The Front Handspring Vault

Front Handspring Vault - Level 4, 5, 6, and 7 - scoring and deductions

Oh, front handspring vault.  Whydo you vex us so?

When I talk to gym parents vault is definitely one of the most confusing events.  What distinguishes an 8.4 vault from a 9.2 vault? Sometimes, to the untrained eye, they can look exactly the same.

Of course, once they move onto the very scary and daunting flipping vaults, we just hope they survive and don’t kill themselves.  But, shhh, let’s not scare the newbies.

They do the same front handspring vault in levels four, five, six and seven.  How does the judging change?  What are the expectations for each level?

How do I tell a good vault from a bad vault?

Well,  let’s break it down.  I will get into all the nitty-gritty details of this vault.  We will discuss each level and expectations and deductions taken along with some example videos.  Hopefully this will bring some clarity to one of competitive JO gymnastics’ most unanswered questions.

But first, let’s jump up and down and celebrate a little.  Starting in the 2017/18 season, level 7 gymnasts will start competing flipping vault timers.  Wooo Hooo!

Upcoming changes to the vault code

This has been a long time coming and will be a much more logical progression to flipping vaults in level 8.  The jump from a front handspring vault to a flipping vault is HUGE.  Many many kids get very hung up here and although coaches should be introducing the flipping vaults earlier than they are, many are only concentrating on the skill for the next level instead of looking ahead to how to become a great upper level gymnast.  This change will force a change and I am always grateful for any addition to the code that helps make the levels more progressive.

Here is a great breakdown of what the future of level 7 vault as well as the proposed changes to levels 1-6 vault for the future.  Potentially some really interesting changes coming.

Ok, with all that said, this is all future information.  In the meantime we are still in the world of four levels of front handspring vaults so let’s take a closer look.

The Front Handspring Vault by Level

Level 4 and Level 5 vault are identical in requirements and deductions.  The gymnast must compete a front handspring vault and are judged against the same criteria.

Level 6 and Level 7 are optional levels and therefore have several different vaults you can choose from.  For the most part though you will only see front handspring vaults at this level as many of the other vaults are riskier, not progressive and only worth the same value.  All allowed vaults at level 6 and 7 have a start value of 10.0.

At level 8 and above different vaults have different values, with more difficult vaults having higher start values. You will still see front handspring vaults at level 8, but most kids are flipping a vault at this level as a front handspring vault only has a start value of 9.0 at level 8. In 2017 they have also added timer’s for Yurchenko’s and Tsuks the allowable vaults at level 8.  They are worth the same as a front handspring vault but are arguably at least more progressive toward the resulting flipping vaults.

At level 9 a front handspring vault has a start value of 8.6 and an 8.2 at level 10.  You will rarely, if ever see this vault at this level.

Starting at level 6 all vaults are evaluated against the optional vault requirements and deductions.  When I began researching this article I assumed that there must be some significant differences between judging of this vault at the compulsory levels and at the optional levels. But, actually both sets of deductions look pretty similar including the types of deductions and what amounts are taken for each error.

With that said, let’s remember that this is a subjective sport and that scoring varies across states and regions.  If I were a judge, I would expect a lot more from and be heavier handed with the deductions for a level seven than for a level 4.  Just saying.

OK, let’s take a look at the major deductions.  There are lots of things at play here and knowing every little detail of the code isn’t going to make your daughter vault better.  Believe me, you want to leave that to the coaches.

But, I know that sometimes you watch 30 kids do the same vault and they all look pretty much the same and the scores are all over the map, so let’s take a look at some of the main things and clear that picture up a bit.

Angle of repulsion

This is the biggest single deduction taken on this vault and probably something most parent’s don’t know about.  I remember when I learned about this, I asked my daughter about it and she looked at me like my head had a tree growing out of it.  She had no idea what I was talking about.  ‘I don’t know mom, your just supposed to block better’.  Granted, she was eight, so take what you will from that.

Anyhoo,  what we are talking about is this…

The gymnast bounces on the board and travels to their hands on top of the vault where they are supposed to quickly and powerfully “block” off the vault, propelling them into the air and gracefully landing on their feet a good distance from the vault.

What does block mean?

blocking is when the hands hit the vault and the gymnast pushes through the shoulders by extending through the shoulder.

Try it!  Put your hands above your head with your arms straight and right next to your ears.  Now push with your shoulders and force your hands toward the ceiling.  That’s a block!

This is supposed to happen perfectly timed so that they almost bounce off the vault forcefully propelling them into the air.

So,  when the gymnast hits the table they must leave the table before they hit vertical.  I know, WHAT?!!!

