Before the NCAA season begins, I promised to go into more depth about how NCAA routines are put together and how the judges arrive at their scores for those who want to understand it better. So here we are.
Composing a routine
- At minimum, an NCAA routine must include 3 A-valued elements, 3 B-valued elements, and 2 C-valued elements.
You don’t have to worry about this part. It’s very, very basic and every routine you see in NCAA will have met this standard without having to think about it too much, especially on floor with all those round-offs and back handsprings.
Gymnasts must also, however, fulfill a series of special composition requirements, each worth 0.2. On floor, those four requirements are
1 – One acrobatic combination, featuring 2 saltos. The 2 saltos can be directly connected to each other or done as part of an indirectly connected tumbling pass, but they must appear in the same series of acrobatic skills.
2 – Three different saltos within the exercise. Because most gymnasts perform three tumbling passes, one of which is a combination pass, the majority of gymnasts have four different saltos in their routines anyway. Done and done.
Some won’t have four, because they’re performing just two passes or because they are repeating a skill. That can be a jarring experience for watchers of elite, the option of repeating a skill once for credit, but overall gymnasts must show three separate saltos at some point in the routine.
3 – The final tumbling pass must end with a C element. This is another lie requirement because of an up-to-level deduction requiring either a D dismount or a C done in bonus combination, which ends up being the real requirement. You can’t just do a rando C.
It’s still not too much of a problem. This requirement is just there to prevent people from opening big, getting all their bonus, and then saying, “My last pass is a layout, suckasssss.”
4 – Passage of dance elements. This requirement will be familiar for elite watchers, as gymnasts must perform two dance elements either in direct connection or in an indirect passage connected by that rigor mortis prancing.
The difference between NCAA and elite in this regard is that we see many, many more gymnasts in NCAA opt for the direct connection of dance elements because, unlike in elite, they can get bonus for those dance connections.
Missing any one of these requirements is a 0.2 deduction from the start value. Any gymnast with a routine that includes 3 As, 3 Bs, and 2 Cs, and that fulfills the five requirements above will begin with a 9.50 start value.
From there, gymnasts attempt to get to a 10.0 start value by earning up to five tenths of bonus. Bonus is earned in two categories.
1) Skill value – Each D element earns 0.1 in bonus, and each E element earns 0.2.
2) Connection value – There are super tons of formulae through which gymnasts can receive connection bonus on beam.
Direct acrobatic connections
A+C = 0.1
A+A+C = 0.1
B+B = 0.1 (as long as the skills are different)
B+C = 0.2
A+D = 0.2
Indirect acrobatic connections
A+A+C = 0.1
A+D = 0.1
C+C = 0.2 (new for 2018, C+C used to earn 0.1)
Dance or mixed connections
B+D = 0.1
C+C = 0.1
D salto + A jump = 0.1
C+A+A (salto/dance/salto) = 0.1
C+D = 0.2
To earn the full five tenths of bonus, at least one tenth must come from each category (skill value and connection value), so gymnasts can’t load up exclusively on one category or another.
But, as long as you get your 5 tenths of bonus, and fulfill all the requirements above, you’ve got your 10.0 start!
There are several “up to level” compositional deductions that routines must avoid on floor.
1) The routine must include either one E element, or two D elements (one of which must be acrobatic). Otherwise, .10 off.
2) The combination pass must include at least one salto of C value. Otherwise, .10 off.
3) As mentioned above, the final pass must end with a D salto, or C salto in a combination that earns bonus. Otherwise, .10 off.
As on beam, routines must also include both forward and backward saltos, otherwise they are hit with a .10 composition deduction.
Floor also features a composition deduction if at least one of the tenths of bonus does not come from dance elements (leaps, jumps, or turns). So it can’t all be tumbling.
Most routines you see will include three tumbling passes. Gymnasts can do two, but there are special composition rules regarding routines that include only two passes. In two-pass routines, one of the passes must be at least a D salto, and the other pass must be either a D salto or garner 0.2 in CV. This is how NCAA prevents gymnasts from just filling up on dance elements.
Let’s go through an example routine, where I’ll point out exactly how it meets each of the composition and bonus topics outlined above.
1 – One combination pass, featuring 2 saltos. Natalie fulfills this requirement with her second pass, the front layout to front layout full.
2 – Three different saltos within the exercise. Natalie finishes fulfilling this requirement with the front layout full in her second pass, the third different salto.
3 – The final tumbling pass must end with a C element. Natalie finishes with a rudi, a D element.
4 – Passage of dance elements. Natalie directly connects a split leap full to popa, fulfilling this requirement.
