For Parents A Parents guide to understanding Gymnastics Judging.

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Over the last few weeks, I've read an increasing amount of questions on this and other boards regarding how judges "see things" and how things are scored from parents point of view. I have many of the same questions, if not more. But allow me to share what I've learned so far -from one parent to another - as these have been learned and shared with me by our daughter coach, and others with a deep passion of the sport.

A Parents guide to understanding Gymnastics Judging.

It’s one thing to sit at a gymnastics competition and watch your daughter compete. But it’s quite another thing to understand how the scoring system works. Here on CB and during the many competitions I’ve attended, it’s a common complaint. “What didn’t she do right? Why is her score lower that other girl?” As parents, we rely only on our limited knowledge of the sport for answers. When grasping to find these answers, I find it’s always best to add a little education into the process to shed some light on the situation.

So I thought I’d offer what I’ve learned and scrounged up over the last year on the topic with the hopes of helping to provide that little light.

Judging gymnastics is complicated and tedious. Parents and spectators need to understand that a judge is only human, and each judge has a different background with a varied level of experience in the sport. Each judge is charged with presenting his or her opinions, used at their own discretion, with a different level of expectations. The judgment is ONLY an opinion of the performance on that particular day, for any particular event.

Gymnastics judges must pass a test that requires a great deal of studying from a very thick manual (I’ve seen it!). They must stay current with changes to routines, the scoring systems, and keep up with professional growth opportunities throughout the year to be assigned to gymnastic meets each season. It’s safe to say that judging gymnastics is not a full time career for most. It’s a VERY part-time job, pays surprisingly little money, but still requires almost full time effort. It’s also safe to say that most gymnastics judges adore the sport.

Here in the U.S, compulsory gymnastic routines are universally defined, and have a start value of 10.0 points. The routines, requirements, and penalties are outlined in a book, (aka. The purple book), and each skill or series of skills is given a value. As the athlete performs a routine, the judge notes any mistakes he or she sees in a code of symbols. Each symbol has a value, and after the routine is complete, the symbols are tallied and this amount is deducted from 10.0.

Some of the general deductions are “Flat” rate. A fall is 0.50, a change of a small part is 0.10, omitting or substituting a major element is double the value of the element, and extra step is 0.10, and a coach assist is the value of the element PLUS 0.50, overtime on the beam is 0.10. Just to name a few.

Then there are general “up to” deductions, and this is how judges seem to vary so much. For example, leg separation can be “up to” 0.20; a balance error is “up to” 0.30, insufficient split is “up to” 0.20, lack of overall rhythm during the routine is “up to” 0.40; incorrect body position on a major element is “up to” 0.20.

Then there are penalties for specific skills or a series in the routine that can be set values, or "up to" values. Some examples include: Not placing hands in the correct position on the vault – 0.50. Contacting the mat on the vault after the vertical- up to 1.00. Hooking the knee on a stride circle – 0.50. Failure to show hollow position during a back hip circle- up to 0.20. Failure to attain vertical in a handstand on beam dismount – 0.30. Early bending of the legs in beam mount-up – 0.20. etc,.

There are literally pages and pages of rules and possible deductions. In fact, It’s a wonder the scores are as high as they are. If judges were to think and write as fast as a computer with a video camera, the scores would be very low by many of our standards. The judges with years of experience usually have lower scores because they have so much practice judging gymnastics events. They “See it” faster, “think it” faster, and “record it” faster. Expectations are often higher because they’ve had the opportunity to witness truly great routines, and are now conditioned to expect it.

My best advice for parents and spectators is to simply accept the score for what it is: One person’s opinion of the performance given on that particular day. I would encourage you to focus on the gymnasts performance compared to her own personal best, and if she has competed to the best of her ability on that day. It’s been said many times on this board, “Parents make the best fan’s” of gymnasts. Just remember it’s not about the score, it’s only about your daughter. Be supportive on good and bad days. This alone will make your gymnastics experience just as fulfilling as doing gymnastics is for your daughter.

I hope this was helpful.

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Gold Membership
Feb 26, 2007
You're visiting OTHER BOARDS!!!!!! OMG....FAINTS....Agh...NO!!!!

Seriously though, both gymnasts and parents need to focus on individual goals and not the scores at each and every meet. Meet scores and routines just cannot be compared, different places, judges, meet and girls means that thing will rarely be equal.

Great post Tim_Dad. Anything that helps everyone understand even a little bit more helps. Now on to our first meet and those open ended FIG scores we have....


