An Open Letter to the FIG on Scoring Changes

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For the past weeks, since Bruno Grandi’s open letter to the gymnastics community, we have solicited and researched suggestions, researched old articles and researched current reputable gymnastics blogs about revising the problems in the International gymnastics scoring system. We have solicited and researched advice from coaches, gymnasts and spectators. We wish to present you with the results of that research for your consideration in changing the gymnastics scoring system and related rules.

10.0 Is A Perfect Scoring System

First and foremost, is a return to the 10.0 gymnastics brand scoring system. Regardless of whatever other changes are made to the rules system, they can be mathematically fit into a 10.0 scoring system. This can either be done by simplifying the system or by programming the computer scoring systems to convert any scoring protocols to fit in the displayed up to 10.0 score. To not fix this is to let a colossal gymnastics brand marketing symbol be wasted and to ignore the advantages of a simplified scoring system for young gymnasts and spectators. The feedback on this is virtually unanimous that gymnasts, coaches and spectators want to return to a 10.0 scoring system of some type.

Need Spectator Oriented Scoring System

Design a TV and crowd friendly scoring system. Gymnastics has been bypassed by other sports, which now generate incredible amounts of TV money for sports that did not even exist 25 years ago. TV money can help fund better coaching, improved safety, increased public awareness, more spectator excitement and more revenue for federations, gyms, coaches and eventually (after competing as an amateur) even gymnasts. Money is not the sole goal. Improving the sport for the participants is the goal.

Scoring System with Running Totals

Develop a scoring system that lets spectators know what is going on in the meet while the meet is going on. Is there another sport where spectators have to wait until the end of the competition to understand who has won? For spectator interest, they want to know what the current status of the competition is as the meet is happening. That adds to spectator interest and understanding of the sport. Lack of that may be an important part of why spectators and TV pretty much ignore the sport, except for once every four years.

Scoring System where a 10.0 Perfect Score is Possible

Develop a scoring system where it is possible (happens occasionally in meets) to score a “perfect 10.” We have talked to many spectators who have been at competitions from beginner Compulsory competitions to International meets that could not stop talking about the excitement generated in the crowd when a gymnast scored a “perfect 10.” No one wants multiple ties for first place with too many gymnasts scoring a 10.0, but the sport loses a lot without that happening from time to time. Those gymnasts we have talked with, who have received “perfect 10” say it is a highly memorable peak experience for their gymnastics career, and as such, we should preserve the opportunity for gymnasts (and spectators) to experience this feeling.

Simplify So Gymnasts Can Develop Their Own Distinct Style

Simplify the rules so spectators and gymnasts can easily understand them and to have more opportunity to “create” their own gymnastics style, skills and combinations. Even the typical gymnastics coach around the world, who does not have an Elite gymnast, does not understand the new rule system, much less the gymnasts and spectators. Simplify the scoring system.

Eliminate Combination and Connection Requirements

Delete the combinational requirements and connection requirements and rules that are making supposed optional routines look like they have mandatory, compulsory skill and dance requirements. Allow gymnasts and choreographers the freedom to take the sport in interesting and exciting new directions that the technical rules committee will never be able to imagine.

No More Marathon Routines – We Want Creativity and Originality

Simplify the scoring by reducing the number of skills “counted” for difficulty for both men and women to four or five. This cuts down on the “marathon” routines now being done and would again allow time for originality, artistry and creativity. Currently, gymnasts are so busy packing required difficulty into routines, that artistry and creativity have diminished.

Balance Difficulty And Artistry

Balance difficulty and artistry in the sport. Various committees, judges and rules have enforced leaning toward one or the other. Artistic gymnastics should require artistry, but gymnasts doing only simple skills, no matter how elegantly should not be automatically given preference over gymnasts performing new and exciting skill difficulty or vice versa. Artistic gymnastics is not a dance or rhythmic competition. But gymnasts, only doing big skills without any evidence of artistry, grace or elegance, should not avoid deduction for missing those integral aspects of the sport.

