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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Judging reflects the Lifter's training

This is THE most awkward part of Kettlebell Sport competitions in the US today, especially for events at which the organizers sprang for the Live Feed option. Thousands of people the world over are watching Americans host "high level" Championships that may consist of 200 or fewer lifters.

And the judging is being judged.

Since 2012 I've been asked to be a platform judge, and most recently Head Judge, at competitions. I can tell you it is more emotionally stressful to serve as a judge for even one flight than to compete in a Biathlon.

Why is this so?
The first thing I can point to is funding. To my knowledge, I have yet to attend a competition where the judges were paid.***! Which means they are volunteers and/or lifters and coaches.
A volunteer judge has very little reason to know all the rules unless he/she is explicitly told/shown the rules. It seems an imposition to test volunteers' accuracy, so usually the organizers do not know the level of preparation the platform judges actually have.
When lifters or coaches are recruited to judge they make an unspoken agreement to accept less-than-excellent results at that competition. A lifter will not get the mental or emotional preparation needed and a coach will not be available to support his/her team.
*** Update to the original post, IKSFA sanctioned events hosted at the Kettlebell HotSpot and CrossFit L.I.C. have paid a small compensation for judging in recognition that the judges should be paid for their time. *** Second update, IKFF events hosted in Seattle have paid and provide meals for judges who are mostly non-competitors.
! Third update to this post, Valery Fedorenko corrected me in a comment line that WKC has paid judges in the past and has this to offer :

Next problem is lack of pre-competition review. Anyone who reads two different sets of rules will see that at the top of the section on Lifter's Responsibilities it is clearly stated that every lifter must know all the rules. The lifters are responsible for attending rules meetings. The team captains/lifter's representative may attend these meetings in their place. Thus the team captain is as responsible for each individual knowing the rules as the individual lifter.
Over the course of the past few years I've noticed a general decline in the pre-competition rules review. Not to point at any specific organization, but I see that the event hosts are generally over-taxed by the task of getting the event together without being required to convene everyone for a rules review. To their credit, organizers who want to put on a "high level" competition will conspicuously post the rules of that competition well ahead of the event.
This leaves both judges and lifters up to their honor to have learned all the rules so the decisions made in the heat of a set will be easy to call and accept.

Last point is faulty training. It's not the judges fault when a lifter falls short by a few reps or even gets stopped on the platform. This is a reflection of the lifter's training pure and simple. But the platform judge takes all the heat when it's proving time.
If the amount of overhead time needed to establish fixation is grey area in a lifter or coaches mind, it is obvious to me that not enough overhead holding has been done in preparation. And some lifters will intimidate the platform judge during a set! This should get the lifter kicked out of a competition for poor sportsmanship, but as it stands there is very little protection for a judge who follows the rules to the letter. Eventually that person will be circulating in the same venue with all the lifters he/she judged. It saddens me that some lifters win through a veiled form of cheating, while their competitors may show exceptionally good lifting but loose due to a slower pace.

I'm telling you, it takes an exceptional amount of confidence to judge two flights with the exact same standard, much less five or ten.

Try something just for fun. For anyone who has never judged at a competition but has attended several:
YouTube up a World Championship flight where at least 3 platforms are in frame. Watch the lifter farthest to the left only. Count each repetition aloud. Only give a count when you can see clear fixation of the legs and arms. Continue for the entire duration of that lifter's attempt.
Next, replay the video, this time counting for the lifter second from the left. Use the same method of giving a count only when you see clear fixation of the legs and arms. Continue for the entire duration of that lifter's attempt.
Repeat this exercise for every lifter in the frame.
Once you've "judged" for every lifter, assume they are all competing against each other. Who won?

My Pet Peeves as a judge. Since I'm on a rant, here are some common lifter strategies that make judging tedious and stressful.

  • Spartan Meditation = 15-second rack hold/.01-second overhead hold. Try keeping your eyes on an analogue clock for 15 seconds. Be lucid enough to spit out a number in sequence between seconds 15 and 16. Do this for 10 minutes.
  • Machine Gunner = 6 to 10 repetitions with questionable fixation followed by 20 second overhead or rack rest. Not disrespecting anyone, but this belongs in a CrossFit gym.
  • Lockout Negotiator = the arms straighten somewhere between the under squat and overhead fixation. The look of expectation for the count resembles an overdue pregnant woman waiting for labor to start.
  • "I'm a Champion without even training" = lifter approaches the flight with all the ego of a champion prize fighter and proceeds to break all the rules in the first three lifts. If this lifter lasts more than 7-minutes it is shear agony to watch.
  • Uninformed Coach = coach is behind the platform judge yelling the absolute wrong encouragement to the lifter including things like "just ignore the count!" "that was good!" "do your own lift!" "BAM!" etc.
In closing I hope to shed some light on the most common criticism of KettlebellSport in the US today. The finger is pointed at the judging, but the problem exists with the lifting. If you are a coach or lifter who also wants to see this sport make it to the Olympic games, please take a close look at what you are training. And remember the athlete's mantra "you will perform the way you practice."

Best wishes for your results,