Judge’s Table with Alison Stangle

Our very own Alison Stangle was featured in Judge’s Table in the June-July 2013 issue of Cheer Biz News. Check out her article below!

This year (2013-2014) starts a new rule cycle, and with annual changes come new hints and tips from the judges’ table! Cheer Biz News caught up with seasoned judge Alison Stangle for a look at some key things to keep in mind this summer as a coach when you’re planning your off-season practice regimen.

What are some of the key items on your radar as a safety judge this season with the new changes?
It is always exciting to see the interpretation of new skills by coaches, choreographers and teams. I think the first year of each cycle is always the most difficult. Coaches get excited to try the new allowable skills, but sometimes the interpretation is off which results in a legality on the competition floor. Often times they have the skills reviewed for a legality by an event producer but get a deduction at the event anyway. It is imperative to remember the skill itself may have been legal the way it was performed in the video submitted. However, one small grip change, moving catcher or early release can make your skill illegal. Just remember, creativity is great, but only if it’s legal!

What are some of the key items on your radar as a panel judge this season?
As a panel judge, my key items have not changed in more than 15 years. My favorite things are clean fundamentals with some innovative choreography. I cannot stress enough the impact of a team with clean fundamentals in every category. I would much rather see a team of beautifully executed heel stretches with pointed toes, straight legs, great flexibility, strength and control in the flyers and stationary bases, rather than bow-and-arrows where the flyers are tilted over just trying to pull through and the bases have to take 20 steps to save her while she is pulling the skill. There are hundreds of teams throwing elite skills but there are many fewer doing them safely, progressively and with great execution. Combine that concept with some innovative choreography and athletes who love performing their routine, and you have the perfect, timeless panel judges’ dream. Degree of difficulty is important, absolutely, but only as important as how well the whole team can execute it.

When it boils down to a tight battle between two teams, what kinds of things can set one team ahead of the other?
A team is not defined by one person; it is a group of people. I look for execution, having a majority of the team members involved in skills and overall performance. Point flyers, jumpers, dancers and last pass rights are key to choreography. However, as a judge I ideally want to see those skills from everyone. I judge on majority, not one pass, one stunt group, one dancer or one person. A judges’ table usually spans the width of a floor, therefore meaning we are not all seated on center to judge one person. Each judge has a different group of cheerleaders directly in front of him or her. Every flyer is some judge’s point flyer. Look at the majority of the team’s ability in every category, not just one. If they, as a team, are at their correct level they will be fundamentally more sound and confident, which allows them to perform that routine like it was choreographed to be. That is how good teams become great champions.

What kinds of things do you look for when a team takes the stage for the first time?
I look for confidence, genuine smiles and humility. The athletes have waited so long to have this awesome 2:30 with their team; they should take it all in. However, do it with confidence and humility. As a former gymnast who had a full, I can tell you if I truly needed to do the “shoulder twitch” once I got onto the mat, chances are it was not going to be a good full and it shouldn’t have been in the routine. It is like cramming for a test. By the time you set on the mat, you either have it or you don’t. Surprise me with your awesome skills and love for each other during your routine – that is when it really shows. Confidence, not arrogance, is so impressive in athletes. Build them up so they are ready to show the world what they are made of through their skills and performance. That is what we are so excited to see when teams take the mat.

What kinds of things would you encourage coaches to work on more during the off-season?
Take time to be a student of the sport. There is always something more to be learned. There are so many different ways to do the same skills, and yet there is a new approach that may be the perfect thing to make it click for your athletes. Learning also inspires creativity. Watching others often sparks a new idea inside us that leads to some of the most innovative and creative ideas. Lastly, remember why you became part of this sport. Inspire your athletes to love this sport like you do. Your athletes are a reflection of you during every season, on or off. You will teach them skills and life lessons that will far exceed that competition mat and the scores I give. I get the joy of watching them for 2 minutes and 30 seconds. You get to mold them into great athletes and people, which will last much longer than reading my scores and comments. My thoughts are important competition day; yours are important every day.

What kinds of things would you encourage athletes to work on more once their teams are in the off-season?
Conditioning. The level of difficulty that this sport has risen to is unbelievable. These routines really push them to their greatest athletic limits. However, so many routines never come to their full potential and often result in injuries due to a lack of conditioning. If your team hits the skills great in isolation but falls apart during the full routine, it is usually due to a lack of conditioning (and sometimes poor transitions). This sport has become a full-year sport with no breaks. The conditioning program should follow the same rigorous regiment.

About the Author
AliAlison Stangle is the Director of Scoring and Judging for The EPIC Brands, based in the Baltimore area. Ali has been involved in the cheerleading industry for the past 19 years, consulting, coaching and choreographing for national champion teams all over the country. She is a keynote speaker for many coaches’ conferences and cheerleading clinics throughout U.S. and the U.K. She is currently part of the Universal Scoring Committee and has previously helped write numerous scoring systems for multiple organizations and event producers.

She has over 15 years of safety (NFHS, USASF, and AACAA certified), panel and head judging experience on the national level and for multiple Worlds bid events. She has been a U.S. Finals judge and TV commentator. Ali has served as a Worlds Safety Judge for the past three years.