Don’t Judge the Judging: Do Something About It

The responsibility for creating a positive competition environment falls on the spectators, judges, and competitors.

Judging in fitness competitions is a strange game. As the scene grows, the demand both on and for judges grows. There’s some work to be done by us all. How can we help to drive the sport forward in a way that is positive for each other and the sport itself?

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These days, there are fitness competitions every weekend of the year, and each of them need judges. At the local throwdown level, everything is somewhat relaxed. I used to be super-strict and uptight as a judge at these things, but I get it a bit more now. When the aim is to meet up with like-minded friends and blow off some steam, it’s up to you how you do things.

But bear in mind that this is where athlete-judge relationships are formed, so a general vibe of respect towards judges goes a long way. In fact, a disagreement between an athlete and judge quickly sours the air at competitions like these, so it’s in everyone’s interests to create a home-grown, grassroots culture of respect

There’s probably something to be said for the way athletes speak to coaches, too. As a coach, you don’t have to get your class to shout “YES COACH” when you ask them a question or provide “motivational consequences” of burpees for every misdemeanor (though it’s worked for Coach Burgener). But helping athletes to understand respect in sporting situations is part of growing them as an athlete, especially those for whom this is their first competitive sport.

Event Organizers

Any organization that runs sporting competition has a responsibility to invest in judges. I don’t mean money, at least not necessarily. If you want your judges to be exemplars, then show them the respect that you want your athletes to show them. Look after them. At bigger competitions where more is at stake, set a budget for your judges just like you’d set a budget for everything else that ensures the event runs smoothly. That doesn’t mean a free t-shirt and some food when on duty. Go a step further and make sure they have enough time to eat the food. This usually means having enough judges to switch out and give breaks.

Do everything you can to make sure your judges are well rested. That means helping with accommodation, travel, or whatever else you can do to ensure they are focused on the task at hand. It means not getting them up at the crack of dawn to hold a judges briefing. It means proper live training, away from the event and the competition floor, where judges can feel comfortable enough to ask the stupid questions. If you can’t do that (or even if you can), maybe take them out for dinner. You want a united team right? Make them feel like one.

Your judges are your public face. Show the athletes that you care about their wellbeing and welfare, and I’ll be damned if athletes don’t treat them with more respect, too. If judges are treated as disposable by the event organizers, there to serve a purpose at the weekend only to be discarded straight afterwards until the same time next year, then they will also be treated as disposable by athletes.

Judges are the glue of the competition. [Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc.]


An athlete in any competition must understand that the judge’s decision is final. Not right or wrong, just final. There’s nothing you can say or do that will change a decision. It’s also the responsibility of the organizers to make sure that is true whether the decision was in favor of or against the athlete. Rules are rules are rules, no matter how they fall.

I have a tattoo on my back. It’s a quote from the Rudyard Kipling poem, If:

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same”

These two lines are inscribed across the wall of the players’ entrance to Centre Court at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, where the Wimbledon Championships are held. I suppose that’s a very British sentiment in a way: to be reserved when it comes to emotions. But I’m not talking about cultural differences here. I’m talking about being a good human. Whether judges are paid or unpaid, volunteers or not, is irrelevant to how they deserve to be treated.

I’ve found that the true champions, the folks truly at the top of the game, are humble and polite. I don’t think it’s a coincidence they are champions of their sport and of the people. Good people attract good people. And a focused, no B.S. team of good people is a recipe for success, sporting or otherwise. It’s always the “wannabes” who are ignorant and rude. Same in life.


Without you, nothing works. So it’s your responsibility to be as prepared as possible. Get an early night before competition day. If you want respect, don’t turn up stinking of stale booze from the night before. Make sure you have read and understand any materials presented to you beforehand. If you don’t have any, ask for them.

Listen and learn at the briefings. Ask the stupid questions before it’s too late. Each competition will have unique rules but the basics are simple and universal. If you’re unsure of yourself, it’s your responsibility to make that known to the organizers. Speak with your head judge. He or she will advise you. Call him or her over if you need to during the event. This is not a time or place to be shy. Take any disputes to your head judge. He or she has got your back. Be prepared to back up your decisions and focus on the facts.

You are the law. If you’ve done the prep work, then stand your ground. Stay focused on the task both on and off the competition floor. Don’t talk shit with your mates about the athletes on a break. You are impartial, and you must remain that way until the doors shut at the end of the weekend. Be professional, and you will be treated professionally.

Spectators and Ringside Coaches

This one is simple. Be respectful. You may be a coach, or a judge, or an athlete, or all of the above in another setting. But right here, right now, you are a spectator. Back up your athlete or team by all means, but show respect to the judges who helped your athlete. Because, that’s exactly what they did, no matter whether you deem their decisions “helpful” or not.

If you have a problem, take it up with the head judge or organizers, respectfully and in private. But understand these guys have a competition to run, and they need to make sure the rest of it runs smoothly. So accept what they have to say with grace and professionalism. You are an extension of the athlete you are supporting, and a guest of the competition. Behave like both. Represent yourself, your athlete, and your gym as you know you should. In almost every other sport there are consequences for spectators or coaches who cause trouble. If you do, you should expect the same.

We Can Do This

If we all understand what’s expected of us, and step up our game where necessary to deliver a consistent message to each other, and a consistent experience to the athletes, we can all enjoy the sport for what it is, and enjoy competitions for what they are – a chance for true champions of both the sport and the scene to shine.

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