Archive for the ‘Competition Advice’ category

Cheerleading Rule Changes, March 2012

March 29, 2012

This article is about the sweeping rule changes that were recently implemented affecting both high school and all star competitive cheerleading.  I’m going to address the situation in general terms, understanding that there might be exceptions, but if I went into great detail to every specific aspect of the changes, this article would be way too long.  So, with the disclaimer out of the way, here we go…

What we’re really talking about are limitations that have been placed on what skills cheerleaders are going to be allowed to perform.  That, and some age restrictions and I think a uniform restriction down the road.  If you want to know my opinion about the uniform restriction, look up my article called Dress For Success.  As for my opinion on the age limitations, check out the article called Age Appropriate.  THIS article is going to focus on skill restrictions, in general, that have been put in place.

People are understandably upset about the changes.  A lot of coaches and athletes have worked their butts off to master difficult tricks that they want to perform.  They want to stand out.  They want to shine.  What’s more, they want the competitive advantage that they have earned with the blood sweat and tears that they invested in training to progress to the point that they can execute the toughest cheerleading skills around.  After all of that hard work, the rule changes have taken that away from them, and they don’t think that is fair.

They are right.  IT IS NOT FAIR.

However, it is still the right thing to do.

Yes, I know I just said it wasn’t fair.  But it is still right.  It is the only solution to a serious problem.  The ends justify the means in this case.  And even though you might not be the cause of the problem (or at least you might not THINK you are), you have to pay the price for the greater good.  We need a safer environment in cheerleading.  The status quo was not an option.  And the coaches, the parents, and the event providers were not getting it done.  This is the result, and once again, it was absolutely the right thing to do.

Before you tune me out completely, let me explain with an example.  10 years ago, people who earned $40,000 a year were allowed to borrow $400,000 to buy a house that was only worth $250,000.  Whether or not you’re a financial expert, you can probably figure out this is an example of a “high risk” loan.  Banks were allowed to make as many of these loans as they wanted.  They were very profitable.  The problem is if the borrower couldn’t pay back the loan, the banks would lose money and the borrower would lose their house.  A lot of bank took a responsible approach to high risk loans.  They used honest appraisers to determine the value of the house.  They looked at the borrower’s future income, credit history, etc.  They limited themselves to only making so many of these loans so that if some of them went bad, the bank wouldn’t get hurt too much by it.  The problem is, most of the bank were not responsible.  They gave out billions of dollars to people who could never repay it, figuring they’d just take the houses back and still make a profit when they sell them.  But then housing priced crashed.  The banks couldn’t sell the houses.  The people couldn’t make the payments.  Before you know it, we have a global financial crisis.  Folks who worked their whole, honest lives saving to retire saw their home and investments lose all of their value overnight.  Folks started getting laid off.  People’s dreams and futures were crushed.  Let’s face it.  Life as we know it changes and may never be the same.

Now, banks aren’t allowed to loan money like that anymore.  Not just the banks that screwed it up.  None of the banks.  The rules had to change because too many people were taking advantage of the lack of rules.  Is it fair that the banks that did the right thing lose the chance to make a good profit on the occasional high risk loan?  No.  It is not fair.  But the chance that someone else might is just too great.  We can’t afford another financial melt down, so before it happens, the rules had to change for everyone.  To the “good” banks, thanks for being responsible, but you’re going to have to make your money another way.  By the way, the big banks that messed everything up got bailed out by the tax payers for the greater good.  That also wasn’t fair, but it looked like the only way out of that mess.

The rule changes in cheerleading are kind of like that.  Hey, there are lots of good coaches out there doing things the right way and teaching their kids the hardest skills around properly and safely.  Those programs should not be punished with the programs that have failed to be responsible.  But just like with the banks, you can’t make that distinction.  The rules had to change for everyone before cheerleading had a meltdown of injuries.  And if that happened, the changes that would have been made could have been much more drastic.

