Updated: Apr 1, 2019
by Marie Jenkinson
PHOTO CREDIT: Future Cheer Ltd
This piece was written by Marie Jenkinson, who has worked as a judge for 15 years in the USA and internationally. Even though this article speaks specifically to the Varsity Unified Scoring System (used by Legacy Cheer and Dance and Jamfest Europe in the UK, The principles can be used for every competition you attend, by adapting to the Event Provider's scoresheet. Here are Marie's Top 10 Tips on how to MAXIMISE the system and get all of those magical .10’s onto your score sheets.
1) KNOW YOUR SCORE SHEET / SCORING SYSTEM
This applies to ANY competition you plan on attending.
Common Mistake: An overwhelming number of coaches that get angry, confused and disappointed about scores or rankings, have not researched the scoring system they just competed on. Those emotions are then deflected to the EP with accusations of being “shady” or “unfair” when ultimately, the responsibility of following the rules and setting teams up for success rests on your shoulders. That type of personal stress as a coach isn’t worth it and won't get you the scores back on your sheets.
Strategy: Plan the season a year in advance and shaped routines to fit with the Nationals event my teams will attend.
If you don’t choreograph strategically to fit the system, you are throwing points away that cannot be gained back by simply hitting clean. Before you click on the word “Register” make sure you understand and agree with the system you are giving your precious $$ to. Any good EP makes their score sheets and rubrics available to you before you register (usually on their website). Make use of this feature and you won’t regret it!
2) DON’T BREAK THE RULES
Out of Division Infractions, timing violations, swear words in music and other General EP Rules (on any scoring system) are 100% guaranteed to be the biggest quantifiable drain on your overall score (aside from not meeting minimum difficulty requirements).
Common Mistake: Many coaches struggle to understand the rules. If this is you, you are not alone. However, the rules are laid out in a way that progresses level to level. If you only compete Level 2, you should know the Level 2 and a general knowledge Level 1 Rules.
Strategy: A massively overlooked part of the USASF Rules are the Glossary, General Rules, Page 53 of the 2015-2016 Rules and any Rules Updates the USASF has released during the season as these can have an effect on the legality of specific skills. What’s Page 53? An image defining stunt heights that is SUPER USEFUL in understanding legality of skills. All of this can be found in it’s most current form via the Safety tab at www.usasf.net. When in doubt, get it checked out! Legality queries can be sent to the USASF directly or usually to the EP you are registered to compete with. I would avoid tapping into the general pool of coaches online as only USASF or EP legality rulings will stand with you at an event. And most EP’s will not accept another EP’s ruling, so bear that in mind.
It’s here that we are diving specifically into the Unified Scoring System.
Common Mistake: Failure to understand your “MOST of the team. The Building Rubric shows you how many stunt groups you need to hit Majority, Most and Full Team. For instance, a team with 15 athletes needs 2 groups to qualify as MOST. If you then look at Stunt Difficulty, to hit the High Range and be guaranteed a 4.0 minimum score, 2 groups need to perform 4 different level appropriate skills in stunt sections. Hitting that High Range for a Level 2 team can look like this: 1/2 twist up to prep, Bump up to Extension Cupie, 1/4 Twist Cradle, Barrel Roll. And if that is a team of 15 people, it can be performed with front spots and with only 2 of the stunt groups hitting.
Strategy: BUILDING TECHNIQUE: This is the area where Judges have the most influence on your score, so make it easy to score you as AVERAGE to ABOVE AVERAGE by ensuring your bases stay close, your load-in technique is clean and flyers hit motions and skills on a precise count. Dismounts are are place where many teams throw precious points away. The stunt is not finished until the flyer is on the floor. Train groups to catch and hold cradles and cleanly dish out their flyer. Retakes to Load-In position (Smoosh, Crunch, etc) should have feet together, bum high, weight through the arms and stop at gut level before dismounting the flyer to the floor. If a flyer doesn’t have a stretch, don’t put it in. Work on even flexibility on the skills you present rather than highlighting a lack of skill by doing something poorly.
What’s awesome about Structures? Not only are they great photo opps for your team, but they DON’T HAVE TO BE LEVEL APPROPRIATE (Level 1 structures can be used in a Level 2 pyramid).
Common Mistake: Some routines are over-packed with pyramid skills that the team cannot fully execute under the pressure of the mat, risking deduction points. Overpacking with difficulty and quantitiy is a risky strategy that often leaves coaches disappointed with the outcome on the mat.
Strategy: Every range specifies the need to hit 2 pyramid structures throughout the routine, but only specifies that a certain number of SKILLS are level appropriate during the pyramid section. This is a great opportunity to get creative and work with levels, movement and depth. Transitions to skills, skills at level height and dismounts quickly add up. Perform 4 Level appropriate skills and hit 2 structures and you are guaranteed a 4.0 minimum in the High Range.
5) STUNT QUANTITY
This system changed in the last few seasons and quite a few teams are still struggling with the concept.
Common Mistakes: Not understanding the new system. The old system used to be “get as many level appropriate skills in the air at the same time” and grab that instant 5.0. This meant we were all putting in “Lib Max” sections of single or dual based stunts and getting 50% of the team up in the air.. But now the system rewards full stunt groups performing what are called Elite Level Skills.
