Preparation is key to great judging. Judges will face more challenges than ever before as they enter the 2022 judging season. Being aware of those challenges can help you better prepare to avoid error-causing obstacles this judging season. Let’s take a look!
New Code of Points for 2022: Every gymnastics discipline has a new Code of Points. However, due to the extension of the old Code of Points through the Tokyo 202One Olympics, judges have less time to prepare, learn, and become proficient with the new Code of Points than previous cycles. FIG judges’ courses, preparation materials, and exams are on an incredibly compressed schedule, leaving less time for even the top judges in the world to master the new rules.
New Junior and Developmental rules, routines, and levels: Not only have the international rules changed, but most federations have new rules and level changes for their developmental programs, including new compulsory/setwork routines. These new developmental rules mean that (depending on discipline and country) judges must learn rule modifications for 3-6 levels of junior optional/voluntary level gymnasts, and another 3-5 levels of routines for compulsory level gymnasts, multiplied by the number of apparatus in your discipline, and many judges need to learn over 100 sets of specific rules in a very short time.
For example, USA MAG judges not only need to know the FIG Senior and Junior rules, they also have NCAA modifications for the college level, different rule modifications for each of the optional levels 7, 8, 9, and 10, and another set of rules for Xcel which contains four different divisions. Additionally, there are new routines for compulsory levels 3, 4, 5, and 6, which all have two different divisions of routine options across six different apparatus. All of this adds up to over 100 different sets of rules and routines! (And that isn’t even counting special competition rules and routines for Future Stars, Tech Sequences, NAIGC competition, etc.) That’s a lot of rules to keep straight! And USA WAG and some other federations are no better with the number of rules to remember!
Code mixing: While some countries (such as the USA) have already switched to the 2022 Code rules and are starting to have competitions under them, other countries have not. Competitions in Europe will still use the 2017 Code through the end of 2021, all while judges are trying to learn the 2022 Code of Points. Needless to say, it wouldn’t be surprising if there is an error or two while judges are juggling the different codes in their brains. Judges in these situations need to beware of “reach-back syndrome,” especially since many have not judged a whole lot over the past couple of years due to COVID cancellations. “Reach-back syndrome” is when you have to think back to what the “old rule” is, and you reach back too far to a rule that no longer exists even in the “old” code you are judging under. For example, thinking back too far to old element values or connection rules (does the element need to be among the counting elements?) are common “reach-back” errors. Be aware that “reach-back” errors are also likely to happen when you have to judge an apparatus you haven’t judged in a while. Counterintuitively, more experienced judges are the most susceptible to this type of error due to the sheer number of sets of rules they have used over the years.
You are rustier than you may think: COVID canceled numerous competitions for all of us. Many judges have not had nearly the number of judging repetitions in the past two years that they normally would have had. The technical elements that are usually second nature for experienced judges (e.g., writing shorthand symbols for less common elements) may now take an extra split-second of processing. That small processing speedbump breaks the judging rhythm and places a greater burden on the overall processing system, causing fatigue to set in sooner.
Consistency: One of my biggest pet peeves as a coach was when judges’ scores would get pickier and harsher as the season went on. My gymnasts would improve, but their scores wouldn’t reflect their improvement because not only were my gymnasts getting better, the judges were also getting better as the season progressed. The judges were able to catch more errors as they practiced more during the season. Consistency from start to end of the season will be more difficult this season than any other season in recent memory due to COVID cancellations.
What can judges do to prepare?
Create reference sheets and quick memory guides – a.k.a. “cheat sheets”: Creating your own reference sheets (as opposed to using those created by someone else) will serve a two-fold purpose: As you create the sheets, you will organize the rules in a way that makes the most sense to you, thereby reinforcing your knowledge of the rules. Second, you will have produced a handy-dandy reference sheet, which you can use to quickly double-check rules and element values when you are judging, instead of having to search through the Code of Points or JO program manual.
Have a system to note level and rule changes: Given that one of the most common sources of error comes from keeping dozens of sets of rules sorted, judges can take proactive measures to put the odds in their favor to avoid rule mix-ups. When there are multiple levels in the same session (or even the same rotation!), the deck is stacked for judges to easily make errors. Get out a highlighter and note the different levels and divisions you will be judging that session. It will also prevent you from being caught off guard by a level you weren’t expecting popping up in the middle of a rotation. Then take it a step further. Change pen colors for different levels as you are judging (even if it is just between black and blue). It is a quick and simple precautionary measure that will help your brain to change gears. Different colors will also make it easier to find routines if you have an inquiry or question later on.
Know thyself: What are the types of mistakes that you personally are most prone to make? Do you often forget a penalty for a missing special requirement? Perhaps connection bonus is your nemesis. (It’s counting diagonals for me!) Everyone has a downfall. It can help to have a last double-check reminder for whatever specific error you are most prone to make near where you do your final mathematical tally. For one level, I keep a small post-it note with “X2” written on it in red and move it close to where I put my final tally as a reminder to apply a bizarre rule for that level that requires the difficulty values of elements to be doubled. After the first few routines, I’ll get into a groove, but I make sure to strategically place the reminder post-it each time I need to change back to the level with that weird rule.
Take time to double-check: Rapid judging is a badge of honor for many judges. However, take the extra second or so to double-check your evaluation and calculations before you submit your scores. The few seconds it takes to double-check will be a net gain of time over the time it would take later to correct an error that slipped through.
Divide responsibilities and outsource what you can. It is well known that dividing D and E duties results in faster judging and fewer mistakes overall. Likewise, outsourcing non-judging tasks (such as entering scores into a computer system, copying scores onto a master score-sheet, or posting D scores on flip cards), saves judges time and reduces the overall processing load, forestalling fatigue and keeping the judge in their judging groove. Having a competition volunteer assist with minor procedural tasks is a small step that can help to reduce error.
Prepare for questions: New rules have a lot of details for everyone to learn, including coaches. There are bound to be misinterpreted rules and details that have slipped past the coaches (or yourself). Be prepared to explain tricky new rules and have text source references handy to support your evaluation. Having, good, clear, detailed shorthand can help you to defend scores being inquired (or correct scores that may have slipped through with an error).
Target your preparation for the first competitions you judge: You may not be able to learn all of the rules for every level right off the bat, but make sure you are thoroughly prepared for the specific apparatus and levels you are assigned to judge. Judging assigners can help here by giving adequate notice of which apparatus judges can expect to judge.
What others can do:
Coaches: Have an extra ounce of patience with the judges at the start of the season. We have all been through a lot over the past two years.
Meet directors & organizers: Avoid mixing different levels within the same session (and heaven forbid the same rotation) as much as possible; less gear switching for different levels = fewer errors by judges. Have judges’ assistants do secretarial tasks.
Assigners: Give judges their apparatus assignments as early as possible.
What do you see as the biggest challenges you will face as we begin the 2022 season, and how will you prepare to mitigate them? Send me a message to let me know!
Here is hoping everyone can have a great and productive competitive season.
Best of luck to gymnasts, coaches, and judges!