Young Umpires Represent the Future of USA Table Tennis

by Barbara Wei / Interviewed by Jim Short

Youth Club Umpires Xinyi Zhen (Fifi) and Kinslee Yu at the 2023 US Nationals in Fort Worth, TX.

Club Umpire Xinyi "Fifi" Zhen officiating a match at the 2023 US National Table Tennis Championships in Fort Worth, Texas.

Umpires are often the unsung heroes of tournaments, working diligently behind the scenes to ensure fair play and adherence to the rules. At the Club Team Championship Finals at the recent USA Table Tennis Nationals, two young umpires took center stage alongside the brilliant players to make their mark on the event.

Kinslee Yu (California) and Xinyi (Fifi) Zhen (Texas) are only 17 and 12 years old, but represent the new generation of umpires in USA table tennis. The two young ladies graciously agreed to share their experiences in an exclusive interview after they umpired the finals for the first ever Club Team Championships.

When asked about their journey into umpiring, Kinslee revealed her motivation stemmed from a desire to remain involved in table tennis while balancing her commitments in high school. Opting for umpiring as a less time-consuming alternative to competitive play, she discovered the fun and rewarding nature of the role. In Fifi's case, her mother encouraged her to become an umpire, leading her to start at the age of 11. Notably, both umpires continue to play table tennis, although not at the highest competitive levels.

The USA Nationals provided a valuable platform for Kinslee and Fifi to showcase their umpiring skills. As umpires, Kinslee and Fifi held the responsibility of maintaining order on the court and ensuring compliance with the rules and protocols of the game. Kinslee explained that her role involved calling scores, penalties, and lets, while also creating a distraction-free environment. During the Club Team Championship Final, she had to intervene when individuals not affiliated with the teams disrupted the proceedings, emphasizing the need for a calm and focused playing environment.

Youth Club Umpires Xinyi Zhen (Fifi) and Kinslee Yu at the 2023 US Nationals in Fort Worth, TX.

Kinslee Yu (Left) and Xinyi "Fifi" Zhen (Right) reviewing match sheets at the control desk during the 2023 US National Table Tennis Championships in Fort Worth, Texas.

Working as an Umpire is not an easy task as Kinslee and Fifi both had to face challenging situations throughout the event. These included managing the control desk with a lot of players asking about match assignments, escalating intensity of players/supporters and handling difficult situations with adults regarding match outcomes. However, both umpires acknowledged the enjoyable and fulfilling nature of their Nationals experience.

Being an umpire comes with a lot of fun moments as well. Fifi mentioned the enjoyment of staying at the hotel and indulging in the pies provided by the head referee. Kinslee echoed the sentiment, expressing her delight in meeting new people. Unfortunately, they missed out on the coveted pies during the Club Team Championship Final due to the pies appearing at the same time as the match.

Looking towards the future, both young umpires expressed their aspirations to officiate at the Olympics. With the 2028 Olympics set to be held in Los Angeles, Kinslee, who lives nearby, considered it an opportunity to achieve her dream of participating in the games. Working alongside Scott Ryan, one of the senior umpires at Nationals, both Kinslee and Fifi appreciated his mentorship, describing him as a figure who imparts valuable umpiring and life lessons while maintaining a sense of humor.

In the grand scheme of tournaments, umpires like Kinslee and Fifi play a vital role in ensuring fair play and facilitating the smooth progression of matches. Young umpires like Kinslee and Fifi are important to the growth of table tennis, as without umpires we could not hold the events necessary to move the sport forward.