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How to become a table tennis umpire

Some players asked me “how to become an official table tennis umpire?”. As I’m a table tennis umpire (AR, and JA) in France. I will explain you about this title, and this job.

The handbook for table tennis officials

To become the table tennis umpire, you need to master the laws of table tennis. You need to read this handbook for table tennis officials (referee and umpire).

ITTF umpire should keep the game in a fluid way but not to disrupt the game
ITTF umpire should keep the game in a fluid way but not to disrupt the game

What is the difference between the umpire and the referee

There are two types of Table Tennis officials: umpires and referees. Umpires control a match, whereas Referees control a tournament. An Umpire is authorized to administer the table tennis Rules & Regulations. An umpire manages the match and all players and spectators on the court.

The role of the umpire is the make the table tennis games fluid and fair.

So first of all, you need to become the umpire first. And then you can become the referee (JA in France) next, to control the tournament.

Umpire doesnt talk much - you should understand their gestures
Umpire doesn’t talk much – you should understand their gestures

How to referee a table tennis match?

Here is the procedure to control a table tennis match. This is how you keep the score board in an official table tennis match.

You need to win 2 points to win the game when the score is at 10-10
You need to win 2 points to win the game when the score is at 10-10

Match Procedure for Match Officials

1 If there is a call area, umpires have to be present at the time given by the referee. In the call area the umpire should get the scoresheet, check the colour of the shirts, and shorts/skirt for team matches and doubles, that are brought by the players, check the name or back numbers, register the name of the advisers, execute the ball selection and test the rackets (except for VOC). In case the racket is selected for official racket control, the racket should be brought to the Racket Control Centre.

2 Before going to the playing area, check that you have all the necessary equipment, such as net gauges (plastic and weighted), disc or coin for tossing, towel, balls, scoresheet, pen, stopwatch and coloured cards. Make sure that you understand how to complete the scoresheet.

3 If possible, and not done earlier in the call-area, before entering the field of play make sure that team players, and doubles pairs of the same Association, are similarly dressed and that opposing players or pairs are wearing shirts of clearly different colours; report any non-compliance that you cannot resolve, or any doubt about clothing or rackets, to the referee.

4 On arrival at the playing area, check that the table and surrounds are correctly positioned and that the net is properly adjusted for tension and height, that the clamp is properly affixed to the table and the net cord is not hanging down. The table should be quickly checked for cleanliness and wiped down if necessary. If a microphone is to be used, if practical make sure that it is working properly and that you know the correct voice level.

5 Set the indicators to the blank position – that is, so that they show no points or game scores (Figure 1). In a team match, check that the match score indicator is set correctly. When both players or pairs arrive in the playing area, set both game score indicators to “0” (Figure 2).

playing position in table tennis
playing position in table tennis


6 If not done earlier, before practice begins, check that the players shown on the score sheet are in the playing area and are wearing either their correct number or have their name displayed, and that their rackets are acceptable. If you leave this until later and there is a wrong player or an illegal racket, time spent practising will have been wasted.

7 Decide who will have the choice of service and ends by tossing a two-coloured disc or a coin in front of both players or pairs, making sure that they know how to call. Do not let the disc or coin fall on to the table and, preferably, not on to the floor.

8 When both players or pairs have made their choices, note on the scoresheet who is the first server and, in doubles, the first receiver. Unless you are certain of the correct way to pronounce the players’ names, ask them how they wish their names to be called.

9 In an individual event, establish who the designated advisor is for each player or pair. In a team event, check that the number of people on the team bench, including players, coaches and other team officials, does not exceed the permitted number.

10 Give the players a ball that you have taken at random, either from those they have chosen before the match or, if they have not chosen any, from a box of balls of the type specified for the competition. When the multi-ball system is in place use any one of the selected balls (see 6.2.1).

11 Time the practice period and recall players as soon as the permitted time is up. Make sure that they do not delay the start of the match after the practice period has ended.