By they way, before you assume your program is one of the innocent ones, maybe you should think again.  Do cheerleaders in your program start working on standing tucks before they have perfect standing back handspring series?  Do bases base with arched backs but no one says anything because at least the stunts are still hitting?  Are there 10 or 20 kids in the gym that cross compete of multiple teams because it is easier and quicker to have a few kids doing all the flying than taking the time to instruct every flier on the team?  Are kids that should be on youth (by age and size) getting pulled up to juniors and even seniors so the team can do harder stunts?  Believe it or not, high school girls CAN base other high school girls.  It just means they have to be taught good technique instead of being given a flyer the size of a Barbie doll.

You might have double downs in your gym, and do them safely, but if your program does those things (listed above) and other similar things, your program is cutting corners.  That makes you part of the problem too.  Cutting corners contributes to the environment where we have teams believing they have to attempt crazy hard tricks to be remotely competitive, and if they aren’t competitive, their kids will go to another gym, and then what are they going to do?

We have an environment where cheating is accepted.  Hate to say it, but it is true.  There will be teams at Worlds with 20-something year old guys on the mat competing in the senior divisions.  You and I know this is going to happen.  In fact, some of the programs complaining about the rule  changes have every intention of cheating in this way.  Cutting corners.  Instead of teaching young kids, they hang onto the ones who should be moving on.  The programs that do this and the event providers who look the other way, you’re responsible for forcing these changes just as much as the coaches who push kids past progressions and put dangerous stunts on the mat.

So now that I’ve made everyone made, please just take a deep breath.  Now exhale.

It isn’t fair.  It is not.  But it was right.  It had to happen.  Cheerleading is going to go on.  And now, maybe, cheer programs will have to find more creative ways to stand out.  Maybe programs will have to focus on teaching the less experienced kids how to keep up instead of mostly focusing on teaching elite kids a standing double full.  Seriously, where are all of the complaints about that discrepancy?

This is the new environment, cheerleaders.  The rules have changed.  You are challenged in a new way.  And that is pretty exciting.  The real competitors inside you will see that.  You have to stop feeling like a victim and move forward.  This is going to make a better cheerleading for all of us in the future.  Find new ways to stand out.  To shine.  Move forward.  You can do it.

Hardest Standing Tumbling

July 18, 2011

I’ve had a lot of readers writing it to ask about standing tumbling.  The most common request is to hear about what tricks are the hardest and/or score the highest.  I can’t do anything the easy way (ask my wife), so rather than just talk about skills and scoresheets, I’m going to go on a little rant as well.  But I promise I will ALSO answer the two questions mentioned above.

I remember when standing fulls were first coming around in cheerleading.  There were only a small handful of people throwing them.  They were freakish athletes with huge vertical leaps and incredible body awareness.  Nowadays, a lot more cheerleaders are throwing “standing” fulls.  However, they aren’t really standing.  They are taking 3 or 4 running steps backwards (maybe more), pounding their feet into the spring floor, and letting their momentum and the springs throw them over into the skill.  Don’t get me wrong, this is an elite trick.  Not everyone can do this.  However, it is NOT a standing full and should not be given the same credit that someone should get for doing a true standing full.  In fact, if you take steps into it, it shouldn’t even be considered standing tumbling at all.

Before anyone starts to argue, here is an example to help explain why I have this opinion.  Consider front tucks.  The traditional (and easiest) way to perform a front tuck is to take a few running steps, perform some kind of a hurdle (overlift, underlift or Russian-my favorite), and perform the front tuck.  This is a running tumbling skill.  No one would disagree with that.  It is not uncommon to see a level 3 team throw about half-squad running front tucks (which to me is one of the best ways to max out level 3 running tumbling).  However, when someone performs a standing front tuck, that is a true showcase tumbling move.  You’ll put that single cheerleader out in front so the judges can’t miss it.  In fact, a true standing front tuck is so difficult most cheerleaders will actually perform a toe touch before it so they can bound into the front tuck and get a little momentum. 