Difficulty Should = Artistry

The major difficulty of scoring the sport has to do with the balance between difficulty and artistry without favoring one over the other.  There have been trends, in which one or the other has been favored, at various times, but the scoring system should be designed to make them equal in value.  The balance should result in scoring where one of these things happens in the routine:
Difficulty = Artistry

  • High Difficulty with High Artistry = High Difficulty with High Artistry
  • High Difficulty with High Artistry is better than High Difficulty with Low Artistry
  • High Artistry with High Difficulty is better than High Artistry with Low Difficulty
  • High Difficulty with Low Artistry = Low Difficulty with High Artistry
  • Low Difficulty with High Artistry is better than Low Difficulty with Low Artistry
  • Low Artistry with Low Difficulty = Low Difficulty with Low Artistry

Small execution errors on currently rated E, F and G level difficulty skills should be matched by “bonus” points for doing more difficult skills.

Balance Difficulty And Combinations

The balance between Difficulty and Combinations must be equalized as well. Low level skill combinations may be considered for variety, originality and artistry, but the “Most Difficult Skill” must be better than any “Lower Difficulty Skill Combination”. A though G skills (or preferably a simplified difficulty system with less skill differentiation, or a more exact, but simpler difficulty rating, like a 1 though 10 difficulty system) need to be devised so the relationship between Difficulty and Combination can be quantified. For example, this would mean coaches and gymnasts could exactly calculate that a D+D combination was better than a single E level difficulty skill.

Perfection Is An Unreasonable Standard

While the concept of a “perfect 10” is, and should be, important to the sport for spectator interest and meet and individual gymnast’s experience, we should realize that no humans, including gymnasts, are perfect. There are a number of rules in the sport that have put incredible and increasing pressure on gymnast to be “perfect” and/or to do extraordinarily difficult skills perfectly. Examples are:

  • Switching to only one vault, instead of two
  • Decreasing the number of team members
  • Counting every score, instead of allowing teams to drop score(s)
  • Increasing the traditional deduction for falls and other deductions to the point where virtually no gymnast gets a 9.0 plus in execution
  • Taking away the traditional womens’ stick option of stepping back to a lunge.

Comebacks Make Gymnastics More Exciting

Perhaps this concept of perfection in gymnastics is something we still want to maintain, but only if the rule makers understand that in virtually no other sport, is it impossible to make a comeback after a mistake. Gymnastics puts incredible pressure on young gymnasts, with the weight of their country’s honor on them, to perform perfectly without any chance to make up for even minor mistakes. This is not to say that we approve of the current age restrictions on the sport, it is to say that the story of competition and sport is often one of making a comeback. Gymnastics should consider making more rules, like lower fall and handstand deductions, starting each Competition II and Competition III from zero, instead of carrying over scores, that make a comeback, at least possible, even if unlikely.

Emulate the Fairer T&T Twisting and Somersaulting Difficulty System

Gymnastics and tumbling skills can be easily classified and even quantified by number of somersaults, what position of somersault and the number of twists, just like is done in Tumbling and Trampoline. Dance skills could be similarly evaluated in terms of number of turns, and dance positions. Remove the political decisions from skill difficulty (like over-valuing front tumbling relative to back tumbling and over-valuing connected tumbling in relation to high difficult skills) by using a universally applied straightforward skill evaluation system, like T&T does.

Need a Logical, Somersault, Twist and position Based Scoring System

Going to a system where difficulty is determined by number of somersaults, what position of somersault and the number of twists can also help with the problem that currently exists where in one event (now vaulting) higher start values in relationship to the other events, makes the All-Around placement too dependent on that one event. The winner of vault, with scores now in the 16s, overshadows other event winners, because of lower overall event scoring. Which event dominates is evolving and changing, but there are always one or two events, that are now more important in competition than other events and by a significant enough margin to determine the all-around winner.