12 Before play starts, ensure that towels are placed in a receptacle provided near the umpire or assistant umpire and are not left draped over surrounds. Any other items, such as tracksuits and bags, should be placed outside the playing area.

13 When the players are ready point to and name the first server, call “love-all” or “zero-zero”. In a team match, you may use the player’s name or the team name, or both. Set the points score indicators to “0-0” (Figure 3).

the 1st score 0-0
the 1st score 0-0

14 Start the timer as the first player serves, stop, and re-start it for substantial breaks in play, such as time spent for towelling or retrieving the ball from outside the playing area. Call “time” if play lasts for 10 minutes, unless expedite is already in operation or 18 points in total have been scored.

15 After the end of each rally indicate the result by the appropriate hand signal, and as soon as practicable thereafter by calling the new score, or repeating the last score in the event of a let. If there is to be a change of service, point to the next server. You may also name the next server. Do not change the indicators until the umpire has signaled or called the award of a point (Figure 4).

At 4-6
At 4-6

16 Discourage players from wasting time by such means as seeking advice, wandering around the playing area between rallies, persistent bouncing of the ball before serving or prolonged discussion with a doubles partner.

17 Only during rallies, make sure that the players are not given advice, either by speech or by signals. On the first occasion warn anyone advising illegally; if the offence is repeated, send the adviser away from the playing area for the remainder of the match or, in a team match, for the remainder of the team match.

18 At the end of a game, call the score, announce the winner and the current games score and record the result on the scoresheet. Leave the indicators showing the final points score, without changing the games score (Figure 5). Be alert and look for any misbehaviour immediately following the end of a game.

at the end
at the end

19 If necessary, remind players that they must leave their rackets on the table between games unless you give permission for them to be removed. If they are removed, remember that they must be inspected again before the next game. However if the racket is strapped to the hand allow the player to retain it that way.

20 After each game, and during authorised intervals, collect and retain the match ball. Check that surrounds are in their correct positions. Time the interval between games, and other authorised intervals, and recall players as soon as the permitted time is up.

21 During intervals, do not wander round the playing area talking to other match officials. Stay in your seat unless you need to move for reasons such as retrieving the ball or adjusting the table, net or surrounds.

22 Just before the players return for the next game, set the points score indicators to the blank position and alter the appropriate games score indicator to reflect the result of the previous game (Figure 6). Remember to change round any yellow, red or white markers. Set the points indicators to “0-0” when the umpire calls that score (Figure 7).

23 At the end of a match, announce the result and, in a team match, the new team match score. Complete the scoresheet and ask the players (in an individual match) or the team captains (in a team match) to sign it, as required. Often this is not necessary and whether or not to have the scoresheet signed should be covered at the umpires’ briefing by the referee. Leave the indicators showing the final points score and the previous games score (Figure 8).

24 Return the scoresheet promptly to the appropriate officials. Before leaving the playing area, collect the match ball and any spares, as well as any items of clothing, towels or other property that have been left behind. If necessary collect rackets designated for an after match test. Reset the indicators to the all-blank position (Figure 1).

25 Finally, make sure that you are aware of and are ready to apply any additional procedures or special methods of presentation that have been agreed for the particular competition at which you are officiating; if you are in any doubt, consult the referee.

Read more about the handbook for table tennis referee and umpire.

Qualifications of Umpires

What is the qualifications for the table tennis umpire? How to be qualified as the ITTF umpire? Coach EmRatThich will answer you right now.

ITTF does not prescribe any standards or test procedures for the qualification of umpires and referees by national associations, however, the ITTF Umpires’ and Referees’ Committee (URC) in cooperation with the ITTF Rules Committee provide a degree of commonality and a focal point for the exchange of information and ideas between Associations.

Most associations have 2 to 3 levels of qualifications, with the lowest level being related to a limited geographical area and the highest level having national status. The titles used for the lower grades often reflect smaller geographical area and may include Club Umpire, County Umpire, State Umpire, Provincial Umpire and Regional Umpire. The highest national grade is usually titled “National Umpire”.