I’ll throw you for a bit of a loop now.  A true standing front tuck is a heck of a lot harder than one of the backward running things people are passing off as standing fulls these days.  Don’t believe me?  Take any of the cheerleaders throwing the aforementioned “standing” fulls and ask them to try a standing front tuck.  The vast majority of them probably won’t even try it.  If they do, most will land right on their seat (that’s cheer talk for “butt”).  The one’s that make it to their feet will almost certainly fall back onto their bottom (another cheer word for “butt”).

So how is that for a news flash.  A standing front, which technically is legal as a level 4 skill, is vastly harder than a standing full, which is not legal until level 5.  As for what is THE hardest standing tumbling skill, it is hard to answer.  I once saw a true standing double full (with no steps back).  That was pretty hard.  Much harder than the long, complicated passes people perform from a standing position, because in those passes, you gain momentum as you go.  They basically turn into running tumbling.  So for now, my answer to what trick is hardest is a true standing double.

Now onto the point of what scores the best.  First, you have to consider whether or not an event differentiates between standing and running tumbling.  Most seem to do so.  And most seem to say if it doesn’t come out of a round-off (or some kind of forward running skill), it counts as “standing” tumbling.  As you might have noticed, I strongly disagree with that definition, but for now, I’m out-voted.  For purposed of this article, we’ll use the commonly accepted understanding of what qualifies as standing tumbling.

Generally, to get perfect scores in your standing tumbling, you need excel in 2 aspects.  You have to show off a high difficulty squad tumbling skill.  You ALSO have to demonstrate a handful of “specialty” or “elite” tumbling tricks.

The second category is the simplest to talk about, so we’ll knock that out first.  We’re talking about standing fulls, handspring-handspring fulls, handspring-full-punch front-roundoff-handspring-double full, etc.  This part of your choreography is kind of a no-brainer.  If you have any cheerleaders on your team with this level of tumbling, FIND A PLACE TO PUT IT!!!  I think having 1 cheerleader bust out this something truly memorable like this adds about a point to your overall tumbling.  If you can pull together 3 elite standing tumblers, you are practically guaranteed maxed out standing tumbling scores.  Throw more than that and they’ll be talking about your routine next year at Worlds.  So the point is, obviously, if you have elite standing tumbling, use it.  I told you it was a no-brainer.

As for the squad tumbling, what we’re usually talking about to get consideration for high scores is some form of back tuck.  It can be a standing tuck or a standing handspring tuck.  Either way, if about 80% to 90% of your team throws (and lands) them, you will be in the high range for level 4 or 5 teams.  By the way, the 20% to 10% that aren’t throwing them, the judges notice when you “fake” it.  It does hurt your score, but not as much as busting on your knees.  So fake it if you can’t land it, but keep trying to catch up with your team.

Anyway, if a team manages to actually have 100% participation in a tuck, that can max out scores, depending on the competition.  If that is the best tumbling all day at a certain event, you might max out.  But judges will still probably hold back on perfect 10’s. 

If you want to make sure you max out your standing tumbling, you really need to throw a jump combination right into a back tuck.  You can get away with faking 1 or 2 cheerleaders, but you need almost 100% team participation.  Full squad tripple toe touch back tucks is sort of the standard judges look for to give 10 out of 10 in standing tumbling.

I kind of ranted longer than I planned, so that made the explanation part of the blog a little thin.  Sorry about that.  But I really think standing tumbling choreography is less flexible than most other parts of the routine.  That is, in pyramids, you can make up for lower difficulty with complex, creative and visual elements.  In standing tumbling, you can’t choreograph what your team doesn’t have.  You can only get so creative with presentation of standing tumbling.  So the only sure-fire way to improve that part of your scoresheet is to get in the gym and practice those standing skills.


Question Authority

June 10, 2011

I’m a rule-follower.  I almost never question authority.  Don’t get me wrong, I check my receipt at the grocery to make sure my coupon rang up, and if it doesn’t, I point that out.  But for the most part, if an official tells me something is right, I tend to assume they know what they’re talking about and accept what they say.  This tendency of mine almost cost one of my teams (BIG TIME) at a large National Championship event. 

