judges huddled over a table discussing a routine's score for a judging inquiry

Judge’s Inquiry: Illustrating the Differences Between Level 10 and NCAA Judging

About this time every year, college judges around the country are told the same thing: Judge what you see, take the deductions that you see, and be consistent with how you judge execution in level 10 gymnastics. In my first judging experience at an NCAA gymnastics meet, I took these lessons to heart, and grossly underscored the athlete’s routine compared to my chief judge. Her response? “I guess I do judge differently in college than I do for level 10.” Navigating these unspoken differences are some of the most challenging aspects of being a new college judge, and why we tend to see the same judges at the same big meets: They have this understood yet unspoken code down pat.

Now that I’ve retired at the ripe age of 35 from judging gymnastics, I intend to pull back the veil and de-mystify college gymnastics judging for the fans. To be clear, I’m not accusing any specific judges of score inflation—we all do it, and we all do it fairly, meaning gymnasts from the lowest-ranked to the highest-ranked teams benefit from judges being much more lenient with execution deductions. Higher scores are good for us all; everyone from athletes to athletic directors benefit from those high-scoring routines, including the judges. So what’s the problem? 

The problem is that it can become very crowded at the top, and by taking appropriate execution deductions, you can reward athletes that have exceptional execution with higher scores. You can confidently take those small errors that are easily waved away so you don’t become the “mean judge.” Teams and athletes can see appreciable improvements over the course of a season or a college career, once they can truly perform a flawless routine. 

In the embedded video (which can also be viewed here), I broke down two nearly identical routines performed by Arizona State sophomore Alex Theodorou—one from level 10 and one from 2022 when she was a freshman. Compositionally, they are exactly the same, and execution-wise, she makes many of the same errors in both routines, making it easy to illustrate the differences in judging—or lack thereof. Her level 10 routine scores a 9.600 (from a 10.1 start value, so a 9.500 from a 10.0), and her NCAA routine scores a 9.800.

Below, you’ll find a side-by-side comparison of each skill that she performs in each video, as well as the deductions I would take for each. Leaving room for errors due to real-time viewing and differences between camera and judging angles, it’s clear to see that these routines should not score three tenths differently, especially considering the fact that I scored her level 10 routine higher than her NCAA set. The deductions that likely were taken by the NCAA judges to arrive at their score of 9.800 are highlighted in bold. Watch the video and let me know what you think!

Side by Side Comparison of Deductions: Alex Theodorou, Bars

Skill Level 10 NCAA
Kip -0.05 extension on glide -0.05 extension on glide
Cast Handstand (HS) No deduction No deduction
Pike Circle ½ turn -0.05 leg form -0.05 off axis turn
Yaeger release -0.10 leg form prior to release -0.1 leg form prior to release
Kip #2 No deduction No deduction
Cast HS #2 No deduction No deduction
Pike Circle HS -0.10 arm bend -0.10 arm bend
Shoot over to HS -0.05 leg separation in HS No deduction
Kip #3 No deduction No deduction
Circle to stand No deduction No deduction
Kip #4 No deduction No deduction
Cast HS #3 No deduction No deduction
Giant #1 -0.05 arm bend -0.05 arm bend
Giant #2 No deduction No deduction
Double Layout Flyaway -0.05 body position

-0.05 pike down for landing

-0.05 body position

-0.10 leg separation

-0.05 pike down for landing

-0.05 chest forward on landing

-0.05 small hop forward on landing

Given Score 9.600 (10.1 start value) 9.800 (likely college judges dedications in bold)
My Score 9.500 

(from a 10.0 for comparison sake)


READ THIS NEXT: Judge’s Inquiry: Artistry, the Dance Pass and the Perfect-Enough Floor Routine

Article by Rhiannon Franck

Rhiannon Franck is a former national-rated NAWGJ women’s gymnastics judge with over 15 years of USAG judging experience and nine seasons judging NCAA gymnastics. Outside of gymnastics, Franck works at a university as a nursing professor and loves to travel. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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