Bằng Trọng tài quốc gia
Bằng Trọng tài quốc gia

It is up to each association to define and build an appropriate training system for their umpires to prepare them toward participating at an international level. The training programs should include practical (field of play) as well as theoretical (laws and regulations) components.
Candidates for the International Umpire (IU) qualifications must be experienced holders of their national association’s highest qualification for at least two years. A basic level of English comprehension is encouraged, as it is the base level of communicating with players, coaches and other officials.
The IU qualification was introduced in 1973, with the objective of providing an internationally accepted “minimum” standard to which umpires of all Associations could become qualified. The IU qualification was not intended as a substitute for a well thought out national education, training and qualifying program.

Vietnamese referee certification
Vietnamese referee certification

The IU exam typically consists of 50 questions comprising 40 questions with 4 possible options from which to choose the correct answer and another 10 situational questions. The candidate has to select the correct answers within a fixed time, without using references or help from anyone. Questions are either factual (laws and regulations) or ask what action an umpire should take about a specific situation (field of play). That is why it is critical that umpire experience includes both practical as well as theoretical training. Qualifying as an IU demands not just a general knowledge of the Rules but also a strong understanding of the intention and interpretation of the laws and regulations.

Once qualified, an IU may have an increased opportunity to officiate at competitions outside of their own country. Repetitive and frequent exposure at all levels of international competition is the most important element in building experience and confidence as an active IU.

In 2002, ITTF took the first step towards instituting a higher-level qualification for IUs. Through attending the Advanced Umpire Training (AUT) seminar at designated ITTF events, passing an advance level – ITTF supervised – written exam (the Advanced Rules Exam (ARE)), successfully completing multiple field of play evaluations by different evaluators at various events as well as passing an oral interview in English, an IU can qualify toward the next level of “Blue” badge certification.

Every year at designated ITTF events, and also at the request of event organisers, qualified trainers will conduct an AUT seminar as well as field of play evaluations by qualified evaluators of IUs officiating in those events. The AUT seminar is designed to impart the ITTF uniform method of performance for all IUs. The evaluation process – with immediate feedback to each umpire – is designed to assist umpires in improving and standardising their skills toward a uniform high level of performance.

ITTF Blue badge umpire the highest level of table tennis umpire
ITTF Blue badge umpire the highest level of table tennis umpire

The ITTF umpire evaluation process is not a pass/fail or a grading system, but rather an objective measurement of targeted tasks that must be performed before, during and after each match. Neglecting to perform a designated task is not a failing, but rather an opportunity to improve performance the next time out. Over time with repetitive evaluations and feedback, the quality and standards of umpiring will be reached and can be maintained at a very high level.

Umpires attaining – and maintaining their “Blue” badge certification through regular activities and evaluations – will have greater opportunities to be nominated by the ITTF URC to represent their associations at ITTF World Title events.

Excellence, consistency and confidence as a match official comes only with experience and an open mind that never stops learning. Consistent performance among all IUs – irrespective of language and cultural differences – is the primary objective of the ITTF umpire qualification process.

Umpires Progression and Advanced Umpire Training


Since the start of the International Umpires (IU) certification in 1973, ITTF has qualified more than 5 000 IUs. It has set a minimum standard for umpires of all Associations, which have different training methods with no uniform standard of performance.
Since 2002, the Umpires and Referees Committee (URC) of ITTF has taken an important step towards one of its major objectives: “To raise and level the standard and consistency of umpires from all Associations/Federations”.
This has been done by creating two levels of certification for IUs, expressed in the colour of badges, namely the White Badge and the Blue Badge. These badges only exist in name and on paper: IUs will continue to wear the copper-coloured badge issued by ITTF and their nametag, unless directed otherwise.

White Badge

All current IUs will be considered as qualified for the White Badge. URC will develop training facilities, and perhaps the exam procedure will be adapted. In the future, there will be additional conditions to maintain the active status, such as secure knowledge of rules through a re-certification process.

