Sepaktakraw is an Asian ballsport style that has its roots around 1500 BC, especially in Thailand and Malaysia. Sepak is Malay for shoot and Takraw is the Thai name for the specially braided ball. At first a ball of rattan braided ball was played with the foot in the circle, which happened on various festive occasions, like on temple festivals or to the pure pastime. At that time, the sport did not have any competition characteristics, only in the way of forwarding the ball to the players tried to overkill to skill and spectacle. When, in the 19th century, the British colonial masters introduced badminton in Malaysia and thus also its specific fields, today’s Sepaktakraw developed, which is still very common in Southeast Asia. In 1945, a show match was held in Penang, Malaysia, which received a tremendous response and through which Sepaktakraw spread like a runfire over the rest of the Malay Peninsula. In this newly created competition form, three players are facing each other on a Badmintoncourt and try to place the ball in the opposing playing field with a maximum of three ball touches. In doing so, the hands may only be used for the design of the serve and are taboo in the further game. In Europe there have been independent developments in Switzerland, France and Germany since the 1990s.
After a few unorganized years, the official European federation FESTA (Federation of European Sepak Takraw Associations) was established in 2008 and since the 2005 season there is the EuroSeries, a kind of European league.
Playing Format & Scoring
There are several forms of the game, but the most popular is the Regu format, where opposing teams of 5 players (3 on-court with 2 substitutes) line up against each other. The on-court players comprise a Striker, a Server, and a Feeder, each having distinct tactical roles to play during a match, and therefore possessing different playing skillsets.
The new ISTAF tournaments employ the Regu format, where teams play Matches comprising 3 Sets each, with the winner of a Match being the first of the two opposing teams to win 2 Sets. Each Set is played over 21 points. In the event of a score of 20-20, the set shall be won by the side which gets a lead of two (2) points, or when a side reaches twenty-five (25) points, whichever occurs first.
Service of the ball has, by far, been the primary determining factor in the fate of many Sepaktakraw matches. Many different ball-service styles have evolved in the last 15-20 years, and the renowned Horse-Kick serve, originally developed by the Thais, is today universally acknowledged to be the most difficult to execute, as well as the deadliest, of them all.
So that the new ISTAF tournaments effectively showcase the many unique aspects of Sepaktakraw, and to maintain a level playing field where matches are not dominated solely by ball-service, teams take turns serving the ball, and a ‘service-over’ occurs after every 3 consecutive points scored regardless of the team which wins the points. After every 3 consecutive points, therefore, ball-service changes to the opposing team for the subsequent 3 consecutive points. This service-over process carries on until a team obtains 21 points (or 25 points in the case of a deuce) and the winner of the Set is determined.
Following service of the ball, the opposing team has up to 3 ‘touches’ of the ball to return it across the net. Typically, the Feeder and Server will receive, and attempt to set up the ball, using 2 ‘touches’, for it to be smashed by the Striker with the third ‘touch’.
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Spikes & Smashes
Not unlike Sepaktakraw ball-service, several styles of smashes or ‘spikes’ have also been developed over time. For instance, localised variants of the jaw-dropping Sunback Spike have been very successfully employed by different teams from around the world, with the spiked ball travelling towards the opponent at speeds in excess of 120 km/h. A team scores a point when the opposing team fails to return the ball across the net within the 3 ‘touches’ rule, or the ball is returned across the net but lands outside of the court.
Substitution & Tactical Time-out
During each Set, each team may make one player substitution, and may call for a 60-second Tactical Time-Out.