Gold Membership
Feb 26, 2007
Aw thaniks for pushing me over the edge! I had to thank you back, I am British you know.
Aug 7, 2009
Not sure if I'm an oddity, but I rarely pay much attention to her scores - it's her placing that is important to me: did she improve her position compared to the other girls?

Not "did she do better than so and so", but if she moved from say 10th place to 7th, then that's an improvement! And, quite often, even with that improvement, her score may have gone down!

Of course, our scores are open ended like bog's. Maybe if all scores were out of 10 I might feel differently?


Very insightful. Thank you for posting this. I will try my hardest to keep this post in mind when my dds season starts. She starts competing level 6 in Dec. I'm sure that this will come in very handy about then as I have heard that Level 6 scoring in our region is horrible.


Great post; thanks!

I know this thread is about understanding scores, but it reminds me of this . . . A wise coach/judge offered dd advice when dd was writing down goals and focusing on scores: Don't focus on scores. Focus on placement if you must have a goal that deals with scores/placement. (And, actually, there are so many variables with placement, as well, that this wise coach told dd that perhaps her goals should be: go all out, think technique, and have fun.)

Last year, I remember watching dd's first meet, thinking her floor routine looked wonderful, and being shocked at what I thought was a low score. There was definitely a learning curve for me, and I know more of what I'm looking at now, although I'm still, and always will be, learning.
Thanks for the great post! We could all use a deeper understanding of this sport and the judging.

We try to look at improvements as personal goals. Scores and even placements can be misleading.

Oh, and being that we're Canadians, we live in the world of the really odd scores, where a big enough wobble takes .5 away, and from what my dd tells me, this year a fall is a 1.0 deduction. Ack! I thought it was rough last year when she lost .8 for a fall on every vault all season;)

Thanks again for the great info. Putting it out here now, as the kids are just starting or waiting to compete, couldn't have come at a better time.


Of course, our scores are open ended like bog's. Maybe if all scores were out of 10 I might feel differently?

Ours too in the UK. Everyone looks at position if they are bothered about stuff like that. You really really are obsessed with scores in USAG (sorry but alot of you really are!) Funny really cos in the 'real' world of the FIG everyone else has moved on from 'the 10'. Dare I say it perhaps it's time USAG did too! And make level 6 voluntary routines too while you are at it. Girls performing somersaults should have their own routines!


Gold Membership
Feb 26, 2007
The idea behind the 1.0 for a fall, is that gymnasts who fall will not place. It kind of works, but it does seem harsh after the 0.5.

Granny Smith

Proud Parent
Jun 21, 2007
My #1 rule of thumb in trying to understand how judges judge is:

"Don't try to understand it, you never will and then when you think you do understand, something else will happen which will totally blow the whole idea that you think you understand!"

Let it go and just enjoy their performance! My dd rocks - regardless of the score!!!! I'm a little biased, I know. :D
Sep 8, 2007
Tim Dad very good and true post! Granny Smith our owners/hc tells us parents the same quote each year. I do not dwell on my dd's scores she is not a high scorer 9's are rare .I look at her overall performance & improvements in meets and practices.I have seen and heard alot of parents at meets have total fits that there kid did not get all 9's(because these parents believe there routines deserved it and there kid was better then so and so)Makes me crazy!
Ours too in the UK. Everyone looks at position if they are bothered about stuff like that. You really really are obsessed with scores in USAG (sorry but alot of you really are!) Funny really cos in the 'real' world of the FIG everyone else has moved on from 'the 10'. Dare I say it perhaps it's time USAG did too! And make level 6 voluntary routines too while you are at it. Girls performing somersaults should have their own routines!

I think it's only a matter of time when USAG will adopt FIG.

Learning FIG is a personal goal of mine. It's a bit more complex, to say the least. But the philosophy behind it does have a great deal of merit. I honestly think the delay in the U.S. is due the lack of qualified judges available to judge FIG at the compulsory levels. I'm sure USAG is working out the element values already, but it's going to be a while until this learning process trickles down to USAG judges, gym owners, and coaches.

I have to accept that the folks in charge of USAG know what they are doing with regards to the compulsory levels and routines. But they do seem to be designed to accomidate youngest possible gymnasts.


Thanks for that TD. Funny, I only get concerned when the scores seem to be too high. I guess I'm just weird:D but it probably has to do with the part about how judges with more years of experience giving lower scores.
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