Strategy: Use your athletes efficiently and do something difficult and you will earn an instant score based on the number performed at the SAME TIME. Check out the Level Appropriate Skills Lists for Stunts. Stunt Quantity doesn’t have to be performed in it’s own section. You can choreograph your Elite Level Skill into your Main Stunt Section and it can help tick 2 boxes at the same time: Stunt Difficulty AND Stunt Quantity. This can save you time and energy in your routine.
This is an area similar to Stunt Quantity where teams are skipping out on easy points.
Common Mistakes: TOSSES for Levels 2 and above are similar to the Stunt Quantity scoring range in that they are “Instant Scores.” Baskets meeting the criteria either happened or they didn’t. Also, this season’s system was updated to NOT PENALISE for front spots and to reward FULL TEAM PARTICIPATION.
Strategy: Want to earn 5.0? A team of 15 athletes needs to throw 3 Level Appropriate Tosses at the same time (or in quick cannon) and an additional toss somewhere in the routine (Can be a lower level toss too!). BOOM.
7) TUMBLING TECHNIQUE & DIFFICULTY
The key to accurate tumbling scores is CLARITY. Judges cannot see all 9 panels front to back without moving their heads.
Common Mistakes: Tumbling breaks down into 2 categories and the key to being scored correctly here is knowing the difference between the 2. Standing Tumbling is from a static position and Running Tumbling is initiated by a step, hurdle or direction change. When group tumbling is very spaced out and/or has poor timing, skills get lost and technique is harder to see.
Strategy: Showcase your talent by putting your best tumbles where they can be seen without distractions of team members walking in front of them. Aim to have THE SAME TECHNIQUE for your entire team. Arms straight by ears (glue the fingers together too), pointed toes, straight legs and counts for hurdles, hands down, chest up and clean.
Clarity is also key- if someone who doesn’t know your routine can’t quickly identify your tumbles, rethink them. Spacing, tumble direction and even where the unused arm is held can work for and against you. Take a look at the Level Appropriate Skills Lists (I love the Level 1 Standing List) and make the most of your team skills. Never send 1 tumble across the floor, connect skills for higher difficulty.
8) JUMPS: Jumps are seemingly VERY overlooked at training for many teams.
Common Mistakes: If jump technique is poor it can have an effect on your Difficulty score as a jump may not be classed as advanced because the body position is incomplete. Athletes who are not rotating their hips could make what should be a Toe Touch turn into a Star Jump.
Strategy: Aim for uniformity in motions and then uniformity in leg placement. Aim for a High Technique Score in your jumps and take the hit consciously on your difficulty score. Or, look at your team numbers. A team of 15 needs 11 people to hit the “MOST” quantities. In theory those people whose brains just don’t let their feet leave the ground need not jump AT ALL and you can still MAX OUT jumps for a 5.0 and keep your Technique score high too.
9) HIT THE RANGE THEN AIM FOR 5.0
Hopefully at this point you can see how theoretically easy it is to hit the HIGH Difficulty ranges. This means that TONS of your competition will be scoring within tenths of a point of you, making any deductions or any variations to required content very influential to your final score and ranking.
Common Mistakes: You can think outside the box, but don’t reinvent the wheel. What this means is, use visually creative and appealing combinations of skills or play with arm motions, musicality and timing but don’t feel pressured into creating a new skill/technique in order to score high. Using efficient grips, solid technique and logical transitions are more likely to work out for you than that thing your Senior 3 Team has dubbed “The Black Death” that you all made up at your last open gym.
Strategy: It’s like a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Level 2 Stunts: 1/2 ups are allowed. Prep level Single leg skills are also allowed. A 1/2 up to prep Lib beats a 1/2 up to 2 foot prep. A half up switch up to prep Lib beats a 1/2 up to prep Lib. And NONE of those skills count as Elite. Looking at the hierarchy of difficulty in the variations of the same skill should tell you that one will outscore another. (To make it Elite, perform a 1/2 up extension prep OR add a tick tock to Stretch after hitting the Lib position). I’m going to mix metaphors here but bear with me.
10) ROUTINE COMPOSITION SECTION
The flow, movement and overall visuals of routine have a HUGE impact on your total score. How the skills are presented; sensical flow from skill to skill, minimal set downs of flyers, clean transitions to and from positions, spacing between skills - All of those things guide your Routine Composition scores.
Common Mistakes: How well does your routine flow from section to section? Are there clear breaks where the entire team scrambles to get to the next section? Athletes spaced out far from one another from panel 1 to panel 9 performing skills are difficult to assess for timing and technique. The judge has to take their eyes off of one side of the floor to see the other.
Strategy: Set up your best skills and choreo within eyesight of the judge. Without turning their heads from side to side they should be able to take in the visuals on the floor. Because the Building and Tumbling/Jumps score sheets are very prescriptive in the skills and quantities they require and because of skill "trends" (prone transitions for Level 1 or 1/2 twisting to cradle transitions for Level 2 this season) it's very likely teams will perform the SAME skills as you to hit difficulty. Reassess WHY any athlete NEEDS to cross the floor from jumps on panel 3 to panel 6 or 7 for standing tumbling. When transitions are more seamless and people aren't running and rushed to their next place, the overall flow of the routine is better. If you are finding that athletes are falling flat on their energy at certain points of the routine, a simple motion, set, or everyone shouting a count, lyric or voiceover from the music can help bring energy levels up and pull the team together. Doing the skills isn't all a team needs to do, they need to perform the routine. It's often these scores that will really set teams apart in the rankings.
Be prepared, be awesome. Good Luck and we hope to see you and your teams out there smashing it! - Marie Jenkinson