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Gymnastics Scoring [What The Judges Look For And How It Works?]

gymnastics scoring

Gymnastics is a very technical sport and the finest of details count towards the final score. To the untrained eye, what might seem like a flawless routine can be full of mistakes and be ranked low, based on the score given by the judges. Thus, it is natural to wonder just how exactly do the judges tally up the scores per routine?

Gymnastics scoring can be subjective based on what the judge perceives as good or bad. To avoid any bias or grounds for complaint, there is a criterion that judges have to follow to decide their scores.

I’ve made a simple outline of the judging sheet that is used for the USA Junior Olympic Program from levels 1 through 10 as well as the Xcel Program

If you’ve ever gotten a glimpse of the judge's score sheet, the first thing you probably would have noticed is that the sheet is full of what seem to be random symbols that the judges have drawn while watching the routine.

These symbols are the judge’s shorthand which they quickly jot down.

Judges prefer using shorthand because it saves valuable time and allows them to focus on the routine instead of writing down their notes.

The shorthand, contrary to how it may seem, is full of details on the skill that the gymnast has shown and well as all the flaws that lead to deductions in the scores. Once the gymnast has finished their routine, the judge thaws out the symbols into actual scores.

The Routine Requirements

The starting point for the judges scoring is assessing if the gymnast’s routine fulfils the requirements and this will determine their start value. The requirements can be divided into 2 categories:

A) Compulsory routine requirements

This is when the judges determine whether all of the necessary skills were performed in the correct order in which they should have been performed. Deductions from the gymnast's score will be made based on whether:

  1. 1
    In case of a skill omittance, twice the value of the skill will be subtracted
  2. 2
    In case of a skill reversal, half the value of the skill will be subtracted

B) Optional routine requirements

In this criteria is judging, the judges will score on the basis that all of the requirements are fulfilled by the skills the gymnast performed. To put things in perspective, let's consider the requirements of a level 6 floor routine.

It requires that the athlete perform 1 salto or aerial element. The judges will assess whether the gymnast performed a skill that falls under the category mentioned, let's say, for example, a front tuck.

If a skill or special requirement is missing from the routine, the judges will deduct .5 from the score.

Other than the special requirements, the judges also decide their scores based on “value part requirements.” So let's say that at the Level 6 routine, the floor, beam, and bar routine need to have 5 A value parts and 1 B value part. If the routine is falling short in any of these vale parts the judges will have deductions as such:

  1. 1
    .1 for the A value part
  2. 2
    .3 for the B value part
  3. 3
    .5 for the C value part

If the gymnast is a Level 9 or 10, they will have to meet the special and value part requirements.

Judges also keep track of whether a gymnast is performing a move or skill that is not allowed for that specific level and will make deductions accordingly from the start value. Sometimes performing a skill that isn’t in line with the level can make the routine void and the athlete can end up with a score of zero.

The Execution Requirements

The second criteria on which a routine is judged is the execution of each skill and any deductions that go into the performance of the skill. This again can be further divided into 2 areas:

A) Compulsory routine requirements

For a compulsory routine to have been performed flawlessly, it has to be executed exactly as per the text. Similarly, the transitions and dance movements will be judged on just how closely they follow the text.

This is something that rarely ever happens and so there are deductions made. The execution of a skill will be judged on how perfect the performance of the said skill is. 

Deductions also depend on the kind of routine that is being performed. In a floor, beam, or bars routine the judge will deduct points if:

  1. 1
    The legs are separate instead of being together (minus .2)
  2. 2
    Omitting, changing, or reversing a part of the routine (minus.1)

Judges are allowed a bit of discretion when it comes to deductions. Now you might be thinking “that complicates things and makes things extremely subjective.”

However, that isn’t necessarily the case. You have to remember that these judges have seen over thousands of routines and so they know exactly how much to deduct for a bent leg, for example.

Judges are extremely experienced. And even then when judges sit on a panel, their scores need to be close otherwise there is a discussion to sort things out. This removes all basis of the complaint.

B) Optional Routine Execution

In these routines, the skills are assessed based on the execution. The judge's criteria in this section are based on the question of whether the skill, as per the JO code of points, was executed flawlessly. If it wasn’t, what deductions from the score should apply.

Small deductions will be made if the gymnasts’ toes aren’t pointed or if they take a step after their landing. These will amount to anywhere between .05 to .2 being deducted.

Medium deductions will be made if there are errors in the balance if the athlete's legs are separated or their arms and legs are bent. Other medium deductions will include if the jumps and leaps don’t rise enough off the surface or if the tight body position isn’t maintained. These will amount to .2 being deducted.

