Competition Tips Straight from the Judges

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As choreography season spirals into overdrive, we’d like to supply you with a helpful list of routine pointers. We’ve consulted several judges from major national cheer and dance competition companies, and this is what we’ve found.

Things that excite and wow judges… also known as The “must have” list for competition routines:

  1. Cleanliness – Keep in mind when choreographing, a clean skill always beats a sloppy, more advanced skill. With that in mind, if you have an individual struggling with a double down cradle, make it a clean single. Don’t hesitate to bring difficulty down a notch when the skill cannot be completed safely and cleanly. Cleanliness makes it easier for a judge to see what is happening in front of them. When a routine is not clean, it often appears to be chaotic, making it difficult for a judge to award points appropriately for the skills completed because they can’t determine what the skills they actually saw.
  2. Energy and Spirit – This can make or break a routine. Cheerleading was created with spirit and excitement as core principles, and that has not changed. A routine should get the crowd and judges excited. There is nothing better than contagious energy. Be sure that your routine isn’t so draining that by the end the squad has no energy left. Our panel of judges commented that they often see teams who have crammed an incredible amount of skills into a routine but lack the ability to maintain the energy throughout the routine. In many cases, a routine with far less difficulty can beat the jam-packed routine simply because of the spirit and energy. Another tip is to practice like you’d perform it. Many cheerleaders feel silly giving facials during practice, but it develops muscle memory. So even when the adrenaline kicks in and the routine is moving a mile a minute, the performance aspect has become automatic through practice.
  3. Follow the Rules – This tip seems like a no-brainer, but our judges agreed that they almost always have at least one great team lose significant points because it has not followed all of the guidelines. There are general safety rules that every competition company provides, in addition to skill-level-specific rules. The penalty for not following these rules can range from fractions of a point to several points per occurrence. It is simply not worth the risk, so be sure to read and adhere to the up-to-date version of the rules and regulations for each competition you plan to attend.
  4. Sportsmanship – Judging is a biased job. There are guidelines in place to keep the scoring as impartial as possible, but in reality, a judge is being asked to render her opinion of the skills your team has produced. All this is to say that a judge can take all she has seen of your team and subconsciously factor that in when scoring in categories like overall performance. So be conscious of your team’s attitude and behavior on and off the competition mat. Sportsmanship is important. The last thing a judge wants to see is cheerleaders boo’ing or taunting other cheerleaders. Remind your team that they are being judged all day. The beauty of this is that it works both ways. Good sportsmanship can often yield rewards!

Things that make judges cringe… also known as the “no-no’s” for competition season:

  1. Inappropriate Uniforms – In today’s society, children are being forced to grow up way too fast in many aspects of life. There has recently been an overwhelming push by competition judges and competition companies to take that power back by enforcing appropriate dress rules and guidelines.  Be sure to carefully review the uniform guidelines for every competition company you plan to use throughout the year. Many have recently updated their policies. When asked, our panel of judges overwhelmingly replied that uniforms need to be age-appropriate, as well as appropriate for the body of every girl on the squad. So when deciding whether or not to put your peewee team in crop tops, keep that pointer in mind. There are hundreds of great uniform options that will wow the crowd and judges without baring it all. Check out the incredible options within the Cheerleading Company’s uniform collection. Also, if your team does use crop top uniforms or shorter skirts, make sure that everyone is comfortable in the uniform. It is far more distracting to see a girl pulling at her uniform throughout the routine than to see one member with a full length top or longer skirt.
  2. Inappropriate Movements & Gestures – Again, judges aren’t interested in watching young cheerleaders engaging in inappropriate dance. Our panel of judges specifically mentioned hip thrusts and other provocative gestures and movements as things that make them cringe. This is not to say senior level routines should be made up of these types of movements either, but keep age-appropriateness in mind at all levels. Secondly, judges don’t want to see bad sportsmanship or gestures made directly to other teams within your routine. That sends the message loud and clear that the coach of this squad has little regard for other competitors and/or sportsmanship.
  3. Music – There are several “no-no’s” when it comes to selecting the music for your routine, whether it be for spirit or competition purposes. As stressed in the last two points, keep age-appropriateness in mind. No, your pee-wee team doesn’t have to dance to Hannah Montana, but try to avoid suggestive lyrics. Additionally, avoid songs that provide your choreography for you. Songs such as the cha-cha slide, the cupid shuffle, and the hokey pokey all give verbal cues for movement. The judges want know if you can be creative and innovative, not if you can follow directions. The same goes for trendy songs that have dances associated with them, such as the dougie, the stanky leg, whip my hair, etc. It is almost impossible to have an entire squad do a dance of that nature and look like one cohesive unit. Remember that cleanliness is always a main goal.


This list isn’t fail proof, but it will certainly help you to create a routine that is sure to wow the crowd and reap rewards on the score sheets! Good luck and happy choreographing!

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