acro - acrobatic gymnastics - competition - gymnast - gymnastics - judging - skylark sports

What You Need to Know About Acro Scoring

Competition season has arrived and with any performance sport, it can be hard to know what the judges are looking for. To help you navigate the scoring system we’ve created this list of 5 things you need to know about how acro routines are judged.

Skylark Sports AcroSquad competes using the Acrobatic Gymnastics Australian Levels Program (ALP).  The ALP is a guidebook developed by Gymnastics Australia that outlines the compulsory skills gymnasts need to complete in their dynamic, balance and combo routines. Judges learn and are tested on sections of the ALP as part of their training. It’s safe to say there will always be a copy on the judging table at all competitions.

We don’t expect our gymnasts and parents to read the ALP - unless you’d like to become a coach or a judge. So we’ve made a list of the top 5 things you need to know about how acro routines are judged.

It’s all about the shapes.

One of the main things the gymnasts are judged on is their execution of skills. But how do judges know if gymnasts are executing skills correctly? Who’s to say that one gymnasts’ straddle or backflip is better than another?

To give our judges a point of reference, the ALP contains drawings and descriptions that show the perfect model of a skill.

Here’s what a perfect straddle looks like in the ALP:

And here’s what it looks like in real life:

Deductions are given depending on how far the gymnasts' shape deviates from the perfect model. These deductions range from 0.1 to 1. Most judges have come from coaching or competing acro, so they’re all familiar with the skills in the ALP. Another way judges build up a memory bank of the perfect model is by watching lots and lots of skills and routines either in the gym or on YouTube.

Using the perfect model as a reference point means that gymnasts who have mastered their technique are rewarded at competition.

Let’s see if you can find the perfect model in these two examples.

Which of these handstands do you think is the perfect model?

If you picked this handstand, congratulations!

Each of the other 3 handstands would have been given a deduction. Handstand #4 isn't too bad and would only get a minor deduction, handstands #1 and #3 are much further from the perfect model and would get bigger deductions.

Let's try with back handspring step-outs. Which of these two do you think shows the perfect model?

If you picked the first one, you got it!

Notice how the gymnast has her legs squeezed nice and straight, her shoulders are open throughout the skill and her core stays nice and tight. Because handsprings are a faster skill, it can be trickier to catch the breaks in shape. That's why judges watch lots and lots and lots of skills and routines. Their eagle eyes are trained to notice these finer details AND watch multiple gymnasts at once.

Time faults.

To get full marks for balance skills, gymnasts need to show that they can hold the skill, completely still for a set amount of time. For group skills, the gymnasts have to hold the skill completely still for 3 seconds. For individual balance skills, the gymnasts only have to hold for 2 seconds.

Here’s where it gets tricky, if the gymnast wobbles or moves, they need to start counting all over again for the skill to count. One of the judges on the panel is responsible for timing every balance skill. We teach our gymnasts to count slowly like a judge would and not rush their skills. Gymnasts get deducted 0.3 for every second short they hold the skill. For example, if the gymnasts only hold their handstand in hands for 1 second, they will get a 0.6 deduction.

Here's what a 3 second hold looks like.


Gymnasts at level 3A and above are judged on their artistry. Artistry is basically judging how seamlessly the skills form part of the overall routine and how well the gymnasts tell the routine 'story'. If you’ve ever gone to watch a Cirque show or a ballet, you’ll notice that the performers tell you a story and make you feel their emotions just through the movements of their body. It might seem like a ‘gut feel’ thing to judge on, but there are set criteria that the gymnasts are marked against.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • Are the gymnasts performing in time with the music and each other?
  • Do the gymnasts perform like they are connected to their other partner?
  • Execution of choreography. Are their movements strong and precise, or sloppy and weak?
  • Are the gymnasts projecting the emotion of the music?
  • Use of space. Did the gymnasts cover the whole floor in their routine?

Some sections of the artistry scorecard cover choreography, music and leotard selection. The coaches at Skylark Sports work really hard to get top marks in these sections, so all the gymnasts need to focus on is performing their routine the best they can.

Which of these moments do you think shows the best ‘artistry’

In these frames, the gymnasts in the second grid have the best artistry.

In the second grid the gymnasts show nice strong lines, they are in time and look confident in their movements. If we watched them live, you would see a definite difference between the two grids.

Height and flight.

This is a big one for dynamic routines. In order for the gymnasts to successfully (and safely) complete skills where the top is thrown, the skill needs to be high enough.

Height and flight are level dependent, judges don’t expect level 4 gymnasts to throw skills as high as level 10 gymnasts.

Take the example below of a toe pitch: the base needs to visibly throw the top so there’s flight. If the top only goes as high as she could jump on her own, the gymnasts will get a deduction.

This is what it looks like when the gymnasts complete the skill successfully.

...and here's what it looks like when they dont.

No matter what level, with dynamic skills, one of the main things the judges look at is whether the base completed the throw. This means that at the top of the throw, bases arms and legs should be straight. Notice how in the second picture, the base didn't straighten all the way before he released the top. For this throw to work, the top needs to have their body squeezed tightly. It's impossible to get good height if the top has broken shapes and a floppy body.


The last thing you need to know about scoring is penalties.

These are deductions that can be taken for things like:

  • undergarments that can be seen outside the leotard
  • a scrunchie falling out
  • getting a wedgie
  • picking a wedgie
  • more than 30cm height difference between the partners
  • stepping outside the lines
  • not attempting or not completing a required skill
  • falling in a skill
  • finishing after the music

These penalties have varying amounts from 0.1-1.0 and are taken off the overall score of the routine. If you’re at a competition where scores are displayed, these will pop up in the red ‘Pen’ section of the scorecard.

A great way learn what a ‘great routine’ looks like, is to watch lots of routines. Watch some YouTube routines with your gymnast or stay to watch older groups once your competition is done for the day. There’s a lot gymnasts can learn just from watching. Hopefully we’ve made judging a little easier to understand.

If there are any other things you’d like to know about scoring, just ask. We’re always happy to help out 😊.

Written by

Jasmin Meaker

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