Here’s the quick back ground.  I was working as a tumbling instructor for a relatively new (3-year-old) high school cheerleading program.  The coach was a young lady who was a former all star student of mine.  Also, this was her first job as Head Coach and Advisor of a cheer program.  All of that being said, she asked me for advice quite a bit, and I was happy to give it to her.

Anyway, we were at Nationals.  In the preliminary round, we didn’t do so well.  We had a few tumbling touch downs and a stunt come down.  Our division was fairly tough, but I had seen a few other teams struggle as well.  According to the competition rules, at least 50% of the teams would advance to the semi-finals.  Based on our performance and the other teams that I saw, I figured it was going to be close.  I was right.

Now for some math.  There were 19 teams in the division.  Of those 19 teams, the top 4 were advanced straight to the finals, bi-passing the semi-finals.  Of the remaining 15 teams, 7 were selected to go on to the semi-finals.  We were ranked 8th, exactly 1 place shy of advancing.  By my math, the competition had advanced 11 teams out of 19, which is more than 50%, so I figured we were out of luck.

However, my young head coach could not accept that.  She said it just didn’t “feel right.”  Based on our team’s performance, she thought we “deserved” to make it out of the prelims.  Personally, I agreed that our routine was good enough to be finals-worthy.  However, being a judge, I know that judging can be highly subjective and sometimes people just have different opinions.  We re-added all of the numbers on our score sheets.  The math was right.  I didn’t think we could argue any of the specific scores we were given.  Again, I thought we were done.  But the coach wouldn’t let it go.  So she and I and the rest of our staff waited for 2 hours to speak to an official about the rankings.  Coach tried every appeal she could think of.  This guy was very nice and sympathetic, but he wasn’t budging.  He explained that he COULD have advanced us into semi’s, but he had to make a cut somewhere, and it just happened to be at 7.  He also explained that he cut it off there because there was a 4 point gap between 7th and 8th and only a 1 point gap between 8th and 9th.  Cutting at the largest score break is the industry standard, so again, I figured the issue was closed.

There was a little bit of crying.  Then we got on a bus and headed back to the hotel.  Me and staff were already talking about next year, tryouts and how we were going to definitely make it further.  The coach, on the other hand, was reading all of the fine print in the rule book.  By the way, she was doing this without any encouragement from the rest of us, who were all older and more experienced than she was.  In fact, we had each basically told her she was wasting her time.  And then, just as we were pulling into the hotel parking lot, she shouted out, “We should have advanced to semi’s!”

Coach explained that the rule book said at least 50% of the teams had to be advanced to the semi’s.  I said, “Yeah, and they did.  We had 19 in the division and 11 advanced.  That’s more than 50%.”  Coach replied, “Yeah, but only 7 advanced to semi’s.  The other 4 skipped semi’s and went all the way to finals.  And 7 is less than 50% of 19.  Even if you take out the 4 teams that went to finals and only count the division as 15 teams, 7 is still (barely) less than 50% of 15.”

This was brilliant.  She was absolutely right.  It might have been a loophole, but it was right there in the rule book, and I couldn’t think of a single argument against her.  We stayed on the bus and road back to the venue.

Once we got there, we waited another 2 hours to talk to the same official.  He was visibly unhappy to see us again.  I can’t say that I blamed him.  He was very busy running a major event.  Eventually, he sent someone else to talk to us.  We explained the math, just like I did a couple of paragraphs ago.  You could see her eyes light up when she understood the technicality that we brought up.  “I think you’re right.  I need to go check with someone.”  And she was gone.  About an hour later, and after several phone calls to the corporate office, she came back and told us they were advancing us and the 9th place team (because their score was so close to ours) into semi’s.  And there was much rejoicing!

Wrapping up the story, we competed the next day.  We performed much better, as did most teams in the division.  We moved up a couple of spots which felt pretty validating to the coaches and the team.  It was certainly a better feeling than we had when we thought we were out in the prelims.