Blue Badge

Umpires with excellent performance who have the ambition can try to achieve the Blue Badge
qualification. This qualification has been and will be an increasing factor in umpire selection.

How to qualify for Blue Badge Requirements:

• Be an active White Badge umpire for at least 2 years
• Officiate as an IU in at least 2 international events;
• Comply with the URC code of conduct and dress-code;
• Attend the Advanced Umpire Training (AUT) seminar;
• Pass the written Advanced Rules Examination (ARE);
• Obtain 4 “Meets Expectation” (ME) evaluations from at least 3 different trainers in at least 2 different competitions;
• Pass an oral interview in English either by a face to face or via Skype or similar video teleconference to demonstrate one’s competency in English to communicate with players and officials during tournaments.

Additional requirements

• Evaluation can start only after attending the AUT and passing the ARE;
• If a candidate fails the ARE, it cannot be retaken less than 12 months after the 1st attempt and shall also not be the same question paper;
• After obtaining the first “meets expectations” the remaining 3 should be obtained within 7 attempts;
• No evaluations can be from an evaluator from that umpire’s own Association;
• The oral interview can be requested after attending the AUT and passing the ARE. or after obtaining the 4th “meets expectations”;
• After obtaining the 4th “meets expectations” the candidate will have a maximum of 12 months to take the oral interview;
• If a candidate fails the oral interview they will have a maximum of 2 years from their first interview to re-take it;
• The ARE and oral interview may not be taken more than twice within a 5-year period;
• The Blue Badge process must be completed within 5 years of attending the AUT or passing the ARE,
whichever comes first (for example attended AUT on 10 May 2017 and passed ARE on 12 August, 2018, the process has to be completed no later than 9 May, 2022);
• Candidates not taking the interview or not completing the Blue Badge process within the specified time(s), revert to the White Badge status and must restart the complete Blue Badge process;
• Evaluations only count if the umpire is part of the regular umpires’ squad, performing daily duties. All others, though part of the tournament, shall not be evaluated even if they make themselves available as an umpire only for the sake of being evaluated;
• Any “meets expectation” evaluations obtained in a competition shall be considered as “conditional meets”, which will only be confirmed after continuous observation and further evaluation throughout the tournament. Any inconsistent or poor performance could result in deletion of such positive result, and the evaluator will notify the umpire;
• After having obtained the first “meets expectation” getting a “does not meet” (not a “near”) will cancel a previous “meets expectation”;
• If a Blue Badge candidate is not present at the “Referee’s Briefing” he or she will not be evaluated during the respective competition, unless the absence was for an acceptable reason, at the discretion of the evaluator.

How to maintain the Blue Badge status Requirements:

• Obtain 3 “Meets Expectation” (ME) evaluations from at least 2 different evaluators in at least 2
different competitions in the last 3 calendar years;
• Meet the re-certification process of White Badge umpires, as soon as re-certification is in place;
• No evaluation can be from an evaluator from that umpire’s own Association;
• After passing the oral interview and with 4 confirmed “meets expectations” any further “meets” will count for the following period of 3 years (for example candidate was qualified on May 31, 2018, the 3 year period will end in December 31, 2021) for maintaining the blue-badge qualification, but “meets” between the 4th meets” and the oral interview shall not be reckoned;
• Blue Badge umpires not meeting these requirements by December 31 of any year, would be qualified as White Badge umpires for the following year;
Blue Badge umpires who lose their status and are reverted to White Badge IUs, may regain their Blue Badge status by meeting the requirement of obtaining 4 “meets expectations” from at least 2 different evaluators in 2 successive calendar years, and this must be achieved within 3 years of losing their Blue Badge status. The condition of achieving this within 3 years of losing the BB status will take effect from 31st December 2020.A BB who loses his or her status and fails to regain his or her BB status within the specified time shall revert to the White Badge status and must restart the complete Blue Badge process.

