CrossFit Games

OPINION: Be Better Judges, You Owe That to the Athletes and Community

April 27, 2022 by
Photo Credit: Athlete's Eye Photography
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I’ve wanted to write this piece for awhile now, since as far back as 2017 when I first started judging at that year’s CrossFit Games Central Regionals in Nashville, TN. It was that event that made me fall in love with the sport of CrossFit, it led me to want to do more and to seek out more roles to help grow the sport. So forgive me if I get worked up as I discuss an issue that has been very prevalent this season: judging and standards.

As someone who has judged at three Games, three Regionals, and five different Sanctionals, spent two years as a video submission judge, and has taken the Online Judge’s Course every year since 2014, I take this subject very seriously. I consider every judge as a gatekeeper to the Games, and that pathway starts with the local affiliate judge. It’s that individual that this Op-Ed is directed towards.

It’s been no secret that people like Andrew Hiller and my coworker Brian Friend have been on the frontlines of making the community aware of the many issues that this year’s Games season has had. From the Open to the Age Group Quarterfinals, there has been controversy in every stage and though CrossFit has borne the brunt of the criticism, a majority of these issues could have been avoided before it ended up on Hiller’s YouTube channel.

It’s actually Hiller who I had this conversation with, and resulted in him making a video that addressed some of the judging issues. He suggested that I write something and so here I am, writing a story because of a dude who likens himself to the Batman of CrossFit.

Quite simply, judges… We have to do better!

How to be Better: 7 Tips for Quality Judging

I’ve never been the type of person to point out problems or shortcomings without offering solutions. So, here are seven tips for quality judging that I have learned over the years:

1. Take the Online Judge’s Course… Without Cheating

There are two common reactions to this: (1) Come on man, everybody does it, or… (2) people cheat!?!?

Yes, people do cheat when it comes to taking the annual Judge’s Course. They pay the $10 and for one reason or another, decide they do not have the 60 to 90 minutes to actually take the course as intended.

If you don’t have time to take and pass the course honestly, don’t take it. You are already doing everyone an injustice by taking an easy way out.

Cheating during the Judge’s Course will not help the athletes you will be judging; it will lead to them being called cheaters.

I know that some people ask a friend taking the test to write down the answers— I’ve been asked to do it. The Judge’s Course is designed to help you identify good and bad repetitions. It also shows you how some of the workouts might flow, which is important in the Open and subsequent online stages.

Cheating during the course is not helping the athletes you will be judging and that will in turn lead to them being called cheaters. So do yourself (and your buddy) a favor and don’t cheat.

2. Be Honest With Yourself: Can You Judge Without Bias?

Before you even start judging an athlete you need to ask yourself if you can judge the person’s movements without letting your personal feelings or connections cause you to give them reps. I’m of the belief that coaches, spouses and teammates should not be judging an athlete they are associated with at all. That would never happen at the Games, so why let it happen at your own affiliate.

Let a judge judge you, and let your coach coach you. Does that make sense? Basically, take that problem out of the equation by removing yourself if you have a personal relationship, or anything to gain, by that athlete’s success.

If you are too afraid to no-rep your buddy, remove yourself and find someone who isn’t. Athletes must be prepared to receive and adapt to no-reps in competition.

If you can’t do that then hand over the score sheet to someone that can and has taken the judges course. Judges at the Games often do have personal relationships with athletes, however they and the athlete know that once the clock starts that the relationship is over and they are either doing the work to the standards or not.

Photo Credit: Athlete’s Eye Photography

3. Know the Standards

Remember the whole shuttle run fiasco with Quarterfinal Workout 3? Hundreds of athletes worldwide were doing half-rep shuttle runs, presumably due to missing the scorecard note that down and back = one rep, not two. Well, that whole situation could have been avoided completely if each athlete’s judge read and understood the provided standards. A judge who knew the standards would have told his or her athlete that they need to go down and back to complete each shuttle run rep.

2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games Quarterfinals – Individuals – Scorecard Workout 3
Photo Credit: CrossFit LLC

Yes, I know the scorecards can be a little confusing but make sure you read it multiple times. Look over the examples and images that are a part of the scoresheet. If you’re a visual learner like me, I like to see an example before I dive right in.

Additionally watch the demonstration videos that Adrian Bozman and his team put together. No, the videos aren’t perfect, but they do give you an idea of what the flow of the workout will be. It also gives you a demonstration of the event before actually judging an athlete.

4. Plan an Athlete Demo Before the Workout

Communicate ahead of time with the athlete you’re judging to make sure he or she is not wearing dark clothing that could hinder your vision. Wearing a black shirt over black shorts is not acceptable. For a squat movement it will be hard for you to see if the hip crease is below the top of the knee in such clothing.