Large deductions in execution will be if the gymnast falls during their routine.

The devil is in the details and so gymnasts have to be very precise about every aspect of their routine. Something as simple as forgetting to point your toys can lead to losing precious points!

Some miscellaneous deductions include the routine going into overtime, the gymnast going out of bounds on the floor, if there is spotting by the coach or if the gymnast fails to present before or after their routine.

The Wow Factor

So once the judges have assessed the start value or the routine based on whether it fulfilled all the requirements and also based on any deductions for faults in the routine, the next thing the judges will look at is the routine as a whole and will assess if any further deductions need to be made in general.

There are certain considerations that the judges will keep in mind while critiquing the routine. This includes what the gymnast’s rank is and how well they performed in comparison to the other routines of the same level. Below are some examples of the wow factor.

1) Dynamics and Artistry

These deductions are based on the overall performance of the routine and how well it was performed. This is especially important because these deductions will impact how well the gymnast ranks.

2) Composition Deductions

These deductions are only applicable for level 8 and above. These deductions are based on the composition of the routine. Judges will take into consideration whether, at the start of the routine, are the hard skills present or are they spread out in the entire duration of the routine.

Gymnastics Scoring: Vault

Vault scoring is another area in the scoring sheet where deductions apply. Gymnastic vaults are divided into three phases and the deduction applies in each phase. What are the 3 phases? 

The first phase is what is known as the “first flight phase.” This is when the athlete is between the vault table and springboard.

The second phase is known as the “support and repulsion phase” and is when the athlete is on the vault table. The third phase is known as the “second flight phase.

Let’s take an example: if the gymnasts’ legs are bent throughout the vault, the judges will make deductions 3 times.

1) Angles

Angles play a very important role in the vault segment. Judges observe the gymnast very closely to determine at what angle she comes onto and exits the vault table. 

Here is an example for you: while performing the Level 4/5 compulsory handspring vault, the gymnast is required to push off the vault table and by the time they hit the vertical, one full point can be deducted based on what degree past the vertical does the gymnast leave the table.

2) Dynamics

Dynamics is where the bigger deductions are made on the vault as opposed to other events. The vaults need to be at a good height and have to be powerful.

Gymnastics Scoring: Bars

1) Angles

Similar to the vault, the angles of every skill play a very important role in the bars scoring. The angle requirements vary for each level. At the higher levels, the more important angles are for the handstands and the circling elements.

To put things into perspective, at level 7 on the bars, gymnasts are required to perform a cast which at a minimum is at 45 degrees from the vertical. The judge will be closely monitoring the angle of every cast that is performed. If you are interested in becoming a gymnastics judge, check out this article on how to become a gymnastics judge.

The gymnast is required to perform a cast at a minimum of 45 degrees during one of the first two casts. Once the first two casts are done, the skill can’t be performed to fulfill the requirements. However, any additional low casts can lead to deductions.

2) Rhythm

The rhythm of a bar routine is also very important and needs to be performed without any extra swings, casts, or stops and also has to be performed in a row.

Gymnastics Scoring: Beam

1) Balance

It should come as no surprise that balance on the beam is a very vital factor in a gymnast routine. Every balance error can be as small as a slight wobble to bigger errors such as moving around too much will lead to crucial points being deducted.

2) Leaps and Jumps: the height and angle

For every leap and jump performed by the gymnast, they are judged on how height they performed off of the beam. Where leaps and splits are concerned, they are judged according to the angle at which they are achieved.

Gymnastics Scoring: Floor

1) Angle and Height of leaps and jumps

Similar to the beam scoring, leaps and jumps are assessed on the height achieved and the splits are judged on the angle achieved. If during a leap or jump, the gymnast’s feet are turned, they are judged on what the degree of the turn is.

2) Form and Height of Tumbling Skills

The tumbling passes are assessed on a varying number of factors which include the gymnast's body positioning during this skill, the height of the landing, and the saltos.

Conclusion

I’ve done my best to simplify all that goes into the gymnastics scoring routine. However, this is just a simple guide and more considerations are considered.

All of the considerations that I’ve mentioned above should be kept in mind when your athlete is practicing, and it will give them a clear picture of what the judges want and where the athlete needs to work to improve their skills. It also helps coaches judge their athlete’s performance and determine where they need to focus their training energy.

The smallest of details can make or break an athlete’s score and so my advice is to understand the guide properly and even do a bit of further research and focus on all these factors when practicing.