What Judges are Looking For in Compulsory Gymnastics

In our previous post, Why Sports?, we highlighted a few benefits of youth sports participation. But we also alluded to the fact that we believe gymnastics elevates these benefits to a whole new level.

Today’s topic: Compulsory Routine Scoring

Have you ever been to a meet where your child stayed on the beam (or the pommel horse), received a score, then watched as another gymnast FELL OFF and scored higher? Was that frustrating to you because you were unable to understand why and how it could happen?  Hopefully, I’ll be able to clear up some of this confusion, first by explaining 5 KEY VARIABLES that function together to make up a score, and then later by giving an example.

5 Key Scoring Variables


First, let’s remember: our sport is subjective and judged by imperfect people. So, yes, it is possible for the judge / judges to make a mistake. Honestly, in the 25+ years I’ve been coaching, I can count on one hand the number of times I honestly believed a judge was INTENTIONALLY giving an unfair advantage or disadvantage to a group of gymnasts. It is SO rare, and in the grand scheme of things so inconsequential, as to not be worth the time of our thoughts. This doesn’t mean they won’t make mistakes; it just means that WHEN they do, those mistakes aren’t deliberate or malicious.


In compulsory gymnastics, the routines are constructed so that each gymnast at a given level is doing the same (or basically the same) routine. That routine has a pre-determined start value for ALL gymnasts at that level, and deductions for mistakes are taken from that start value. Now, in men’s gymnastics, the boys are allowed some deviations and additions called “bonuses” which ADD points to the start value. But even these bonuses are pre-determined and limited.


Once the gymnast has completed all of the required elements in his or her compulsory routine, the judges begin deducting for mistakes. Some of the obvious mistakes are: bent arms, bent legs, flexed feet, feet apart, steps on a landing, and even falls. Many of us can SEE most of these mistakes; but we are not always aware of what the SIZE of the deductions for these mistakes will be. 


Every compulsory routine also comes with a specific set of expectations, usually revolving around:  AMPLITUDE (how high is a particular skill performed?), DYNAMICS (was it powerful?), RHYTHM (is the routine continuously moving and fluid?), and overall presentation (sometimes referred to as “ARTISTRY”).

NOTE: The terms “Basic” and “Advanced” deductions are not official gymnastics lingo; instead, they are simply a way I have sought to categorize different types of deductions in order to simplify how I might communicate them to you.


Beyond simply taking a deduction, there are varying degrees of bent arms and legs, small steps and wobbles vs large steps and wobbles, high amplitude vs low amplitude, and so on. Therefore, on a LOT of these deductions the judges have leeway, which we call an “up to deduction”.

For example, if a gymnast bends her arms during a cast on the bars, she may lose “up to 3 tenths” in deductions depending on the severity of the arm bend. Now, USA Gymnastics (USAG) puts forth criteria which suggests deductions like “one tenth for a bend between 10 to 30 degrees…” but these bends happen in a fraction of a second, and no judge has a protractor. So from one judge to the next, and one competition to the next, the same bend in a cast could cost a little more or a little less.

In addition to “up to deductions” there are also “flat deductions.” For example, in women’s gymnastics, a fall costs a flat 5 tenths.  HOWEVER, you should know that, more often than not, there was some mistake that LED TO THE FALL that was ALSO deducted. So it is rare that a fall is a mere 5 tenths. Instead, it will usually be 5 tenths PLUS greater deductions for the mistake(s) immediately preceding the fall.

Finally, there are the “odd circumstance” deductions. These are for things such as: omission of a skill, being given a spot, performing a skill or series in the wrong direction, and various other odd circumstances that I can’t think of 😉 .

An Example of a Gymnast Scoring Higher WITH a Fall

In women’s gymnastics (compared to men’s), scoring can be a little more “cut and dry” because we know (an odd circumstance not withstanding) the start value of every routine is a 10.0. Our own Kyndall Gilbert is an EXCELLENT example of a “fall routine” outscoring “stay on routines”.

At level 6 she did her bar routine with beautiful form and exceeded all 5 amplitude requirements, but fell over in a cast to handstand. The fall cost her .5, there was a modest amount of bent arms contributing to the fall for .1 more, and she took a medium step on her dismount, for .15 more. This gave her total deductions of 0.75, subtracted from 10.0, leaving her with a final score of 9.25.

Another gymnast on our team, who DID NOT fall, scored an 8.7. Her routine had beautiful form, but she was .3 short in amplitude on her first cast, .3 short in amplitude on her free hip, and .3 short in amplitude on her high bar cast. She had a break in rhythm for .1 on her baby giant, a .2 deduction on amplitude in her first tap swing, and took a small step on her landing for a .1 deduction.

If you were unaware of amplitude requirements at this level, you would have looked at the two routines – one with a fall and a medium step on a dismount, and one with no fall and a small step – and thought:  “Clearly, the 2nd routine was better.” But in reality, that wasn’t the case. Even with the fall, Kyndall’s routine scored more than .5 higher!

In men’s gymnastics this can be even “trickier” to grasp. Your son might be doing a very clean routine, completing all of his skills according to the written amplitude requirements. However, if another boy satisfies the bonus requirements and your son does not, the full bonuses give him a 1.2 start value advantage over your son, which can make up for SLIGHT sloppiness or even a fall, and resulting in a higher score.  The trick as a coach is to know WHEN the added value of the bonus skill OUTWEIGHS the losses in execution of the added skill.

Helping Gymnasts Understand Scoring

We always attempt to explain these concepts, in easier to understand terms, to our gymnasts. Our explanations could be as simple as: “If you want to see your beam score go up, you need to get your splits bigger in your jumps & leaps.” But typically, as your gymnasts get older, they begin to understand these requirements better, and might even learn to communicate them better to you!

Personally, at the first practice after a meet, I always sit down with my group and ask: “Does anyone have any questions, comments, or concerns from the meet last weekend, regarding their score, their placement, or their performance?” And then we do a rundown of the meet so that IF a gymnast was confused, I can attempt to clear up her confusion. Once in a while, though, my explanation is: “I’m sorry sweetheart, I disagreed with the judge on that one; but I wasn’t in charge.”

Helping Gymnasts Set Goals

Finally, it’s important to admit that we as coaches, parents, and grandparents all look at our children through “rose colored glasses,” even when we say we don’t. As a coach I am CONSTANTLY remembering my girls’ routines as WAY better than they actually were, until I go back and watch a video about a week later.

It’s also very important to remember to place a higher value on the PERFORMANCE than the score. As I said, from one meet to the next, and one judge to the next, it is very hard to keep an exact linear score. So rather than get upset or excited about a score moving down or up, why not look at the performance itself and be excited or disappointed in the progress of the performance!

A good way to do this is for the gymnasts to set goals that are within their personal control. A gymnast cannot control his/her score, nor can he/she control their placement; therefore, goals like: “Improve .5 on bars,” or “Place top 3 on vault” are often unrealistic. Instead their goals should be things like: “Stick all my landings,” “Get my 2nd cast above requirements by the 3rd meet,” “Swing higher than my last meet,” etc.

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