5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Gymnastics Judges (according to an actual judge!)

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A dear friend (who asked to remain anonymous) sent me this terrific list of five things you might not have known about gymnastics judges.

1. We don’t get to just be a judge because we want to. We have to earn it. Becoming a gymnastics judge requires work. A lot of hard work. We have to study, take tests and do practice judging before we are allowed to sit at that table and give you a score. Every judge I know will spend countless hours every week before a weekend meet brushing up on routines, skills, deductions, watching videos, practice judging and making sure we are at our absolute best ready to judge you because you deserve that. You have worked hard to be your very best, too!

2. I’m not grouchy, I’m just really, really focused! I will see pictures of myself on social media and I’m often horrified at how scary and intense I look. I promise you I’m actually a very friendly person who loves gymnastics and loves you for doing gymnastics! In order to be a good judge, I am required to watch your entire routine very intensely and concentrate on a lot of things all at once in order to make sure I am being fair to you and give you the correct score. Sometimes my concentration face can look scary. I’m sorry. I just want to do the very best job for you and reward your hard work.

3. Yes, it is possible for an athlete who falls to get a better score than an athlete who does not fall. I didn’t make a mistake. When your coach tells you that pointed toes, straight legs, pretty arms and hands, and heights and angles on jumps and leaps matter, they’re right. It all matters. Yes, I take the deduction for the fall but if the rest of the routine is performed with lovely gymnastics, it is possible for that routine to score higher than a routine without a fall but with a lot of execution errors.

4. I want you to do well. I cannot tell you how many times after an athlete balks or falls on her first vault, the judge next to me or I will say under our breathe, “C’mon sweet pea! You’ve got this!” before she runs for her second vault. Or if we see a fall on bars during warm ups, we hold our breath hoping you’ll make it through your actual routine. We love gymnastics and we know how hard it is. We are so proud of you for being a gymnast. We want you to love it and we want you to succeed.

5. Nope, I don’t judge differently because of the team you come from, the color of your leotard or the way you did your hair. I’m sorry but I am too busy to notice those things. I am judging your GYMNASTICS, not the other stuff. When I’m judging, I have to write down every skill you perform in judges shorthand. I also have to write down any deductions and I even have to write a zero if there are no deductions for a particular skill. When your routine is over, I have to count my deductions, do the math, compare my score with my fellow judge and make sure it all gets put into the system accurately so we can quickly move onto the next athlete. On any given day, I can judge as few as 60 athletes or well over 300. I hope you do your hair a certain way because it makes you feel happy. I hope you’re proud of the gym you come from because it is a good fit for you and your family. And EVERY leotard is beautiful!

Last year I wrote a blog on gymnastics judging from a different perspective but whose conclusion is befitting here as well:

Bottom line: Judges are professionals who spend time studying, practicing, obtaining licenses, professional memberships and certifications so that they can spend their weekends helping your children have the experience of being a competitive athlete.  They are not the enemy. They are an ally in the youth sports movement and should be thanked for their efforts, not criticized for their (perceived) errors.