Ribbons and Judgement

We are coming to the end of The Princess’s first season of competitive gymnastics – and it’s been a tremendous learning experience. This whole past year has been one lesson after another for the whole family. Lessons aside, we’ve also gotten to see The Princess improve her strengths and skills by leaps and bounds (or rather, roundoffs and handsprings). Her dedication to practice means the living room is impromptu Handstand Land and when I watch her, I can see muscles she didn’t have before – her arms have this tone now – I watched her do chin ups at practice last week and was blown away that she was able to do them. I’m not even sure I can do them.

Along with practices in the gym and in the living room, there have been several meets so far this season. Each meet has been a completely different experience. At this level, the meets are deemed “fun meets” – each gymnast gets a ribbon for each event, though the ribbon color depends on how she was able to execute each routine. My daughter has received everything from a pink ribbon (the time she fell off the beam twice. I wasn’t at that meet. Correlation? Possibly – maybe my presence defies gravity for her) to blues.

At each meet, the set up is a little bit different – the judging is a little different.

As a parent, it’s confusing sometimes – especially when you’re not versed on the intricacies of gymnastics judging. How can your child get a blue ribbon at one meet, and then at another, perform that routine better than you’ve ever seen it… and it’s a red ribbon? How does that work?

This past weekend, The Princess had an evening meet. [As an aside, I’m not a fan of events for the kids that start in the evening. Everything about this meet was a little off… and the 6:30 start time stretched to 7…meaning the meet ended after 9. I think that’s too late for kids.] We’d already attended a meet at this gym before and so we had an idea of the lay of the land. Though things were running late, I really tried to hang on to my patience.

Her first routine of the evening was the balance beam. I nearly cried at how well she performed – legs straight, head up, arms extended just so. She held her balance. She didn’t fall. In short: It was phenomenal and it was the best I’ve ever seen her do.

Red ribbon.

Now, remember, I’ve seen her get a blue on beam before – so why was this, this routine that bettered all of the routines she had performed to date lower?

So, she went through the rest of the events – floor, vault, bars. Each time, I was boggled by her results. I guess I wasn’t the only one.

In the midst of The Princess’s team doing their vaults, a set of parents approached the judge. These are the parents of a girl on my daughter’s team – a girl who not only attends the standard six hours a week of practice, but a private lesson with the gym’s owner each week plus open gym practice time as well. Yes, pretty hard core.

Though we couldn’t hear the conversation, the audience could only assume that the problem was they didn’t like their daughter’s ribbon awarded for the event – that they were disputing her placement. This conversation with the judges held things up for several minutes, held things up while several girls awaited their turn at the vault. The whole while I was filled with this thought, I may not think this judging is fair, but I would never do that. What kind of example does that set for the kids. I mean, sure, they’re not throwing punches or yelling – but it’s the gymnastics equivalent of arguing with the ref! Who are these people? Just because their daughter is in the gym so much doesn’t automatically mean she should score higher. Frankly, if they’re concerned only with her ribbons then perhaps they should save all that money they’re spending on lessons and use it to bribe the judges.

Remember? These are called…FUN MEETS? The Olympic selection committee probably will never see these scores. Ever.

As a parent, I don’t want to become so focused on the winning, on the score, on the ribbon, on the END RESULT, that I take away from the experience of the journey. As a parent, I have to leave it up to the coaches to intervene on my daughter’s behalf with the judging process if they find it unfair (Frankly… I’m probably a little biased. I know, right?). I also need to ensure that I remain a good sport – so my daughter doesn’t get any obnoxious bad sports tendencies from me (that means that I can’t call the judge names – even behind her back).

We drove home from the meet – I was still over the moon excited about how well she did. There’s an excitement and a vicarious thrill of watching someone do something well. Of knowing the steps it took to get from point A to the point where she is. Watching my daughter on the beam, composed with all of those eyes on her. Watching her coach’s face, the gym owner’s yelps of approval when she completed her routine. I can’t imagine all of those things – those things were all there – and as her mom, there’s that automatic fascination with everything she does. Her successes bring me joy.

The next day, she was with my mother – unfortunately, my mom was not quite as fabulous at holding her tongue about the judging (naughty, naughty). The Princess matter of factly explained to her the whys and whats of each ribbon. The white ribbon because her leg wasn’t straight, toe wasn’t pointed, her this or that wasn’t this or that. There were reasons. Legit reasons. Things I might not have been looking for. To me? It was amazing. Knowing the judging criteria, I can still say that my daughter was TOTALLY AMAZING. Pointed toes, pffft.

The ribbons are not what matter to me. What matters is her joy and her accomplishments. I don’t need any ribbons for that.

About sarah

Sarah is a book nerd, a music lover, an endorphin junkie, a coffee addict. Oh, and a goof ball. She writes, she tweets, and she sings off key.


  1. Good on your daughter for doing so well and for being a good sport, it is just as important.

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