For any gymnast, coach, judge or experienced gymnastics parent, watching that video will bring a smile to your face and probably a few head nods, too. For those of you who are not familiar with the way gymnastics works, you can still get something out of the video.
The premise of the video is that little Suzie got an 8.45 on her Level 5 bar routine. She thought she did great and in her mind, deserves a 10. As her coach breaks down the routine and points out the places where the judges took deductions, Suzie isn’t buying it and decides her coach is just being mean. And herein lies the opportunity for the adults in Suzie’s life to work together and teach her how to remove the “person” from the “gymnastics.”
Gymnasts and other athletes who perform in front of a panel of judges (ice skaters, divers, synchronized swimmers, competitive dancers and cheerleaders) need to be taught that the scores they receive are based on a list of criteria and how well their PERFORMANCE met those criteria at that moment for that set of judges. It has nothing to do with whether the judges LIKE THEM AS A PERSON or not.
I actually judged competitive level gymnastics (up to Level 9) for a few years and really enjoyed it, but it was hard. It is hard to take a mandatory deduction for a fall on beam when you know that gymnast has probably performed the skill 100 times successfully in the weeks prior to the competition. It’s hard to decide if the split leap is within the margin of error for the 180 degree requirement when you only have a split second (no pun intended) to decide and no instant repaly. It’s hard to go through a floor routine and make sure you correctly identify every skill and give the gymnast credit for the requirements of the routine and come up with the correct starting value.
But, like everything else, it takes practice. After judging up to 96 gymnasts in a session (then multiply that by 3-6 sessions on any given weekend) what has to happen is that you judge the body in motion in front of you. You don’t notice the pigtails or missing two front teeth. You don’t have time. You have to account for every skill and every deduction and make sure the score you award is within a certain range compared to the judge sitting next to you. You want the gymnasts to succeed. You’d love to give a perfect 10, because that means you just watched the most beautiful and technically correct routine of the day, but that rarely happens.
Does favoritism ever happen? Of course it does. Judges are human. But, it shouldn’t and a judge who takes the position seriously will not let the color of the leotard, the size of the gymnast, or her personal tastes influence the job at hand.
And back to Suzie. As much as she wants to think her routine was perfect, the more important things to stress are:
- Have you been working on corrections from the last performance at practice?
- Do you understand what mistakes you made so you can learn from them?
- Did you try your hardest?
- Did you have fun?
Answers of yes to those questions are more important than the fleeting feeling of receiving a perfect 10. Scores matter, but the quality of effort and performance are much more important! Teach this to the athletes from day one and you will have kids who take that skill and can apply it to all areas of life.