08 Sep 2016

A total of eleven classes in the Men’s Singles events, just one less in the counterpart Women’s Singles competitions; it underlines the fact that table tennis is the sport for all.

Furthermore, it endorses the fact that at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, which commence on Thursday 8th September, table tennis has one of the most refined and detailed classification systems; one that sets the standard, one that is an example to all.

by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor

Classes1 to 5 are for wheelchair players, Classes 6 to 10 for standing players with Class 11 being for those with a learning disability; in the Women’s Singles events Class1 and Class 2 are combined; otherwise every class is being staged in its own right.

At the helm

A detailed system, at the very helm of the Classification process is Dr Juraj Stefak, from Dolny Kubin in the Slovak Republic, alongside Dr Sheng Wu, a physiotherapist who is the Dean and Professor at the National Taiwan University of Sport in Taichung.

“This is the top event, all the best players are here; any mistakes in classification have been corrected before the players arrive”, explained Dr Juraj Stefak. “We must always look to do things better, to observe, to discuss and meet at regional level.”

In the world of Para Table Tennis, the world “regional” is applied to continental tournaments.

“It is important at regional level that we connect with people and discuss wide range of topics including administration, development and education”, added Dr Juraj Stefak who, whilst being a Classifier of the highest order, also fulfils the role of teacher; increasing knowledge is of paramount importance.

Never stops

Simply, the process of assessing, discussing and passing on the knowledge never stops; it is the same in other walks of life. Once you stand still, you go backwards.

“In Beijing in 2008, every player gave their best but there were some players over whom there was some doubt as if they were in the correct Class”, continued Dr Juraj Stefak. “We realised that some players were in the wrong class, we needed to reclassify.”

Regional level

They key was to address the problem before it reached the pinnacle event.

“Now we check carefully at regional level; we held a series of seminars which improved in quality; gradually we were able to improve the fairness of the system”, explained Dr Juraj Stefak.

Functional skills

Improving the system was where Dr Sheng Wu played a major role. He proposed the system that is used today; balancing the medical condition of a player with technical restrictions. In layman’s terms, can they reach the ball when wide and play a forehand.

He introduced the process of 50 per cent of the analysis for Classification being the medical situation and 50 per cent being functional skills.

Panel established for regional events

It was important for new methods to be learned; thus at the seminars employing the two concepts was a major topic. One effect was the establishing of a panel for regional events with a minimal of two classifiers enrolled, adept in both assessing medical and functional abilities.

“We established the three “S” system, speed, spin, spot”, explained Dr Sheng Wu; in assessing the technical restrictions, the speed at which a player could perform in addition to the amount of spin able to be imparted on the ball were considered.

Also, the ability of a player to direct the ball with accuracy (spot) was entered into the equation.

Control, consistency and change

“Also we devised the three “C” process; control, consistency and change”, added Dr Sheng Wu.

The three elements are vital to the Classification System. Class 1 is for players with the most severe disability; like Class 2 players they cannot bend at the waist but they can only produce an arm movement from the shoulder, Class 2 can use the elbow.

A coach will tell you that the use of the elbow is vital in trying to control the ball; from Class 3 to Class 5 the determining factor is the function of the trunk, in Class 5 it is the equivalent of an able bodied person.

Standing categories

In the Standing categories; in Class 6, the player needs a crutch in order to maintain stability. Gradually as the disability is less, the Class 10 player will have just a minor restriction and will be able, in many instances, to compete in able bodied play.

Control and consistency are all taken into account to assess a wide variety of medical and functional difficulties. However, in Class 11, the category for players with a learning disability, change enters the scenario.

Adapting to different situations in a match is vital for success; in Class 11, a major determining factor is that a player is unable to adapt to new situation, the player cannot change as the moment demands.

Discussion time

It is a highly sophisticated process, it is now well established but most importantly it is one that continues to develop and improve; that is why Dr Juraj Stefak and Dr Sheng Wu are in Rio de Janeiro.

The Classifications have been made months and years ago.

At the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, their task is watch, discuss, exchange ideas and educate, in order to make an already highly successful, highly sophisticated process even better; to keep table tennis at the top of the class.

Paralympics Dr Sheng Wu Dr Juraj Stefak