Before you start, go through the standards together and have the athlete do a few reps of each movement at their competition speed. This dry run gives you and the athlete the opportunity to get a feel of what the workout will actually look like.

While they are doing these practice reps, judge them according to the provided standards, and give immediate feedback. If they aren’t performing a movement to standard, for example not going low enough on a squat, give a short verbal cue (“lower,”) and keep saying it until you feel they are at a depth that satisfies your eye. You may decide to video record the athlete during this time (unofficially), so they can see what you’re looking for and adjust in the scored workout.

Before you start, go through the standards together. Have the athlete do a few reps at competition speed and provide immediate feedback.

Have a discussion with the athlete after the demo. Let them know what your expectations are, and how you will convey what you need them to do during the workout.

During the workout, keep cues short and clear; do not have a conversation with the athlete. Remember, you are also counting repetitions while this is happening.

5. Get in Position to See Full Range of Motion

Putting yourself in the right position to judge a movement is crucial. You will almost certainly need to move during the workout as the athlete transitions to different movements. This is another reason why a dry run is so important.

Tips for Positioning Yourself Best for Judging:

  • Never stand or sit directly in front of an athlete.
  • Try to find a position that is opposite the camera they are using (if they are recording it).
  • If you can, make sure you are within eye level of whatever point of performance you need to look at.
  • You shouldn’t have to go lower than taking a knee, or see higher than a pull-up bar to make sure a movement standard is met.
Photo Credit: Athlete’s Eye Photography

6. Have a Post-Workout Review with the Athlete

Take a moment after the workout, once the athlete catches their breath, to go over the workout. Share some things you saw that could help them. Conversely, ask for feedback on how you judged them. For example, were you counting loud enough? Were your cues short and easy to understand? Did you give clear hand signals to help direct them through the workout?

During this time, remind the athlete to review their video before submitting it. The athlete can also check to make sure the count was right and everything was done to standard before posting it on YouTube or Instagram for everyone to watch (and scrutinize).

7. Keep in Mind: You Represent Your Affiliate

When you’re judging, you are also representing the affiliate that you are associated with. This is important. Judges who are not holding athletes accountable this year are not only hurting the athlete, they are also hurting the community they belong to.

If someone’s first impression of an affiliate is a YouTube video showing an athlete at that affiliate moving poorly, not being corrected, and then keeping their score on the leaderboard, is that going to make them want to join or visit that gym? With affiliates all over the world and many options to choose from, the answer is likely no.

Even experienced judges make mistakes— I know I did. But the best way to avoid mistakes is practicing good judging habits.

Affiliate owners also have a part in this. Make sure the people judging are ones you approve. Just because they are a coach at your gym doesn’t mean they will make a good judge. Coaches, if you wouldn’t let an athlete get away with substandard reps in a class, then during the Open or Quarterfinals is not the time to start. Bottom line: It’s not a good look.

Photo Credit: Athlete’s Eye Photography

What Now?

It Starts With You

We can’t control what CrossFit does and what decisions they make at this point but we should not let it get to the point where they are forced to make some of these decisions when it comes to who moves onto the Games through the various stages in the season. The Games season starts at the affiliate level and we need to do better.

At the Organizational Level

I have confidence that CrossFit will make some changes next season, that’s just the optimist in me. I personally would love to see a video made for each workout, specifically for judges that gives them tips and the points of performance for each particular movement. More tools to make judges better.

Hiller brought up revoking judging privileges for those who are found not to uphold the standards. I like that idea but I think the affiliate owner should also be involved in the process as well. That judge represents their gym, let them decide if they should continue to do so as a judge. Judging isn’t as easy as counting reps so some consideration should be made. Turn this into a teaching lesson for all gym members.

For the Remainder of the 2022 Season

We have moved onto the Semifinals stages now, however for the Age Groups they will once again be asked to do an online competition to make it to the Games. So that means that judges will once again be under the microscope. Athletes’ dreams and what they have trained for will once again be on the line.

For those athletes competing at a live Semifinal, the judges they will have will for the most part be some of the most experienced the community has to offer. However that doesn’t mean they won’t make mistakes, I know I did. But the best way to avoid mistakes is practicing good habits like what I described above.

The bottom line: Don’t be afraid to no-rep your buddy. If you are, then remove yourself and let them find someone who isn’t, because once they get to in-person competitions they will not be given that luxury. Athletes need to be prepared to receive no-reps, and need practice learning to adapt in real time. Put responsibility back on the athlete by holding the standards. Now, let’s all do our part so Hiller will have to find something else to make videos about. 🦇

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