Making sense of the scribbles on your score sheet.
by Michelle Richard for American Cheerleader

Another competition has ended and the moment of truth has arrived. Your cheerleading team huddles together and is all ears as your coach verbally spills the verdict of your two-and-a-half-minute performance. While certain comments from the judges' score sheets make total sense and even urge you to nudge your teammate in an "I told-you-so" sort of way, other remarks leave you completely confused and not knowing where your team went wrong.

To give you a better understanding of just what judges mean when they scrawl down things such as "Increase Team Ratio," here's a breakdown of the most frequent sayings and their cheerleader-friendly translations.

When judges say: "Work on making transitions seamless" or "Clean up transitions"
They really mean: When moving through your routine, judges want to be dazzled with each movement. They don't want to be able to figure out how you got from one skill to the next. You should just get there cleanly, with your arms at your side and without bumping into any teammates. If you can accomplish this, you'll notice your transition score improve, therefore helping your overall impression score and, thus, your entire score! These are "gimme" points. You don't have to do Level 5 skills to get a nine out of 10 in this category.

When judges say: "Work on timing," "Timing is off" and/or "Synchronize your skills"
They really mean: All of these comments mean the same thing: Your team isn't moving as a unit. Everyone should be performing each element at the same time. (Obviously ripples don't fall into this category.) Synchronization affects every skill you do, thus it affects your scores on timing, impression and overall performance. Your whole team may not have standing back tucks, but if you can make your team's standing back handsprings look like one unit, you'll impress the judges and increase your score.

When judges say: "Tighten up those motions," "Watch placement," and/or "Work on fundamentals"
They really mean: These criticisms are directed at the lack of clean, tight motions within a routine. When the emphasis is on more difficult tumbling skills or stunt dismounts, the basics of cheer can become undervalued when teams practice their routines. Initially, cheerleading didn't include back handspring fulls and double-twisting dismounts. Cheers and good motions were the fundamentals on which the sport was built. More and more teams have moved away from shouting a cheer in their routines as motion scores now come from those done in jumps, stunts, dances and other skills. Such motions need to be tight, sharp and in the proper position. Your arms should be sore if motions are done correctly. This may come as a shock, but the motion score is worth the same amount of points as the stunt and tumbling scores on the majority of score sheets. Poor motions are a pet peeve of many judges, so get in front of a mirror and start perfecting yours to help raise your team score.

When judges say: "Keep legs level in combination jumps," "Work on height," "Land with feet together," and/or "Keep chest up"
They really mean: When it comes to cheerleading jumps, there are a lot of suggestions that judges make to try and help your form. Some of the comments mean exactly what they say, such as, "Land with your feet together." Not doing so shows lack of execution and overall laziness. "Keep legs level in combination jumps," refers to the second and third jumps in combinations getting lower and lower with each jump. Did you know that doing a triple jump back handspring or back tuck won't increase your jump score any more than if you did just the triple jump by itself? While you're worrying about doing the tumbling skill, your jumps are getting sloppier and your jump score is dropping. "Keep your chest up," means bringing your legs to your chest instead of bending your chest down to your legs, helping to increase your jump height. Landing with your feet together helps give you a stronger base to jump again and keep those jumps higher. Increasing your flexibility will also improve your jump execution. These comments the judges write are not just critiques, but helpful suggestions to improve your score for next time.

When judges say: "Increase team ratio"
They really mean: This has become a popular comment with most scoring systems moving towards The Cheerleading Worlds and The U.S. Finals judging formats. In order to score in the appropriate level for your skills, your team needs to have half the team plus one other person performing that level skill. Sometimes you may not score within the level you thought because you didn't have team majority. For example, if you're a Level 2 team and there are 24 people on your squad, 13 people should be doing round-off back handsprings in running tumbling. If your team is doing this and still sees this comment, it could be because other teams in your division have met more than this requirement, and the only way for you to increase your score is to "increase team ratio."

Helpful Hints
Smart and simple ways to earn extra points with the judges at your next competition.
  • Make sure everyone lands their jumps with feet together and at the same time, even if it sacrifices the height of a few jumps. Many judges will look at the floor beneath the jumps to see if there's a synchronized landing.

  • If you're having difficulty with timing in dismounts, try having the group that's off dip one or two counts early to have the cradle perfectly timed. The early dip will go unnoticed, but the desired synchronized dismount will be rewarded.

  • Incorporate simple gymnastics elements (i.e., front/back walkovers, aerials) as transitional elements. Lower levels do this all the time and it adds another layer to the art of seamless transitions.