Also, I want to give out some props to a couple of people for getting things right.  First, props to the competition officials.  Not only did they get it right, but they were very gracious about it.  They even thanked us and complimented us for “doing our job as coaches” and protecting our team’s interests.  We got in on a technicality, but how many times has a technicality (penalty for stepping on a sign or stepping out-of-bounds) cost a team a spot in semi’s.  It was nice to have a technicality work in our favor this time!  But mostly, a great big shout out to the coach who wouldn’t take no for an answer!  You trusted your feelings, you did the work and you got it fixed.

Make sure that when you take your teams to compete that you do what this coach did and study the rules back and forth.  It can really be the difference between ending your season on a high or a low note.

Easy to Judge = Higher Scores

June 9, 2011

Every competition is different and every judge is different so you have to take this advice with a grain of salt.  However, when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense.  Also, myself and every judge I’ve ever talked to feel this way, so maybe that says something.

Judging your routine has become a lot more objective than it used to be.  It wasn’t that long ago that judges had all the subjective discretion in the world to score the various categories on a score sheet.  One judge might feel like team Standing Tucks were a 10 out of 10.  Another judge might say that only gets 7 out of 10.  In a response to coaches’ demands for greater consistency, competitions have begun using “scoring grids.”  These grids spell out exactly what range you should score in for difficulty on each major category on the score sheet.  Usually the range only varies a couple of points, and where you score within that range is determined by execution, creativity, etc (which is where the subjectivity still fits in).  Long story short, a coach should be able to look at the grid and know almost exactly what score a routine should get.

That sounds like a great thing for judges, right?  After all, now judges don’t have to worry about coming up with their own scale for scoring.  Everything is spelled out for them.  However, this system has had one unfortunate side-effect. Since these grids are very “numbers-driven,” judges have to spend the majority of the routine trying to just count the skills they see until a team maxes out the category that judge is responsible for. 

I feel that this hurts teams that try to co-mingle several different elements in the same segment of the routine.  For instance, if you open with a basket toss, some standing tumbling, some running tumbling and maybe a stunt or two, this can be a very entertaining, dramatic start to your routine.  However, since you do not have 75% (or whatever % “the grid” asks for) of the team participating in any single category of the scoresheet, the judges for each category are now stuck waiting to see if will max out your category later in the routine.  In other words, instead of just sitting back and enjoying all of the creative, entertaining, difficult elements of your routine, they have to just focus on keeping a running tally in their head as to whether or not your team throws 15 more Toe Touch Backs to get the maximum Jump score.

You might be thinking, “That’s tough.  They are judges and that is their job.”  And you would be correct.  It is absolutely their job and they should get it right.  However, you have to understand that in the above scenario, a good judge is forced to either commit part of their concentration to remembering whatever number or cheerleaders participated in each element of that routine segment, OR they have to look down to their notes and write down what you just did so they don’t have to keep it in their head.  Either way, they are distracted from your performance.  If you are performing poorly, maybe that’s a good thing.  But since we all strive to perform well, you want the judges to be completely focused on your team’s every more so you can rack up as many points as possible.

So here is the solution.  Make it easy on the judges!  Especially in the toughest categories to keep track of, which are tumbling and stunts.

Here’s how you do that.  The first time you showcase your standing tumbling, make sure you are maxing out that score right then and there.  If you need 15 of your 20 girls throwing Tucks to max out, throw at least 15 on the spot.  Don’t throw 12 and have the other 8 girls in 2 stunt groups.  That puts your routine at 60% participation in standing tumbling and 40% participation in stunts.  Neither category has been maxed out and both the tumbling judge and the stunting judge are now busy doing math in their head instead of seeing how sharp your transition are and how clean your spacing is.  In other words, you are giving away points.

There is nothing a judge loves better than having their category maxed out in the first part of a routine.  There is nothing a judge hates more than the opposite.  Here is the worst case scenario for a tumbling judge.  In the opening, you have a small group (say 25% of the team) throw their standing tumbling.  That judge now has those numbers in their head.  Then, you do not put any other standing tumbling in the routine until the very end.  Throughout your performance, no matter how fun and enjoyable your performance is, that judge is stressed out worrying they might miss the other 75% of your standing tumbling.  They aren’t enjoying your performance and it is harder for them to give you high scores in the objective categories.

