As I see it....
The View from the Judging Panel
Have you ever been to a competition, looked at the panel of judges and wondered what on earth is going through their minds? How can one routine be so much better than another? What are they looking for that separates a good routine from a great one? How do penalties work? And why does one of them always wear a blue shirt?!?
Here are your answers - the secrets of judging, exclusively for members of Spirit Gymnastics Academy!
The first answer is easy - the person wearing the blue shirt or blouse, or sometimes a blue scarf, is the Chair of the Judging Panel, or CJP. They are normally supported by two Difficulty Judges, or DJs. (But this depends on how many judges are available - sometimes there is only one DJ, and they might also have another job at the same time!) Then there are usually four execution judges and four artistic judges. These eight judges give their assessment to the CJP, who also takes into account any penalties applied by the DJs, and calculates the final score.
Here are some FAQs and some answers from our resident Regional Judge, Al Haigh. If you have some judging questions, send them to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will add the best ones to this page.
Q. What do we mean by Artistry?
A. Artistry describes the overall impression that the gymnasts give to the judges. Artistry judges will award a minimum of 5 points and a maximum of 10 points. These points are divided into 5 areas - up to 2 points for each. The Artistry judges are looking for how well gymnasts do the following:
Partnership - how well do the gymnasts connect with each other, and with the audience?
Expression - how well do the gymnasts display emotions, character, attitude and feelings?
Performance - how well does the routine display synchronisation, a variety of pathways and good use of space? And do the gymnasts demonstrate good amplitude in everything they do? Do they make their moves appear effortless?
Creativity - is there variation in composition, originality and imagination in choreography? Are the entries and exits of moves different and original?
Musicality - how well does the movement match the sound? Is the routine synchronised with the music? Does the style of dance and movement match the style of music?
Q. What are the Execution judges looking for?
A. The Execution judges are looking at how well the specific skills are performed. Each NDP grade or FIG level has a selection of moves that gymnasts must perform in each routine. E-judges will assess how well the gymnasts perform each move compared to a so-called "perfect" standard. A minor error, like a slightly bent knee, will get a deduction of 0.1 points; a more obvious error like a slip of a foot while climbing gets a 0.3 deduction; falling to the floor and putting one hand down would be a 0.5 deduction; and a complete fall would lose 1.0 marks.
Q. What is amplitude?
A. It's a posh name for stretching. It basically means does the gymnast stretch their arms and legs out, as if they were reaching for something from the top shelf? Remember, acrobatic gymnastics is a performance sport, like Strictly Come Dancing, The Greatest Dancer, or Dancing on Ice. The gymnasts are combining immense strength, skill and courage with beautiful dancework, to persuade a panel of judges to like them more than everyone else. All in a two-minute routine. Simple as that!
Q. How does the scoring work?
A. Unlike Artistry judges who want to give marks for impressive things, unfortunately Execution judges take marks away! Every routine starts with 10 marks for Execution, and then loses marks for falls, mistakes and anything less than perfect. As if that wasn't bad enough, the Execution score is more important than the Artistry score, so the E-score is doubled, but the A-score is not. This means that any Execution deductions are also doubled. So for example if you made 1.9 marks worth of mistakes in total, your E-score would be 8.1 out of 10, which is then doubled to 16.2 (out of 20). Your total score is your double E-score, plus your A-score, plus whatever Difficulty Value the DJs awarded you.
Q. What are Penalties?
A. After the E-score (doubled), the A-score and the Difficulty value are added up, the CJP can apply penalties. So the final score is the following sum: 2xE + A + D - P = Final score. Penalties are given for infringements against the rules, not for technique or performance during the routine. There are many examples of what a CJP or a DJ can penalise, here are just a few: stepping over the boundary line (0.1); height difference between partners is too great (0.1 or 0.3 depending on the gap); time fault - ie not holding a balance long enough - 0.3 per second; forbidden or immodest attire (0.5); missing out compulsory elements, or performing forbidden ones (1.0).
Here are some photos of Spirit gymnasts showing us some great examples of technique and artistry. A very picky judge will always find something to fault - but when you look at a still photograph anyone can be a judge - the hard part is doing it in real time with no replays or stills! Remember these photos show a millisecond of action, but judges are looking at the whole all-round performance.