Include These Scoring Aspects Of Routines

There are qualities of gymnastics that have been mentioned that should be accounted for correctly and fairly in the scoring system. The list includes:

  • Difficulty
  • Artistry
  • Execution
  • Combination
  • Originality
  • Virtuosity
  • Risk
  • Amplitude
  • Grace
  • Elegance
  • Performance
  • Showmanship
  • Variety
  • Variety of Categories
  • Combinations
  • Highest Difficulty Skill(s)
  • When Difficulty is Performed
  • # of Difficult Skills

The point is to prioritize and balance those aspects of the sport to fit into a balanced 10.0 scoring system. The most logical method seems to first balance Difficulty and Artistry evenly in the Sport (5 points each).
Difficulty could include:

  • Highest Difficulty Skill(s)
  • # of Difficult Skills
  • Combination
  • When Difficulty is Performed
  • Risk

Artistry could include:

  • Execution
  • Originality
  • Virtuosity
  • Amplitude
  • Grace
  • Elegance
  • Performance
  • Showmanship
  • Variety
  • Variety of Categories

Stop Forcing Routine Choreography Into Boring Boxes

Simplify the scoring system, and stop forcing the routines to be filled with primarily only difficulty and no artistry, by not requiring too high a particular number of difficult skills to be counted.  Or don’t require any particular number of difficulty skills, but count them and reward a greater number of more difficult skills than fewer, but don’t mandate them. Connection deductions should be eliminated as anything but minor deductions to allow for more gymnast, coach and choreographer options.

Remove Ridiculous Precision

The use of three and four decimal score results is ridiculous. No one in the sport believes that human judging is capable of accurately and fairly discriminating between scores by thousandths of a point. Design the system to return to scores like 9.85, not 9.075 or worse, having even more decimal point numbers.  An Olympic gold medal decided by 0.012 points is not a credible judgement, either in reality or in the view of the spectators.

Clearly Define “Professional” Gymnastics

Clearly define what is paid, professional gymnastics and what is Olympic and world Championship gymnastics.  We all support raising and injecting more money into the sport to provide the kind of “professional” facilities, coaching, specialized training equipment, support staff that other sports enjoy and to improve the safety level for gymnasts.  But it is clearly understood when the USA Olympic Team is allowed to put professional NBA players on its Olympic basketball team and when it is not.  Clearly define “professional” for gymnastics.

Increase Team Size

We understand and agree with having a goal of allowing more countries and gymnasts to have success and medal. But continuing to reduce the number of team competitors has not done it. It has not expanded the number of countries winning in the team competition (and may never). But allowing more team gymnasts to compete, including more specialists, so smaller countries can pick and choose from more gymnasts for their team scores will also give more chance for them to qualify specialists to have a chance to win in individual events (this trend is already happening). Increase the number of gymnasts allowed on a team, not lower it, to allow more specialists to participate and qualify for individual event finals. This will be good for and allow more medals for non-gymnast super power countries.

Review Prohibited Skills

For safety, review the list of prohibited skills. But this prohibited skills process, that first devalued and then prohibited one-arm giants for women, but still allows twisting and rotational tumbling skills, where gymnasts are literally aiming at their heads (1 & 1/2 twisting and 1&1/2 somersaulting dive rolls skills) is not ideal. These dive roll skills are always potentially dangerous, especially for women, and are currently successfully used to avoid potential stuck landing error deductions.

Emphasize Swing and Style More Than Handstands on High Bar and Unevens

High bar and uneven bars are not P-bars and the current rules emphasize handstands more than swing. Lack of hitting handstand deductions are taken on skills that shouldn’t necessarily even hit a handstand and on other skills, like pirouetting skills, that don’t then allow gymnasts to develop a personal style, that will look better and swing better, than if the pirouette is done in a technically narrower handstand range. Cut back on the too high and undue influence of handstand deductions on bars and allow more variety for style.

Modify Schedule to Help Prevent Injury

Injury, during competitions and while preparing for competitions, was a frequent topic of conversation from those considering rule changes. In individual event competitions, after the previous days of intense high pressure from three competitions in a row, it is not uncommon to see gymnasts look less focused, make more errors and have more falls than on the previous days. Dropping Compulsory competitions helped this problem, but it is still difficult to peak for such a lot of competition in a short period of time. Scheduling changes should be considered for safety and better competitions.