1 – The routine must include either one E element, or two D elements (one of which must be acrobatic). Natalie’s opening pass, the front 2/1, is an E element.
2 – The combination pass must include at least one salto of C value. The front layout + front full is B+C
3 – The final pass must end with a D salto, or C salto in a combination that earns bonus. Once again, the final rudi is a D element.
Unlike most gymnasts, Natalie does not avoid the forward and backward composition deductions in her actual tumbling passes because she performs only forward tumbling, which is the reason for the addition of the mid-routine layout stepout. She needs some backward tumbling.
Natalie’s opening pass is a front 2/1, an E skill, earning 0.2 in bonus.
The next pass, the front layout + front 1/1, is a directly connected B+C pass, earning another 0.2 in bonus.
The leap combination of split leap full and popa is C+C, for 0.1 bonus.
The final pass is a rudi, a D skill that earns 0.1 in bonus.
So, Natalie is set—and then an extra tenth for luck—with 6 tenths of bonus in this routine.
Here are the major skill values you’ll want to know for floor.
Leaps and jumps
Split leap – A
Split leap/jump ½ – B
Split leap/jump full – C
Split leap/jump 1.5 – D
Switch leap – B
Switch ½ – C
Switch full – D
Switch side – C
Switch ring – C
Straddle jump/½ – B
Popa – C
L hop full – B
Wolf jump 1/1 – C
Front tuck – A
Front pike – A
Front layout – B
Front 1/1 – C
Rudi – D
Front 2/1 – E
Double front – E
Double Arabian – E
Back layout 1/1 – B
Back layout 1.5 – C
Back layout 2/1 – C
Back layout 2.5 – D
Back layout 3/1 – E
Double tuck – D
Double pike – D
Full-twisting double tuck – E
Full-twisting double pike – E
Double layout – E
Whip – A
Much can go wrong in a floor routine. In many seasons, floor has been the most difficult event on which to score a 10. This is less the case now (there were years recently when it was basically impossible to score 10 on floor), but there are still many areas of potential deduction. Areas that are even being taken some of the time!
As before, in this section I’m going to deviate from the letter of the code (deviate from = completely ignore) and instead discuss the actual reality of what’s getting taken from meet to meet from my perspective of piecing together where the judges must have found their deductions.
This is not an exhaustive account of deductions, but rather an overview of the main things to look out for. On floor, that means landing control, chest position, tumbling form, leap form, and leap finishing.
Unlike in elite, where gymnasts are expected to stick tumbling elements (“Because of……” he trailed off), NCAA gymnastics has retained the controlled step back on tumbling passes, which gymnasts are permitted to do without deduction. The very best passes will be ones in which the gymnast clearly could stick the pass if she wanted to but takes a intentional presentation step back as part of a controlled extension.
This whole situation does, however, open up a can of ambiguity as to what constitutes a controlled step versus an uncontrolled step that’s worthy of deduction. How do you, as a viewer, know what should be deducted?
The key is to watch the plant leg during the step back (meaning the leg that’s not stepping—the front leg on a backward landing, or the back leg on a forward landing). If that plant leg is remaining completely stationary, then it’s probably a controlled step and there’s no deduction. If that plant leg is sliding or stepping as well, then it’s not a controlled landing. The very common little slide back with that plant leg is going to be a .05.
Landing errors are more heavily deducted when gymnasts are discernibly bouncing or hopping back with both feet—if that plant leg is lifting off the ground and is pulled back by the momentum of the landing, if there’s significant traveling backward after hitting the ground. That’s when we get into the .10+ zone, depending on the size of the travel.
We also get into .10+ territory when a gymnast lands short of fully completing a skill and must take a step (even a small one), a step that’s the only thing standing between her and a fall. Then, the incomplete finishing of the skill is deducted as well as the landing step.
Keep incomplete finishing in mind on twisting skills as well. Gymnasts are supposed to finish twisting with the feet facing forward, the same direction as the head. If they aren’t fully around, or end up landing staggered, that can be deducted, though there is some leeway as to how far from complete is worthy of deduction.
The form in the air counts too. Sometimes. On double tuck or double pike skills, the legs are expected to be together without a cowboy or straddle or splay. On twisting skills, the legs and feet are also expected to be straight and together, with no crossing or helicoptering. Caveat: gymnasts can kind of get away with all of these errors, as long as they are small.
In regards to form, a significant point of separation between the best floor workers and everyone else arises in direct combination passes (typically the middle pass). Gymnasts are expected to truly lift into that second skill of the combo and rise up to at least the same amplitude as the first skill, ideally higher.
