On the sidelines of a cadet division boys’ match, Liu Zhongfang, a Chinese table tennis coach hired by the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB), waved frantically as he spoke to his ward from Assam, Birdie Boro. The young paddler was visibly upset after his loss to China’s Huabing He in the singles event of the India Junior and Cadet Open Table Tennis Championship, at the Sardar Vallabhai Stadium. But mixed with the disappointment was a touch of confusion as his coach scolded the boy in Mandarin, thumping the keys frantically at a netbook-like device.
India’s top-ranked junior paddler and another of Zhongfang’s wards at the PSPB, Abhishek Yadav explains that the only problem the paddlers have with the coach is the language barrier, yet that doesn’t stop him from getting his point across. “Once he has something in mind, somehow, he gets the message across,” he says. Sudhanshu Grover explains further. “He either plays to explain, or fires us up to explain,” he says. “He has a short temper and starts shouting at us in his language. We have no clue what he says when he shouts, but it tends to be scary so we take the hint,” he says as fellow PSPB players, Lalhunhlua, Lalrin Puia Yadav and Boro smile.
However, it is unfair to say the coach has made no attempt to be clear with the students. “He carries an electronic translator with him,” says Puia. “He writes a word in Mandarin and the machine translates it into English. Whenever we aren’t playing he uses it to tell us what he is saying,” he adds. Boro goes further to shed light on a self-styled notebook the coach carries. “It’s a small notebook in which he writes various TT terms in English with the meaning in his language. He uses it to inform us the various tactics that he talks about. He has written over 600 words in it,” he says.
Zhongfang started coaching in 1977 and soon moved to Nigeria to coach in 1980. He picked up English in the West-African nation, but lost touch upon his return home three years later.
He claims to be gradually learning English again as he coaches at the PSPB.
Despite the language barrier, Yadav claims the coach’s training has been effective. “A week before he came here he made us work on our footwork for the entire week. Then he organises games, and if we