The New Coaching Rule and the Start of Another Revolution

Table Tennis Thoughts

Here's another interesting article by Glenn O'Dea.

Glenn is the editor of the popular Melton (in Victoria, Australia) Table Tennis Newsletter, Across the Net. If you would like to subscribe to the interesting newsletter contact Glenn at

Coaching comes in many forms. To most at club level, it usually comes in the form of giving yourself a stern talking to under your breath. If you’re lucky, it may mean some encouraging words from a teammate.

Once you get to tournament level, you may have the services of a coach, but the times that the coach can advise you has been limited. Rule stated, “Players may receive advice only during the intervals between games or during other authorised suspension of play, and not between the end of practice and the start of a match”.

On October 1st this year, all of that goes out the window. The new rule is as follows:-“Players may receive advice at any time except during rallies and between the end of practice and the start of a match”.

Coaches are now allowed to give advice to players at any time during a game. How? Can they call out instructions? Hand signals? Semaphore? Very little detail has been given on this, but the rule is now in place.

Does this mean that the coaches can call instructions to players on what type of serve to use? Coaches and players who speak a language not understood by the opposition would certainly have an advantage. And does this make the players simply robots doing the bidding of a controller positioned outside the playing arena?

Is this in the best interest of table tennis? At least one governing body has concerns about the affect this rule will have on play. The USATT, governing body of table tennis in the United States, have rejected the new ITTF rule for all tournaments except ITTF sanctioned ones, like the U.S. Open. This was decided on at their recent board meeting after considerable discussion. I haven’t heard of any other country taking this type of stand.

The Americans were partially upset by the fact that a governing body has made a decision which affects them without their having a say in it. Isn’t that how the American Revolution started?

Posted 7 years ago

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Jean Balthazar

Jean Balthazar Posted 7 years ago

For once that is something from the USA that I'd be glad if we imported it in France and the rest of the world...

At least for that freaking plastic ball they had some kind of weak justification. But who on earth advocated for this change??? What's it supposed to bring, other than tremendous distraction, expectable heated arguments and making table tennis less of an individual sport?

Dieter Verhofstadt

Dieter Verhofstadt Posted 7 years ago

The new rule has been called to life precisely because it was not possible to tell if players were getting tactical advice or encouragement from their coaches, when spoken to in languages that the officials could not understand. Myself I do not see the benefit in the trade but I can see the logic. Would you be able to distinguish "komaan hé, goed bezig" (come on, doing well) from "mik naar zijn elleboog " (aim for his elbow) in my native language?

In our club we got some explanation and advice about the new rule. Our coach told us to coach each other but not to exaggerate. Being spoken to all the time can be disruptive and after all you need to develop and implement your tactics yourself.

The reason why I dislike the new rule is that I think table tennis already errs on the tactical/psychological side and could do with more purity and sportsmanship. Increasing the amount of coaching - which will happen as it is explicitly fostered by the new rule - pushes the sport further off balance.

Now we will not only have to call out hidden serves but also players who pretend they accidentally kick a ball into their coach's direction to go and receive advice.

We live in a society governed by more and more ruling. What we need is more morality.


Dieter Verhofstadt

Dieter Verhofstadt Posted 7 years ago

As for the plastic ball, I wouldn't look too much into conspiracy theories. Plastic is ubiquitous, celluloid isn't. It will eventually be cheaper to produce and safer to transport plastic balls. Only the manufacturers haven't been able yet to produce the same quality, especially longevity.

Jean Balthazar

Jean Balthazar Posted 7 years ago


Hallo Dieter, 


First of all, I didn’t intend to re-open the plastic ball debate. I just used it as an example of a change that has damaged table tennis from my point of view, but at least had some kind of justification (although I didn’t agree it was worth it). For the coaching rule change, I didn’t hear of any justification at all. You provided one: exotic language speaking players/coaches can cheat the current rule because the umpires can’t always understand, hence they can’t tell if what the coach shouts is legal encouragement or illegal advice. This is a valid argument. It is also true since like… forever. So why has it become necessary to address this now? Did you witness such situations? I didn’t, ever. I estimate that in 95% of all competitions, umpires and supporters understand the language of the players and coaches, so the coaches will just not do it because they know they will be caught. In the remaining 5% high level competitions, where players from different countries come together, sometimes from all around the world, that situation can happen indeed. But again, that’s nothing new. Is it because the competition has reached peaks of ferocity these days, and people use this cheating possibility more than before? Is it because morality is globally devaluated these days, and abusing every loophole in the rules has become a highly praised talent? (I’m not kidding, watch businessmen) Maybe. But if that is the case (i.e. undetectable illegal coaching is enough of a problem today to justify removing the rule), there would have been another solution: forbid coaches to say anything during a game. Clapping is enough encouragement. Get caught shouting anything: yellow card, then red card, then exclusion of the coach.


Also, in the global context of table tennis, if the difficulty to enforce a rule in 100% of the situations is a reason to remove the rule, how on earth can this coaching rule go away before the “hidden serve rule” does? Again, I have never witnessed illegal coaching through the use of foreign languages, but I’m witnessing illegal serves all the time (including at the world cup last Sunday in Saarbrücken, which by the way was amazing). So if one of these two rules would have to go because the people who conform to it are disadvantaged compared to the ones who cheat and don’t get caught, the serve rule would be miles ahead of the coaching rule on the exit lane. I’m not wanting to reopen the service rule debate either, and I'm not in favour of removing it, I’m just trying to put things in perspective.

Dieter Verhofstadt

Dieter Verhofstadt Posted 7 years ago

Hi Jean

I think we largely agree and where we don't you don't want to reopen the debate.



Jean Balthazar

Jean Balthazar Posted 7 years ago

No problem. I didn't mean to dictate what can and can't be discussed. I just wanted to stay focussed on the current topic.

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