Simplify Scoring To Increase Accuracy

Simplify scoring so judges can score more accurately. It seems that relatively few gymnasts or coaches have any objection to pre-announcing their difficulty skills, like is done on vault, if it will help in achieving better scoring.  Gymnasts should still be able to modify their routines and perform any skill, not just the listed skills, but this could help eliminate routine start value errors.

Alternate Event Judging Assignments for Fairness

To reduce subconscious judging bias, where judges subconsciously are remembering errors from the previous day to the next day’s competition, alternate event judging assignments in multi-day meets. Since research shows there is a definite order scoring bias, with the gymnast fourth up having a significant scoring advantage over the first gymnast up, it might be wise to institute a base score system with one to three gymnasts (who are not in the competition) performing first to establish the base score.  This would also perhaps allow some significant and beneficial opportunities for including more gymnasts from smaller countries.

Lower Age Restrictions

The best gymnasts in the world, ages 12 – 15, are not allowed to compete at World Championships and the Olympics. Competitions from numerous countries around the world have younger gymnasts, ages 12 – 15, beating all of the gymnasts of the current legal age of 16+. It is not just opinion, but science that defines gymnastics as an early maturer sport, where gymnasts peak in all of the relevant physical components of the sport by age 13. The very fact that younger gymnasts, ages 12 – 15, are winning big National and even International Invitational competitions shows they are capable of possessing the necessary psychological attributes as well.

Lower the Current Age Requirements, Since They are Unfair and You Obviously Can’t Enforce Them Anyway

The current age restrictions have been shown to be somewhat unenforceable, giving an advantage to some countries, who can more easily falsify age documents. Moreover, they have been and are currently unfair to some gymnasts just due to which year they are born, in relation to the Olympic cycle. Some of the greatest gymnasts in the history of the sport, including Nadia Comanechi, who literally popularized and grew the sport around the world, would not now be eligible to compete.

Olympic Gymnastics Participation Should Not Be Limited By What Year a Gymnast is Born

Right now, if a gymnast is 15 and too young, sometimes only by weeks, for the 2012 Olympics, and is off to college, with very little chance to qualify for their National Gymnastics Team (inferior coaching and lower skill requirements) or must go to work at age 18, they have missed their Olympic chance simply by virtue of their birth year.

Lower Age for Fairness

We know a gymnast to whom this happened and there must have been more than one gymnast, from around the world, who was the best gymnast in her country, but too young for the Olympics. Then would have been old enough for the Olympics, except that was the year the FIG raised the age to 16, and thus became ineligible again. And then was off to college or out of the sport and working by the time the next Olympics came around, thereby being unfairly made ineligible for two Olympics and never getting their chance to participate.

13 in the Year of the Olympics

To be age fair to gymnasts, we would suggest that a gymnast who “turns 13 in the year of the Olympics” would allow every gymnast a fair chance to participate at the peak of their own individual gymnastics career. Gymnasts who are “too young” either physically or mentally will never make it through their own National qualifying systems anyway. Older gymnasts would still have their chance to compete and younger gymnasts would have more chance to repeat victories.

The international gymnastics community wishes to thank the FIG committee and committee members who have allowed us to provide our input into the scoring system decision process.  We believe this is a positive step in improving the sport of gymnastics for all.


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2 Responses to “An Open Letter to the FIG on Scoring Changes”

  1. GymnasticsZone June 20, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

    Blythe Lawrence has a summary of some of the random opinions of gymnastics bloggers about changing/lowering the age for gymnasts to compete in International meets like the Olympics and World Championships, which is a topic I talk about at the end of this article.


  1. Full Twist » Blog Archive » Blog: Gymnastics Zone - June 23, 2011

    […] recent “open letter to the FIG on scoring changes” was a great read as was “Sports Hydration – A Young Athletes Guide” . […]

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