I tend to judge the Stunt category quite a bit.  I think it is because Stunts seem like a “guy” category to judge.  Anyway, to me, there is nothing better than a team going right into their elite stunt segment early in the routine and just maxing it out right there.  Once you have done that, I know that your range in stunts is between 8 and 10 and all I have to do now is watch your execution.  I am more relaxed.  I am noticing all of the little things you have choreographed that makes your routine special and memorable, and your scores are probably going up across the board.

I hope this makes some sense.  I think choreography is a very difficult task and I have much respect for those who do it and enjoy doing it.  When you choreograph your routines, try to keep the judges in mind.  The easier you make it on them, then probably, the easier they will make it on you at awards!

Know The Score Sheet – Tumbling

May 5, 2011

One of the biggest parent melt-downs I ever encountered as an all star coach/director was the year we started the season with absolutely no standing tumbling in our routine.  Okay, before you write me off as complete moron for making such an oversight, give me a second to explain.  First, I was not actively involved in the coaching of this particular team in the program (although that changed after the first competition).  Second, we hired outside choreographers who actually did put standing tumbling in the routine and the coach subsequently took it out of the routine.  So in my defense, I was as surprised as the judges when the team did not throw any standing tumbling. 

The score sheet at our first competition had 2 parts for the tumbling score; 10 points for running tumbling and 10 points for standing tumbling.  This team had quite a mix of tumbling.  There were probably around 10 advanced tumblers with fulls or better.  Half the team had standing tucks.  All but 2 or 3 at the most had at least standing handsprings.  We also had copious amounts of running tumbling in the routine.  So what wound up happening was we scored in the 9 range for running tumbling and a big donut (zero) for standing tumbling.  This imbalance in our choreography (not to mention our score sheet) killed us in our placement, dropping us behind several teams we should have finished better than.

There are a number of things that should have prevented us from having a routine without and standing tumbling (like common sense), but when it comes down to it, what would have definitely saved the day would have been us knowing our score sheet!

That episode was probably a decade ago, but as a judge, I still see lots of teams making the same mistake, as well as others, related to not playing to the score sheet.  Here are a few things you need to look out for when incorporating tumbling in your routine.

What tumbling skills are level appropriate for the division you are competing in.  This one tends to be in the forefront of most coaches minds as early as tryouts.  I have often heard coaches saying things like, “All the standing tucks will be on our Level 5 team and everyone else will go on the Level 3 team.”  So most coaches are already aware of this concept.  However, a lot of coaches don’t realize that a lot of score sheets give you no points for doing any skills that are available to the level below you.  In other words, a Level 4 team can throw 1,000 standing handsprings and get zero points because standing handsprings are legal in Level 3.  All of those handsprings do nothing to add to your score so you shouldn’t waste the time or energy.

Another important thing to know is what percentage of your team needs to perform your skills to max out your score.  Most events spell it all out for you.  For instance, they might say 75% of your team has to perform a skill to be in the high range for a tumbling category.  A simple example under that guideline would be a Level 3 team with 20 cheerleaders that has 15 of them throwing round off handspring tucks.  That trick is not allowed in Level 2 so it is level appropriate.  15 is 75% of 20, so they should score in the high range, unless execution of some other variable reduces the score.  Here is a key point.  Most companies do not care if 15 cheerleaders in the example above are 15 DIFFERENT cheerleaders.  That’s right.  Silly as it sounds, a team of 20 could have 1 cheerleader do the same pass 15 times and it would count at most events as 75% of the team.

I already talked about what happens if running and standing tumbling are separate numbers on the score sheet.  But you also have to know what is the definition of each.  That is especially true for lower Level teams.  For instance, is a standing roundoff running or standing?  If you take 2 steps backwards and throw a standing full, is that running or standing?  Check with your event provider.  They should have a glossary that includes definitions of both running and standing tumbling.

