are not successful in the early group stages. Hang in there!
Generally, the third (and fourth) players are unseeded and placed randomly into groups, usually with an attempt to avoid players meeting club-mates in first round matches where possible.
In a Round-Robin, when two or more players have an equal number of match wins, the count-back system is brought into operation by the referee (I.T.T.F. Rules). This is explained here.
Click above to visit Table Tennis Ireland.
Some hints on photography (from an amateur! I would be delighted to hear from real photographers who know much more than me!)
Table tennis is a very fast moving sport, and taking action photographs without professional equipment can be very challenging. Pro photographers will have spent thousands on the equipment they use to get good action shots of players that you see in the media.
Here are a few tips to get the best...
You are unikely to get very good action shots with most phone cameras, even those with high resolution cameras. They will take good quality video, however.
They will be fine for photos of presentations, etc.
You need to use a fast shutter speed 1/200 sec or faster to "freeze" the action and avoid blurring of players and especially the ball. This means the image is likely to be quite dark unless the lighting is extremely bright. If you have a camera that allows you to control the aperture, this should be opened as wide as possible (the camera will do this automatically if you have chosen "shutter-priority" on your camera's settings).
If you are using an SLR or Digital SLR camera, consider investing in a specialised lens. Zoom lenses with wide apertures are extremely expensive, but you can get a fixed focal length (so-called "prime") lens - for example, 35mm f/1.8 - for Nikon or Canon D-SLR cameras for under €100 second-hand (eBay!) and the difference in quality of images of sport taken in low light is amazing. They are also excellent lenses for portrait photography. Because they don't have a zoom, you have to pick your vantage point carefully, with modern cameras with high resolution images (16+ megapixels) you can always crop them afterwards. One result of the wide aperture is that you have a very narrow "depth of field", which means that though your subject is in clear focus, the background (and sometimes foreground) will be blurred - this can be a very nice effect but not always what you want. It does mean that this lens is not great for taking shots of a crowd, or even a photo of a doubles match where some of the players may not be in focus.
SLR cameras and good compact digital cameras will all allow you to select the ISO. Select a high ISO value to make your camera more sensitive in low light conditions - modern cameras may allow you to select an ISO of 3200, 6400 or even higher, but rememeber that the higher you go, the "grainier" the photograph.
If your camera has a "burst" mode, this will allow you to take several frames per second and you can later delete the unusable shots.
For pictures of photo presentations etc., be mindful of what is in the background of the photograph. Believe me, I know! A table tennis table can be a nice appropriate backdrop for pictures if one half of the table is folded up.