Top 7 Things a Synchro Judge Is Thinking About When They Judge You

No one enjoys the thought of being judged for their every action and every pose. But in judged-sports like artistic swimming (previously known as synchronized swimming, or still known by its lovely nickname: synchro) that is exactly what you sign up for. And this brings up a great question: what is a synchro judge REALLY thinking about when they are judging?


Here are the top 7 things synchro judges think about when you are competing for them:

1. Don't smile, don't smile
Yes, this one is true. There is a reason why most judges don’t is because we shouldn’t. A smiling judge just doesn’t match the seriousness of the black outfit, perhaps. Besides if you smile at one swimmer, then to be fair and impartial (the KEY to being a judge) then you need to smile at every swimmer. That makes for a very sore jaw…which brings us to the next thought...
2. Really? 200 ballet legs?
Judges join this profession because they love the artistry and accuracy of the sport, which is perfectly represented in the classic synchro figure ´the ballet leg.´ We wake up in the morning of competition all happy and looking forward to seeing perfect ballet legs...until we find out there will be 205 of them in the first judging panel!!! The next thought…
3. I want to jump in the water
This one is a particularly common idea when the pool deck is as hot as the Sahara desert. Imagine 15 judges, 3 panels, all wearing black, and doing math while the pool air is boiling. Judges know they are in trouble when they overhear swimmers gushing over how nice the pool water is because hot water means hotter air. The temptation to dip our sandaled foot, or to just jump in head first, is too great. Now the most nagging thought…
4. This chair is sooooo uncomfortable
Once, only once, in my recently-celebrated 10 years of judging synchro did I say ‘oh what a comfy chair, I want to sit here all day.’ Yep, only once. It happened at the beginning of my judging career by accident. And if I had known this level of cushiness would never, ever, happen again, I would have enjoyed the chair more or at least I would have taken a picture of that glorious thing for posterity. This is the reason why you see judges’ backs and feet propped up or supported with foam flutter boards during judging panels...we are trying to make those plastic devils more ergonomic, with little success. And now my favourite thought…
5. I hope there is still hummus left

Since judges are all unpaid volunteers, they get paid in a currency other than money: they get paid with food! And to the judges’ benefit, the synchro clubs actually try to outdo each other by providing great buffet options during competitions. When a club ‘goes all out’ and pampers the judges with hot oatmeal, chocolate covered blueberries and vegan lasagnas, you know the judges won’t stop talking about it for days.

Finally, we get to the good stuff…the technical thoughts swirling inside the judges’ heads…

6. Higher! Higher! Nooooo!

We are suckers for a good figure. Ask any judge and they will tell you that nothing gives them more pleasure in a panel than a figure performed “perfectly.” And by perfectly I mean: just like FINA says, FINA is the Federation Internationale de Natation. If you don’t speak French, it means International Swimming Federation. So picture this: it is ballet leg # 135 of 205, the judges are getting a bit tired, and so far the marks have hovered between 4.3 and 5.5, when all of a sudden...bam! A beautiful FINA-approved ballet leg unfolds in front of our eyes. We get excited and start quietly cheering for the leg...go higher, go higher, this might be a 7.4! But then the weight of the extended leg pushes the hips and part of the leg under water…and internally the judges scream: nooo!

And now the final thought…this one is the one that we are trained for:

7. Pointed toes? OK; dry thighs? Nope; Knees flat? Yes; Legs solid? Halfway; Stationary body? Not quite; 90 degree angle? Yes; Very flexible swimmer? Oh yes; No wobbling? OK; aligned with the ears? Yes; OK this is in the 6.0 - 6.5 range I think...

This is the 7th thing synchro judges are thinking about when they are judging...they think about YOU. Judges are trained to look at an athlete’s performance to match it to the FINA book. So we spent the great majority of our time thinking about how YOU are fulfilling the hopes and dreams of that FINA book: for judging figures we focus on design and control; and for judging free routines we focus on execution, artistry and difficulty. Judges are like circus jugglers: we are simultaneously managing book descriptions, scoring ranges and the work of the athlete...all in a few seconds or minutes in order to arrive at the raison d’être for having judges in the first place: to produce 1 score. Hard work, and we love it.

In conclusion, no one enjoys the thought of being judged their every action and every pose. But it is a fact of life for judged-sports like artistic swimming. And that is exactly what you sign up for. If it makes you feel a bit better, please know that judges get judged too. Every competition has a chief judge and their job is to ensure that all the judges do a proper job. We know how important synchro is for you, and how important it is that the scores we give you truly represent your progress in the sport; so we take it seriously.

Here is tip: if you want to make a judge feel proud, all you have to do is rock your figure! Be as excellent as you can be, and show the judge more height, more extension, more control and more flexibility than you have ever shown before. Because maybe, once in a blue moon, you may achieve the might make them smile for ballet leg #153.

Go for it! Judges want to give high scores, so give them a great performance.


C - C1.0_Headshot 2018

Level 2

AB, Canadian Judge

Also Yours in Synchro,





  1. Gail on August 6, 2019 at 6:55 AM

    Such a lovely article! I can’t totally understand your 205 ballet legs as we only every judge about 20 at a time, but even then the heat, the uncomfortable chair and the multitude of things going around in your head as you watch a figure that only takes a few seconds makes it quite a challenge, but as you say you do the best you can and we love it when swimmers get it right!

  2. Jana on August 6, 2019 at 10:16 AM

    Great description of judge s thinking. Many thanks for this article.

  3. Justine Carter on January 25, 2023 at 11:13 PM

    Perfect list from the best chair, to the water, to the lovely lunch, to the almost perfect figure 3/4’s the way through the session only to have it ripped away by a knee bending too soon, or a pointed toe wriggling.

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