Advanced Umpires Training (AUT) Seminar

The AUT seminar is normally scheduled one day before the start of several ITTF sanctioned events. White Badge umpires officiating in these events are invited to attend the training. The URC will announce the schedule of the organised AUT seminars on the website. The training is based on the concept: “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand”. There is a high degree of active participation.

Global summary of subjects:
• Introduction activities;
• Presentation & Communication;
• Standards for service & behaviour;
• Duties of Umpires and Assistant Umpires;
• Management of a Match;
Hand signals & field of play procedures;
• Evaluations;
• Knotty problems;
• Special characteristics of Para TT events;
• Written examination (ARE).

Advance Rules Examination (ARE)

The AUT does not cover the material asked in the ARE. The written examination consists of 60 multiple-choice questions, of which 15 will be only in English, the other 45 will be available translated into 8 other languages: French, German, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Arabic. This is to ensure that candidates have a sound knowledge in the application of laws and regulations, as well as a reasonable command of English that is required in major ITTF events.

Participants must have a very strong knowledge of the rules and must be up to date on recent rule changes. The examination may not be re-taken less than 12 months after the first attempt, shall not be the same question paper and not more than twice within a five-year period. Attending the AUT and passing the ARE are prerequisites for those who want to become Blue Badge umpires. The ARE can be taken before or after attending the AUT. The ARE will be a supervised exam with the supervisor being appointed by URC.

The Trainers

The trainers for AUT seminars are experienced International Umpires / Referees who are nominated by
their respective Continental Federations or identified by the URC. All trainers are specially trained and updated regularly on requirements of the Blue Badge Programme, with an aim to maintain consistent application of laws and regulations, as well as a standard presentation at major ITTF events.

Costs for Participants

A fee will be charged depending if ARE, AUT or combined ARE/AUT is taken (please see current fee structure on the ITTF URC website). The AUT fee will include attending the seminar, the field of play evaluations, and the evaluations thereafter in subsequent tournaments should the candidate have passed the ARE. However, if a candidate fails in the written examination (ARE), there will be no more field of play evaluations conducted until he or she successfully takes the examination again.

The AUT is conducted for one whole day prior to the start of the tournament and participants for the AUT are responsible for the costs of the additional night’s meals and accommodation.

Costs for Organisers

For URC approved events, ITTF will be responsible for the following costs:
• Travelling expenses and training fee for the appointed trainers;
• Course and examination materials.
Where more than two trainers are required, then the Organizers shall be responsible for the travelling expense(s) and training fee of the additional trainer(s). The Organisers are responsible for the following:

• Hospitality (accommodation in a single room + meals + local travelling + daily allowance) for the trainer(s);
• Airport transfer and local transportation for the trainer(s);
• Training facilities – classroom, equipment such as computer, projector, screen, white board, flip charts, copying services, etc.;
• Refreshments during breaks would be appreciated.

To qualify for ITTF expenses, please refer to the current document “Call for Hosting AUT, ARE and Evaluation”. The URC may also send trainers to specific events upon request of the Organisers, who agree to cover all related costs of the seminar and/or evaluations, including transportation and honorarium for trainers.


Organisers wishing to organise an AUT course, or to have trainers/evaluators at their events, are
requested to contact the Chair of the URC.

Match Officials Code of Conduct

As with the high standard of professionalism and conduct required of players, ITTF requires a high standard of professionalism and conduct from its officials as well as all officials participating in ITTF sanctioned and recognized events. ITTF officials not observing the stated guidelines may be subject to a formal disciplinary process.

Match officials, especially while in official clothing, are ambassadors of the sport, of ITTF and of their Associations. At an international competition, they are the guests of the host Association and must respect its traditions and social customs. The following guidelines, which are not exhaustive, are intended as an aide-memoire on the aspects of conduct to which special attention should be given.


