Gymnastics scoring made simple

Gymnastics scoring can be a mystery for spectators without a gymnastics background. In the early years of our our compulsory gymnastics journey, there were many times I couldn’t understand why my daughters scores were so different than her peers. She was doing well, and I was proud of her accomplishments regardless of the number of medals. However, I would have benefited from a guide to gymnastics scoring made simple. Here are some of the things I have learned along the way.

Who are the judges

To the untrained eye, and possibly the biased parent or fan, scores don’t always seem fair or consistent. While judges are human, I have had opportunity to learn about many of the coaches in our area. They come from all kinds of different ”day jobs”, but all share a love of quality gymnastics. Perhaps the judges that seem to score the hardest love it the most. They are passionate about seeing it done excellently.

As a parent volunteer, I have assisted judges that are art teachers, paralegals, nurses, dietitians, etc. Many have come from a background of doing, and or coaching gymnastics at one point or another. A few are gymnastics parents like myself that have come to love the sport through their kids. Judges are not getting rich sitting there, sometimes for several 12 hour days watching hundreds of girls. But they love gymnastics enough to have taken the time to learn, test, and maintain certification through USAG.

What gymnastics scoring is all about

For the compulsory USAG development program, there is very specific choreography for gymnasts to adhere to. Xcel and Optional gymnastics have more flexibility on the elements performed and choreography. However, all of the scoring is based on execution of skills, amplitude, precise body positions, poised movements, etc. While the same skills may be performed by different gymnasts, there are so many subtle qualities that make a difference.

The big (or not so big) fall

Falling off the beam is obvious. However, there have been some not so obvious “falls” I have learned about along the way. My daughter has demonstrated multiple creative ways of falling over the years. However, those have taught her lessons and made her more determined. Read my post here about why there are better things than first place.

Touching the hands down for balance (support, not just an accidental brush), accrues the same deduction (0.5) as a fall off the beam, or not sticking a landing and falling backwards. My daughter once randomly lost her balance on her basic splits on floor in level 3 and touched her hand down for balance. She also touched hands down on a dismount from bars to prevent falling forward when there were extra mats stacked too close. Not ”getting over” on a skill, like coming back down from a handstand that was intended to go into a forward roll or bridge also counts as a fall. The skill must be repeated to not deduct double the value of the skill. However, the deduction from the ”fall” remains even if repeated.

The part that has been most interesting as I have learned more about scoring and observed, is a precise, poised, and powerful routine with a fall can still score well. However, sometimes a routine that is less precise, poised and powerful, even without a fall, can score much lower.

Omitting a skill

As mentioned above with the ”fall” out of the handstand, omitting a skill deducts twice the value of the skill. Different skills are assigned different point values. However if the skill is partially completed, it may earn partial points. On beam in particular, if the feet completely miss the beam on the landing of a skill such as a cartwheel or back walkover, the skill is not complete. However, if at least one foot lands on the beam prior to a fall, the skill counts. There will be the deduction for the fall, and execution deduction, but the skill counts as completed. Athletes are generally instructed to check with their coach prior to remounting the apparatus to get clarification on repeating a skill, or continuing the routine without repeating the skill that resulted in a fall.

I have seen girls also completely omit skills due to mental block. Check out my post here for more on the mental blocks or fears that occur in gymnastics. Backwards tumbling has been a common fear I have seen crop up. On occasion girls will compete everything else and omit that skill completely. For example in level 4, if a girl cannot do the 2 back handsprings, and only competes the roundoff, the deduction would be 1.2 per each required back handspring, which has a value of 0.6.

“Up to” deductions

Judges are given a range of value to deduct for different execution criteria. For example, Biggs struggles hard with active flexibility. Bent legs for skills like leaps, split jumps, and her back walkover on beam in level 5 probably played a big factor in her scores. With long, lean legs, even a slight bend stands out. Deductions are also taken per skill. Little things can add up fast! Each of the 3 skills I listed for her on beam were likely deducted the full possible amount. Up to 3 tenths deduction for 3 skills for bent legs, plus up to another 2 tenths for inadequate split angle on each of those 3 skill, plus additional deductions for flexed feet. If the judges deducted the maximum amount for just those items on those 3 skills, it could equal the amount of 3 falls!


Besides shaping and form, amplitude is a factor for gymnastics scoring as well. ”Go big or go home”, kinda fits. A jump, leap, or flip that demonstrates power and height will score better than the same skill that just demonstrates minimum requirements. If excellent form is maintained, a cast on bars that exceeds height requirement will score better than a cast that is questionable on meeting requirement.

The items in this post are by no means a comprehensive explanation of scoring. However, if you are a nerd such as myself, it will hopefully give you a little better understanding of the things that impact the numbers.

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