What a still photo won't show is how wobbly a balance is. In official terms it's known as tremor - a slight tremor is 0.1 deduction, significant tremor is 0.3 deduction and a severe tremor is 0.5 deduction. To give you an idea - slight would be just noticeable and severe would be very unstable and looking like it's going to collapse. If you consider that it is virtually impossible to hold every balance in a routine for 3 seconds without even a tiny movement, you can see how even the very best partnerships get a few deductions. This is why you never see a perfect 10 score for Execution.
Thank you to all who have contributed photographs and videos to the website, especially Kevin Raguindin for his amazing shots of Yate in March 2020!
Ffion, Charlotte and Brooke, SW Prelims, March 2020.
This is an example of amplitude during dance work. Ffion has just thrown Brooke into the air, with Charlotte supporting. Ffion has clearly put all her energy into the throw, as you can see from her lean backwards and her extended arms and fingers. Charlotte is holding Brooke's weight, with extended arms, very strong shoulders and a balanced body shape. Brooke also has extended arms; her lower leg is straight and tense, with a pointed foot, and her back and upper leg show impressive flexibility, again with a pointed foot. Great skill and teamwork, and also a good example of using all the space available - up and down as well as left and right!
Precision and body tension
Beth, Abi and Isabella, SW Prelims, March 2020.
Isabella has just been thrown by the bases and landed into this catch position. This photo shows good technique to the catch - Isabella has held a beautiful arch shape, with a high head, chest up, legs straight and together, and feet pointed and high. But let's not forget the bases - they are perfectly matched, straight legs, solid feet, straight backs, arms up, directly opposite each other, and clearly holding her weight without too much difficulty - which shows they are well conditioned, fit and strong. Do not under-estimate how hard it is to do a simple thing well!!
Strength and flexibility
Hollie and Imogen, SW Prelims, March 2020.
This pair did incredibly well for their first ever competition, as did so many other new partnerships at that competition. This is a particularly good example of a difficult balance for people new to the sport. Hollie needs very strong shoulders, chest and core to prevent the top from moving forwards or backwards, and to keep her arms vertical and steady. Imogen needs impressive flexibility to do a straddle lever with the legs as high as this, and strong arms, legs, stomach and back while perched on the base's outstretched arms. It's also very clear why tops practise a lot on blocks!
Teamwork, trust, courage, strength, flexibility
Ffion, Charlotte and Brooke, SW Prelims, March 2020.
The moment the camera took the photo might show Brooke still getting into her balance, but this picture is still worth noting. It's a great example of planning a routine to show off your best attributes, right in front of the judges! Charlotte is holding up most of the move with her solid arm position, impressive core strength and tense legs to make a nice off-balance handstand. Meanwhile Ffion is showing off her incredible flexibility with beautiful splits. Together they give Brooke an ideal platform to show off her skills. It's also worth noting the difference between the two panels of judges - which do you think is judging this routine, and which is waiting for the next routine? Gymnasts - always know which panel are judging you, and look at them not the others!
Amplitude and precision
Imogen and Emily, SW Prelims, March 2020.
This photo shows great amplitude by both gymnasts. Imogen shows effortless strength to hold up Emily's weight on one arm, but even more impressively, she has a perfectly straight back, one arm up by her ear, the other straight out to the side, legs straight, pointed feet and heels off the floor (due to tensing her thighs). And she is using her fingertips to balance Emily's back in just the right place. Meanwhile, Emily shows great trust in her base, with a lovely arch, her core is just tight enough to keep her head up, left leg straight, right knee high, right foot tucked close to left knee, both feet pointed.
Confidence, elegance, teamwork, trust
Brooke and Isabelle, SW Prelims, March 2020.
Remember - one of the key aspects of acro gymnastics is to persuade the judges that you're better than everyone else! This pair have now done that on multiple occasions, and two of their strengths are their trust in each other, and their confidence after working together for so long. As well as near-perfect technique of course! Their trust and confidence shines through in this photo - a second earlier, Isabelle was in Brooke's arms, but then rolled towards the floor, knowing that Brooke would catch her. Not only did they execute it perfectly, they made a beautiful shape in the process - Brooke is upright, strong back, long neck and clearly not troubled with holding Isabelle's weight. Isabelle is making a graceful, gentle curve with her body, arm and leg extended and both feet pointed. Both gymnasts are looking straight at the judges as if to say "impressive huh?". Yep!