In many cases, that second skill is flat and doesn’t rise very far off the floor at all. Watch for this particularly in front layouts as the second element in a combo, when the gymnast often has to arch her body, sometimes significantly, to get her feet to the ground first. The body should stay completely straight throughout that skill, and when it doesn’t, it’s a deduction.
This also brings up the issue of amplitude of tumbling passes. There’s no hard-and-fast or specific height expectation to go by, but the idea is that the gymnasts are truly punching and rising up, not just out (those hips need to RISE), giving themselves enough height to complete the skill comfortably. The best way of evaluating whether a gymnast got enough amplitude on a pass is often through the chest position that ensues on landing.
On no topic are there more insider-gymnastics fights than about what the appropriate chest position on landings should be. Coach Rick loathes the way chest position is often interpreted in women’s gymnastics because it encourages biomechanically unsafe practices that don’t safely absorb landings.
Here are three examples of chest positions on landing. The first one I would call chest up, the second one I would call medium, and the third one I would call chest down. In NCAA, only the third one is going to be hit by the chest-position police with real-life deductions.
There aren’t a ton of deductions applied in NCAA, so when chest deductions are applied, it’s primarily happening in extreme cases along with other deductions, where the gymnast is also landing pretty short and the chest is below horizontal. Unbalanced knee-eater landings. That’s when gymnasts are losing real value.
Leaps and jumps
In the rush of tumbling passes, don’t forget about the dance elements, which are often the most-deducted parts of floor routines. If you every find yourself asking, “Those landings were all amazing! How did she get a 9.825?” the answer is probably going to be the dance elements.
As on beam, look for the full 180-degree angle in splits, legs fully extended and at minimum parallel with the floor, toes pointed and continuing the line made by the leg, otherwise small deductions will be taken. In general, the expectations are higher for hitting the actual positions on floor because…you get to do it on a floor, not on a beam. It makes it easier.
An extra little twist to evaluating dance elements on floor is the topic of finishing position, particularly an indistinct landing position. It’s not just about hitting the 180-degree mark in the air. It’s also about fully rotating any twisting that the skill entails.
Let’s take the ever-popular, over-performed switch side + popa combination (tangent: one of the easiest, best ways to spice up NCAA floor composition would be to make the switch side a B). Here, the switch side needs to display a distinct 1/4 turn, and the popa needs to display a distinct full turn, landing exactly where you would expect the gymnast to be after 1.25 total turns.
It can’t be a switch 1/3-ish, followed by a straddle 7/8s, that ultimately lands…somewhere? Each individual skill landing has to be crisp, defined, distinct, and correct.
Here’s an example using Kytra—for a routine that received 10s from some judges, so they clearly didn’t have a problem with it—where the straddle positions are fine but the landings are…where?
It’s closer to a switch side 1/2 to straddle 1/2, but it’s not really that either. It’s in between. It’s a switch side with an extra 1/3 of a twist, and then a straddle 3/4, ultimately rotating past where she should be landing for the intended skills. The landing position is supposed to be clear, neither under nor over, in order to show full control of the elements.
In NCAA, you’ll also see a number of switch rings performed on floor, and something to keep an eye on there (in addition to actually hitting the ring position) is whether the skill is performed in two parts, which would be bad. In a correct switch ring, the front leg hits split position at the same time the back leg hits ring position. Often, you’ll see gymnasts hit a split position with the front leg, but by the time the ring position is hit with the back leg, the front leg has already dropped to a 45-degree angle. That’s not the ideal execution of that skill.
And then there’s artistry. As on beam, up to three tenths of artistry deductions can be taken on floor in NCAA, in addition to missing-synchronization deductions of .05.
My feeling about artistry on floor, particularly in NCAA, is that there’s no accounting for taste, so there’s no deducting for taste. You can’t deduct a routine for artistry just because you don’t like it. To use an example I discussed a lot, I did not like Angi Cipra’s cellphone routine, but she committed to the theme with full effort and full dynamic performance, engaged the viewer, and warranted no artistry deductions, even though it was not my cup of tea. My cup of tea is irrelevant. For judging purposes. Then we come back here and drink it together.
You can, however, deduct a routine for artistry when presented with a lack of effort, lack of investment in a style or a character, posing, stalling, thinking that a smile alone counts as performance, elite dead face, or no intent to hit a beat. That’s where artistry deductions come in. But because NCAA gymnastics is so audience-engagement-based, we don’t see that as much as we do in elite. It happens, especially with new ones who aren’t used to it yet, but there is significant time and effort placed on performing something real, facially engaging with the material, and having a personality in NCAA (even if the routine is super stupid), and that isn’t worthy of artistry deductions.