The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

WTF Is College Gymnastics Scoring – Beam (2023 Edition)

Start values and typical deductions for college gymnastics beam routines.

Before the NCAA season begins, it’s time for the now-annual venture into the murky world of NCAA scoring for those who might want to know a little more about what’s actually going on behind that bonkers 9.950 that just got thrown. Fair warning: you’ll be happier if you don’t.


Composing a routine

Routine requirements

  • At minimum, an NCAA routine must include 3 A-valued elements, 3 B-valued elements, and 2 C-valued elements.

That is a very basic standard that most college gymnasts are able to achieve comfortably. I give you permission not to worry about it. Gymnasts must also fulfill a series of special composition requirements, each worth 0.2. On beam, those five requirements are

1 – One acrobatic series. This means two acrobatic flight elements, directly connected, with at least one of the elements being C value or higher.

By far the most common acrobatic flight series you’ll see is the back handspring + layout stepout (loso) series.

While the concept of an acro series is designed to generate rebounding speed in one direction, a forward + backward series may also be used to fulfill this requirement, even though it’s not really an acrobatic series and in the best cases is still just two distinct elements somewhat near each other. Not that I have any thoughts about it or anything.

aerialbhs

Judges are supposed to deny credit when gymnasts make a meal of the pause between the two elements in a forward+backward series (especially when arm movement stops momentarily), but they’re typically tentative about doing this unless it’s super obvious because the 2-tenth penalty for not having an acro series is so comparatively harsh. When everyone in a meet is scoring over 9.8 on beam, a 2-tenth penalty basically feels like awarding a fall, and judges are unwilling to do that in the case of what is a relatively minor hesitation in the grand scheme.

The dismount cannot be part of this acrobatic series if it’s going to fulfill the requirement. The series must finish on the beam. It does not have to start on the beam, though, so a mount series counts.

2 – One dance OR dance/acro combination.

Typically, this requirement is fulfilled by a combination of two dance elements, like a switch split + split jump.

Whether gymnasts get credit for connecting this series is something else to watch with bated breath in evaluating beam scores. Everyone is one balance check between dance elements away from starting from 9.8 because they broke the combination. This is why every gymnast will have a backup plan for dance elements—typically something like an extra beat jump that they know they can throw in after their intended dance combo if there’s some question as to whether it will get credit.

Yeah, beat jumps count. While one skill in a dance + dance combination must be a C, there is no requirement for the difficulty of the other skill. That means you will see some gymnasts tack on fairly simple elements to meet the requirement.

A dance/acro series can also fulfill this requirement (the dance skill in the pair still has to be a C), though the majority of gymnasts don’t go that direction.

3 – One dance element showing 180-degree split. This goes hand-in-hand with #2, as most gymnasts will get this out of the way as one of the elements in their dance combination.

Judges always award credit for this requirement as long as a gymnast attempts a skill showing a 180-degree split, even if that same judge is also taking a deduction for not hitting the full 180-degree position in that very same split. This is an inherent contradiction that we’ve all decided to live with.

The 180-degree element need not be a traditional split leap/jump (i.e., it can be a straddle jump or a sissone, anything that’s supposed to show 180 on some plane).

4 – A full turn. Pretty simple. Nearly everyone will do the basic full turn with no embellishments because it’s the least risky. Only the most confident turners will try to do an L turn or some such since there’s no difficulty standard for the turn.

CHANGE FOR 2023

5 – Minimum C dismount.

This requirement has changed for the 2023 season. Gymnasts used to be able to perform a C dismount OR a B dismount directly connected out of a D acrobatic skill, like in the formerly popular side aerial + layout 1/1 combo.

Now, that series no longer fulfills the dismount requirement and gymnasts must perform a C dismount (i.e., the layout 1.5, the layout 2/1, the gainer full off the side) or greater (the double tuck, the double pike).

Missing any one of these five requirements results in 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 9.40 start value.


Bonus

From that 9.40, gymnasts attempt to get to a 10.0 start value by earning up to six 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 many methods through which gymnasts can receive connection bonus on beam. Many.

Acrobatic connections
B+D = 0.2 (dismount combos not eligible)
C+C = 0.2 (dismount combos not eligible)
B+B+C = 0.1 (dismount combos eligible as long as dismount is C)
B+C+C = 0.2 (dismount combos eligible as long as dismount is C)
B+B+D = 0.2 (dismount combos eligible as long as dismount is D)
B acro + C dismount = 0.1

Dance/mixed connections (dismount combos only eligible in final instance)
A+D = 0.1
B+C = 0.1
B+D = 0.2
C+C = 0.2
C dance + C dismount = 0.1

Turn connections
A+C = 0.1

Series bonus (dismount combos not eligible)
B+B+C = 0.1 series bonus in addition to acrobatic connection value bonus

To earn the full six 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 6 tenths of bonus, and fulfill all the requirements above, you’ve got your 10.0 start!