Make sure you know how tumbling connected to a jump is treated.  Some score sheets give you credit to both your tumbling and jump score for such combinations.  Some only give you the credit towards your jump score.  Some score sheets require tumbling connected to a jump to max out the JUMP score.  Make sure you know about this or you could be giving away points.

Finally, make sure you know the legalities and penalties related to tumbling for an event.  Can you land a skill on the white line around the floor or do you have to land inside the line?  What if you land inside and then step back past it?  Can you start your run on our outside of the line?  How many points is deducted for a hand down?  How about a knee?  If a skill lands on the knees does it count as a completed skill towards the 75% (or whatever % they ask for) to max out your score?

Tumbling is one of the hardest aspects of cheerleading so make sure you are using yours as efficiently as possible to rack up points on your scoresheet.

Scoring Well in Showmanship

April 21, 2011

This article is sort of a request from one of our loyal readers.  (Thank you loyal readers.  Without you I would just be talking to myself and supposedly that isn’t very healthy.)  The question that was asked had to do with choreography and whether or not choreographed bits of showmanship, like everyone whipping their hair, makes an impression on the judges.  Every situation is different, but here are my thoughts on the matter.

My first piece of advice for ANY judging question is that you need to know your score sheet back and forth.  Also, to the extent possible, know the judging system of your cheer event provider.  I can tell you that there is a huge difference from one company to the next as to how judges are instructed to judge.  No, I’m not saying scores are rigged.  I’ve been on a lot of panels through the years and NEVER been told to change a score that would affect team placement.  I have been told to raise a score of a last place team so they didn’t get beaten quite so bad.  I wasn’t entirely comfortable with that, but that is a post for another day.

One key thing for you to know is whether or not the competition uses category judging, and if so, what are the categories.  For those who do not know, category judging basically is where one judge is assigned the responsibility for scoring a particular part of the score sheet, such as jumps and tumbling, stunts and pyramids, motions and dance, etc.  If your event uses category judging AND choreography is one such category, it is quite possible that choreography is only considered by one judge.  That has the potential to really change the significance of that category.

But here is the bigger consideration for category judging.  Most event companies that use that system expect the judges to write as many helpful comments on the score sheet as possible.  They are expected to focus primarily on whatever categories they are assigned.  If there is only one judging panel and not much time between performances, the judges pretty much have to be writing comments DURING the performance.  What that means is that if you just hit your elite stunt sequence and set them out, if you are doing a choreographed salute or hair whip, there is a very good chance that the stunt judge has their head down writing a comment about the stunt you just did.  In fact, there is a very good chance the tumbling judge was writing comments about he tumbling because they knew they aren’t going to be missing much or any tumbling while you are in the elite stunt.  These are just examples but I’m sure you get the picture.

If you are going to include choreographed displays of showmanship in your routine, be strategic about it.  The best place to use them is either right at the beginning of segment, like right before standing tumbling or a jump, or during or after a formation change.  These are the most likely times that you are going to have the full attention of every judge, especially if category judging is being used.

Personally, choreographed showmanship does not do all that much for me.  It doesn’t hurt so long as it is appropriate and not done in poor sportsmanship.  What makes a much bigger impression on me are the spontaneous displays of showmanship, such as a high-five, or someone yelling out encouragement to a teammate.  These kinds of things tell me the performers are having fun, and that makes the routine more fun to watch.  It also tells me that they are confident and strong in their routine.  If they were not, they would be busy counting or watching their teammates so they don’t run into each other.  Also, it tells me your team is very well conditioned because they have enough energy not only to perform your routine as it was choreographed but they have enough to give a little extra to the crowd and to their team.  I love this!

That’s a little bit about the very broad category of choreography and showmanship.  I will say just one more thing which is this, it’s not always what you do, but how you do it.  Do something the judges won’t forget.  In terms of choreography, that can be visual elements like ripples or level changes.  In terms of stunts it can be interesting entrances, transitions or dismounts.  In terms of showmanship, choreographed stuff is fine, but give the judges individualism and spontaneity too!