There is up to a 1.00 deduction for leaving the table past vertical.    1-45 degrees past vertical is up to a .5 deduction and anything past that is is up a 1.00 deduction.  This one is a mind blower, I know.  If you daughter looks like she is vaulting clean and still scoring low, this is likely your culprit.

Let’s take a look at some examples.

This is a compulsory gymnast and a good example of angle of repulsion being far past vertical.

In the image below you can see the angle as she leaves the vault (this is vault one, but the second was pretty similar). She is slightly past 45 degrees and would likely lose at least .5, likely more.  Yowza!  That’s as much as a fall.

Showing the angle of repulsion of the handspring vault

Now let’s take a look at another vault with a better angle.

As you can see in the image she is just about vertical leaving the table, maybe just a degree or two past, but she definitely received very little if any deduction for repulsion angle.  Overall the vault scored a 9.0 so obviously room for improvement, but a nice example of decent repulsion angle.

showing good angle of repulsion in handspring vault

And one last example.  I don’t necessarily agree with the score of a 9.9 as that was a pretty big step at the end and I might argue some shoulder angle stuff, but obviously this is what the judges were looking for

As you can see, she is leaving the table far before vertical.

Showing angle of repulsion in near perfect front handspring vault


The Four Phases of Vault and the Deductions

I have done my best to cover the major deductions here.  There are several nuances and deductions that I chose to leave out just because there is no reason to make this any more complicated than it already is.  Also, always remember that gymnastics is a subjective sport and the details of a skill are between the gymnast and her coach.

First let’s talk for a moment about the run.  The run is not judged as it’s own entity beyond level 3.  With that being said, a strong run is essential to a successful vault and a weak run will find a way to be punished.  This usually leads to deductions in amplitude, height and distance from the vault.  These deductions are a major source of deductions in vault.

Insufficient height during second flight – up to .5
Insufficient length during second flight (considering the size of the gymnast) – up to .3
Too long in support (hands spend too long on the table – should almost bounce off) – up to .5

There are four phases of a vault.  Each is judged separately.

  1.  First Flight – This is the time between hitting the board and hitting the vault
  2.  Support Phase – This is the time the gymnast spends on the table.
  3.  Second Flight – This is the time from the vault to the landing.
  4.  Landing Phase – When the gymnast hits the mat

There are several deductions that can be applied across multiple phases.

Flexed feet – up to .1 each phase
legs crossed – up to .1 each phase
legs separate – up to .2 each phase
legs bent – up to .3 each phase
arched or closed hip angle – up to .2 each phase

The support phase

The support phase includes several possible deductions.  This is also where compulsory deductions and optional deductions deviate a bit.

In both optional and compulsory the following apply.

bent arms – up to .5  (a 90 degree angle would incur maximum deductions)
Head touches the table (Yikes!) – 2.0
Too long in support – up to .5
Angle of repulsion (see above) – up to .1

Shoulder Angle

This deduction is a bit different in value from level 4/5 to level 6/7, which I thought was interesting.  At the compulsory levels the deduction is up to .3 but only .2 at the optional level.  Curious.  So, what does this mean? I believe this to mean that during their vault, their shoulders must be open to an angle of at least 180 degrees, which is equivalent to upper arms next to the ears and body in a straight line from toes to hands.

At the optional level there are also the following deduction in the support phase.

staggered hands – up to .1
not blocking off both hands equally – up to .2
hopping hands – up to .3

The Landing

When the gymnasts start flipping vaults the landing phase gets much more complicated but for this vault, it is pretty straight forward

slight hop – up to .1
Extra arm swing for balance – up to .1
small steps – .1 each
large steps or jump (more than three feet) – .2 each
trunk movements for balance – up to .2
squat on landing – up to .3 ( > 90 degrees for maximum deduction)
landing deviates from center  – up to .3

Let’s wrap it up!

So, that is a lot of info, huh?  I think that the biggest thing for the layman is that we always look for that stuck landing and think that is what indicates a good vault.  We watch vault after vault and many look good and many look indistinguishable from the others and then the scores differ greatly. This can be very confusing, but as you can see from the information above, steps on the landing are the least of a gymnasts worries.  There are many deductions worth far more for far more important things.

And just to wrap it up with a nice little bow, here is a beautiful example of what a front handspring vault should look like.  Really puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?

That should cover most of it.  It is a lot of information and I did my best to be accurate and thorough.  If you note any errors or omissions, please leave a comment below and I will update the post accordingly.  Also, if you would like me to delve deeper into any part of this, let me know that as well.  Thanks!


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