Layout stepout and front aerial exceptions

Because of incessant complaining from people like me, the back handspring + layout stepout series and the front aerial + back handspring series are not allowed to earn connection bonus, even though B+D combinations otherwise receive +0.2. Gymnasts still get the 0.1 skill bonus for the layout stepout or front aerial, but no combination value.


Composition Deductions

The “up-to-level” composition deduction is not quite as big a deal on beam, but there is one key point to it. If a gymnast does not earn any connection bonus from her acrobatic flight series (i.e., she’s performing a back handspring + layout stepout or front aerial + back handspring), she must include another D acro (or E dance) element somewhere else in the routine or as the mount or dismount to show sufficient risk, otherwise it will receive a .10 deduction.

Routines must also include a backward acrobatic element and a forward/sideward acrobatic element at some point. Miss either, and lose .10. This tends to become an issue for gymnasts who have Ol’ Dead Back and can’t do back handsprings anymore.


Example

Now lets go through a example, Suni Lee’s “easy version” routine, to see how that still fulfills all the requirements and starts from a 10.0.

Special requirements

1 – One acrobatic series – In this version of her routine, Lee performs a front aerial to back handspring, so while it doesn’t receive any connection bonus, it does fulfill the series requirement.

2 – A combination of dance elements or dance/acro elements – Lee performs a switch split connected to a switch split with 1/2 turn and receives combination credit because she continues moving between the two elements.

3 – 180-degree split – That first switch split in the dance combination reaches 180 degrees (like actually!) and fulfills this requirement.

4 – Full turn – Lee opens with a single wolf turn following her mount, which meets this requirement.

5 – Minimum C dismount – Lee performs the gainer full dismount from the side of the beam, which is a C element.

Composition deductions

Because Lee performs the aerial + back handspring as her acrobatic series in this routine, she would be at risk for an up-to-level deduction since that series does not receive any connection bonus. That is why she must also include the switch leap 1/2, which is an E-value dance element in college, and therefore fulfills the up-to-level need.

She also fulfills the forward/sideward and backward acrobatic expectations with that front aerial (forward/sideward) in her combination and the back handspring right afterward (backward)

Bonus

Lee’s first bonus in this routine comes from the front aerial. While the combination into the back handspring doesn’t get any bonus, the front aerial still gets 0.1 for being a D element.

Next is the big point-getter, the dance combination of switch split to switch split 1/2. As an E element, the switch 1/2 gets 0.2 in bonus by itself, then in combination with the switch split, Lee earns another 0.2 in connection bonus, getting 0.4 for that series and bringing her up to a total of 0.5.

Finally, the back handspring connected into the C-valued gainer full dismount receives another tenth of connection bonus, bringing Lee up to the 0.6 of bonus she needs to add to her 9.4 base score to start from a 10.0.


Skill values

Here are the major skill values you’ll want to know for beam. Note: Links go to the elite skill database, and some elite skill values are different from college.

Leap and jumps

Split leap – A
Sissone – A
Split jump – B
Split leap/jump ¼ – B
Split leap/jump ½ – C
Split jump ¾ – D
Split jump full – E
Straddle jump – B
Straddle ¼ – C
Straddle ½/¾ – D
Switch leap – C
Switch leap ½ – E
Switch side – D
Switch ring – E
Sheep jump – D
Hitch kick – A
Beat jump – A

Turns

Full turn – A
1.5 turn – B
Double turn – E
L turn – C
Y turn – C
Illusion turn – E
Wolf turn – B
Wolf turn double – E
Wolf turn triple – E

Acro

Back handspring – B
Roundoff – B
Back tuck – C
Back pike – C
Layout stepout – D
Layout, pike down to two feet – D
Layout to two feet – E
Front aerial – D
Side aerial – D
Kickover front – D
Front tuck – E
Side somi – D
Front pike – E
Onodi – E
Rulfova – E
Arabian – E
Back tuck full – E

Dismounts

Gainer pike (end of beam) – C
Gainer full (side) – C
Gainer 1.5 tucked or straight (side) – D
Front layout full – C
Back layout full – B
Back layout 1.5 – C
Back layout 2/1 – D CHANGE FOR 2023
Back layout 2.5 – E
Double tuck – E
Double pike – E
Double front – E
Double Arabian – E


Deductions

The most important thing you need to know about NCAA deductions is ‾\_(ツ)_/‾. Keep that in mind at all times.

