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Competitive Gymnastics: A Judges Perspective

Written by: Beate Jones

It’s almost November - and that means the beginning of the competitive gymnastics season! This is an exciting time for any young gymnast, as they get to put all those hours of hard work in the gym to the test.

For a beginner competitive gymnast (and their parents), the first few years of competing can often be confusing or frustrating. You go to a meet and try your best, but still seem to get a ton of deductions or score lower than someone who had a “big mistake” or a fall. The rules of competitive gymnastics are often subjective and extremely complicated, and trying to navigate them can leave you feeling overwhelmed and defeated.

As a young gymnast, I remember being petrified of the judges! They all wore the same dark blue blazers, the same straight faces (some gave you a quick smile, but not very often), and I was convinced that they decided whether I'd do well at my meet - or not. The score I received meant everything to me and dictated how I felt about myself as a gymnast.

As I got older and became a more experienced gymnast, I realized that the judges had absolutely no control over how I “did” at the meet. They weren't against me and they only had control over the score I was given. They were there to help me become a better gymnast, and each deduction was a correction that I needed to make. The role of the judge is to try and make us better, not to tear us down. How I train up to my meet dictates my gymnastics, not the score I receive. So I started to set goals that weren't based on my scores, but on my performance and how that made me feel.

Once I became a judge, I wanted to make sure other young gymnasts and their parents didn’t think of me, or any judge, as “the bad guy”. So, whenever I get the chance to “explain” judging to new, young gymnasts and their parents I use this description:

  • Before your next meet, imagine starting your routine with $10.00.

  • As you go through your routine, you might make little mistakes, like not pointing your toes on each skill. Each time you forget to point your toes, that's a .05 deduction.

  • So, if you've got $10.00, and you forget to point your toes once, you just gave the judge a nickel. Now imagine you forget to point your toes on six skills. You didn't just give the judge a nickel, you just gave them 30 cents!

  • You keep going through your routine and you make a few other mistakes. Your elbows were bent on your back walkover and you didn't squeeze your belly tight, so you wobbled on your landing. That's 30 cents for the elbows and 20 cents for the wobble.

  • At the end of your routine you gave the judge 80 cents, which means you're left with $9.20 - or a score of 9.2.

I love using this explanation because it helps the gymnasts take ownership of their gymnastics and helps them learn a little more about judging!

As a parent, you always want your child to be happy and successful, especially in a sport that your family devotes so much time to, but as a former gymnast, current coach, and judge please do not put so much focus on their scores. Because in reality, they are subjective. Your gymnast could have what you think is the perfect routine, but the judges are looking at certain things that you might not even think are relevant. Your role as the parent is to support, encourage, and comfort. Let their coaches worry about scores and placements. Remember, the biggest influence in your child’s life is you, and if you focus on the scores, so will they.

Oh, and one more thing - please don't tell your kids their standings during the meet! It's extremely distracting and puts unnecessary pressure on the gymnast (whether they realize it or not). Support your gymnast no matter what, and whether or not the score was to your liking, make sure you ask your gymnast if they tried their best and had fun. Because isn’t that what it’s really about in the end?


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