1.1 Study and make sure they understand all the relevant rules, duties and procedures for the competition at which they are officiating;
1.2 Be in good physical condition, with normal or corrected vision and normal hearing;
1.3 Be in appropriate uniform and maintain their appearance and personal hygiene;
1.4 Be prompt for all assignments;
1.5 Maintain strict impartiality and avoid any relationship with players or coaches that might cast doubt on that impartiality;
1.6 Refer all issues not related to their duties to the referee or other appropriate tournament official;
1.7 Wherever practical, avoid unaccompanied and unobserved one-on-one activity (when in a supervisory capacity or where a power imbalance may exist) particularly with people under the age of 18 years;
1.8 Ensure their decisions and actions contribute to a safe environment;
1.9 Ensure their decisions and actions contribute to a harassment free environment;
1.10 At all times conduct themselves in a professional and ethical manner, respecting the authority and interests of the referee, the organisers, other tournament officials, players and the public.


2.1 Discuss tournament incidents or other issues related to their duties with players, spectators or media, but should refer any such matters to the referee and the tournament committee;
2.2 Accept personal gifts from players, coaches and teams. Gifts provided by a host organisation to all officials can be accepted;
2.3 Consume alcoholic beverages or take drugs or medications that will inhibit performance before their match on the day they are to officiate;
3.4 Publicly criticise other officials or otherwise bring the sport into disrepute, including use of social media;
3.5 Tolerate harmful or abusive behaviours but report them to the Chair of the URC where the issue is not resolved to the satisfaction of the parties concerned;

Please refer to the ITTF Handbook for the policies adopted in relation to Anti-Harassment and Illegal Betting and Corruption. The URC reserves the right to take action if an official deviates from this code of conduct.

Recommended Hand Signals and Calls

I have explained the hand signals of umpire that every players should understand. Here is the recall of the hand signals.

1. Next server and winner of game/match

next server
next server

2. Let

3. Point

When making hand signals ensure that they are clearly separated. For example, do not indicate
a point with one arm and at the same time indicate the next server with the other arm.

Hand Signals for Illegal Services

Illegal service is common in table tennis. You need to follow the service rules.

1 If the ball does not rise at least 16cm after leaving the palm of the free hand, umpire or assistant umpire shall show the hand signal as shown in Figure 1.

Verbal communication: Not high enough

not high enough
not high enough


2 If service does not start with the ball resting freely on the open palm of server’s stationary free hand, umpire or assistant umpire shall show the hand signal as shown in Figure 2

Verbal communication: Palm not open

palm not open
palm not open

3 If service start with the ball resting freely on the fingers of server’s stationary free hand, umpire or assistant umpire shall show the hand signal as shown in Figure 3

Verbal communication: Ball resting on the fingers

ball resting on fingers
ball resting on fingers

4 If the ball is under the level of the playing surface from the start of service until it is struck, umpire or assistant umpire shall show the hand signal as shown in Figure 4

Verbal communication: Below the playing surface

below the playing surface
below the playing surface

5 If the ball is inside the server’s end line from the start of service until it is struck or is struck inside the server’s end line, umpire or assistant umpire shall show the hand signal as shown in Figure 5

Verbal communication: Inside the end line

inside the end line
inside the end line

6 If the ball does not project near vertically upwards, umpire or assistant umpire shall
show the hand signal as shown in Figure 6 (1) to 6 (2)

Verbal communication: Not vertically

not vertical
not vertical

7 If the ball is hidden from the receiver by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry, umpire or assistant umpire shall show the hand signal as shown in Figure 7

Verbal communication: Hidden by what or whom (elbow, shoulder, head or partner)

service hidden
service hidden

If the player asks the reason why or where, the umpire will use his or her index finger to show it . For example, if the ball is hidden from the receiver by the server’s shoulder, the umpire shall show the hand signal as shown in Figure 7 (1)

Verbal communication: hidden by shoulder

hidden by shoulder
hidden by shoulder

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Table tennis coach in France since 2012, founder of pingsunday.com (the best online coaching program for table tennis players). Born in Vietnam in 1983, Ph.D. in Université Pierre Marie Curie. Read more about him.

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