Wobbles

Judges are given quite a bit of leeway in evaluating a movement to maintain balance, anywhere from .05 to .30 for each one, with the emphasis on the lower end of that range because of…NCAA scoring. That means there’s always quite a bit of controversy in terms of how strict the judges are actually being for these wobbles. Is it a .05 kind of wobble? A .10 kind of wobble? A .20 kind of wobble?

Small balance checks and barely perceptible leans and shoulder drops when landing skills are going to be .05 each. Wobble deductions get into the .10+ territory when a leg starts to move out away from the body, or when there is an arm wave to retain balance, or twisting to the side, which are individual little .05s that can add onto each other. Twisting to the side as part of the wobble is a real tell. That’s when you know it should be more than just .05.

If a leg flies up above horizontal on the wobble, that should be .10 in and of itself along with any other of the above wobble deductions that have occurred.

One of the greatest areas of…discussion…in beam deductions tends to concern wobbles with a break at the hips. If a gymnast has to bend slightly at the hips as part of the wobble, that can be as little as .05 (though probably added onto other .05 deductions like an arm wave), but for a true break at the hips where the gymnast has to bend over to horizontal, the judges are instructed that needs to be an outright .20, no question, no interpretation. The difference between a little bend and a break can be fuzzy and hip breaks are often evaluated very forgivingly.

The higher end of the .30 range for a single wobble tends to be reserved for only the very largest breaks, the Olympic-winning backstroke to somehow magically stay on the beam as the leg flies up into the ceiling six times.

Actually grasping the beam to maintain balance is a flat .30 deduction. That’s why you typically don’t see the full .30 deducted for a major wobble in which the gymnast avoids grabbing the beam (even if it is warranted, like with a bend at the hips way past horizontal) to give her some manner of reward for the fight.

As always, falls are .50.

While it is not a wobble, gymnasts can also get docked .10 for a concentration pause that is longer than two seconds before performing a skill. To me, that’s one of those deductions that exists in theory but isn’t really being taken every time it is warranted.

Leaps and jumps

Oh, split positions. The hill we’ll all die on. On elements requiring a split, which include not only switch splits and split jumps, but also the sissone and straddle elements like the switch side, gymnasts are expected to reach the full 180-degree angle in split, legs fully extended and parallel with the beam (at minimum), with toes pointed and continuing the line made by the leg.

Judges have the purview of taking up to .20 for an error in lack of split, though we mostly see .05 being taken for each split error unless it’s RILLLLLL bad. Missing the 180 position in either or both legs is a deduction. Watch the back leg in particular, which is the telltale leg.

Because gymnerds are the way we are, no deduction is deemed large enough for lack of split. We basically want to take full points for missing 180.

Judges should also be evaluating whether the knees are bent (bad) and whether the feet are pointed (good), and taking minor deductions accordingly, though the 180 position tends to be the main standard for NCAA deductions on split elements.

Those leg form deductions apply to all skills, not just dance skills, and the judges are looking for straight legs in elements like a back handspring and a layout stepout, as well as a front aerial (a bent knee on the lead leg of a front aerial is a common deduction), and are typically taking .05 for those soft knee moments.

Landings

The smallest landing deduction the judges can take is .05. This is supposed to be reserved for only the very smallest of movements, like when a gymnast allllmost sticks but her momentum forces that little scoot backward, or she has that tiny hop in place where the feet don’t even really come up but it’s also not a stick. A clear, actual step is supposed to be a .10 deduction, and if the step is larger than a yard, it’s supposed to be .20 for each step individually.

Other landing deductions also exist on beam in addition to the steps themselves, like lack of control. If a gymnast steps once and then does that little move where she turns around and kind of bounces and salutes and never really stops moving, that can be a .05 in addition to the step.

The direction of a step can also be significant. If you see a gymnast land and lunge sort of diagonally, going off to the side toward the corner of the mat, that can be an extra .05 in direction in addition to the lunge.

The issue of landing with the feet apart is also a major point of contention on beam. The alleged rule is that a landing with the feet wider than hip width will be deducted .10, while a landing with the feet hip width or closer will be deducted .05 if the gymnast does not click her heels together Dorothy-style, but will receive no deduction if the gymnast does go Full Dorothy. This is often ignored and honestly…it’s not my biggest pet peeve. Bringing the heels together is stupid. This is an area where gymnastics judging could make a nod toward safety by ignoring a lot of this because having the feet at hip width apart is the safer, better landing.

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