This system is a means to encourage and reward new standards of creativity, artistry and excellence in design and performance while providing a vehicle that will educate beginners in such a way that they will grow to understand and evolve to the greatest level of their potential. It is our intent that this system will encourage, reward innovation, and acknowledge the tasteful and aesthetic appeal of good design through quality composition.

The system acknowledges the joint efforts of instructors/coaches and Drillers through understanding that excellence and skill are displayed through the design of the routine and that those designs are recognized and credited through the performance.

It uses a method of subjective evaluation based on objective standards that rewards the achievement of positive qualities and offers continued encouragement to strive for greater achievement. This is a positive system rewarding successful efforts at every level and designed to encourage units to develop, maintain and project their own styles. Therefore, we emphasize creativity, originality, taste, and excellence. Growth and innovation are rewarded and must be achieved with quality to receive a maximum score.

The use of the criteria-reference guide will tell all units the essence of the qualities they must achieve in order to receive their projected “number-grade” goal. Numbers assigned by a judge reflect the successful achievement of certain criteria and no longer equate such ideas as poor, fair, good, etc. The system is educational and rewards Drillers and designers based on accomplishments.


Judges can be close to units adjudicated. We share in their growth and we take on the responsibility of giving them input for improvement. Sometimes we talk directly to the Drillers and try to help them understand what is being asked of them. Unlike athletic referees or umpires, we are not isolated from the competitors we grade. This fact brings us to take a long hard look at why we are judges.

In most cases, we have come from this activity being involved in JROTC, ROTC, CAP, etc. it has given something tremendously important to us. Most of us have been Drillers or instructors/coaches. Some of us have felt the stinging indifference of a judge who did not seem to care, and we have vowed never to be like that. Others have felt the nurturing of some special person who went just a little beyond his/her duty and helped us to grow.

Clinics, seminars and proper study can teach the judge how to rank and rate. Examinations can determine technical skills. However, there are other qualities just as important. Communication skills are essential. We communicate to the units in everything we do; the recorded commentary, the post-routine follow-up and just casual conversation with instructors/coaches carries a need for well-developed communication skills. Judges must be professionals who do not employ sarcastic or rude dialogue to those whom they are adjudicating. Hurtful commentary is unnecessary and unacceptable. To convey boredom or indifference is unacceptable. Tone of voice is of paramount importance.

A judge functions on three levels:

  1. Units with young inexperienced instructors/coaches require us to be teachers. With units at this level, we will find many times when our commentary will be clinics in basic technique. This must be done with patience setting a logical progression of development for them to follow. We must offer encouragement when they are confused (which could be most of the time) and enthusiasm when they show some level of success. Remember that these beginners are where many of us were some 10 or 15 years ago. Deal with them in basic terms. Without encouragement and enthusiasm for their minor successes, growth could be impaired. The nurturing process at this level is of vital importance.
  2. At the second level we deal with units who have been around for a few years, felt some success and believe that they are ready to move to a higher classification. Here we find ourselves dealing with the adolescent of our activity – convinced of their expertise and often reluctant to accept the fact that they have anything to learn. At this point, we find ourselves in the role of “counselor”. This role requires the most patience, the strongest concern and the greatest amount of effort. It is hard to watch units at this level stumble and make mistakes. We encounter their impatience, their frustrations and their absolute conviction that they are misunderstood and not appreciated. There could be some rough, heated moments during this time.
  3. Finally the Driller really does grow up and we see moments of brilliance emerge from his/her creations and one day they have it all together and in terms of creation, has surpassed the teacher, outgrown the counselor and looks to us to be the art critic (after all, this is a work of art). At this point, we must challenge them; encourage them to set even higher goals and standards. We must be professional, concerned and supportive. The beginning judge should not enter the arena expecting to be all of these things at once. Our idiom is consistent in its attitude about rookies. Your first year in judging will be just like your first year marching. There will be a thousand tests: technical, personal, emotional, intellectual. You are expected to endure them all. You are there because you are bright, you are willing, and you care a great deal.

Align your involvement with the young, beginning units/Drillers. Grow with them; be their teacher today so that in a year or so you can be their counselor and one day attain the level of critic as they emerge just as you will emerge fulfilling your goals and standards.

Our idiom has always demanded total commitment. Superior Drillers always give more than 100%. Superior judges also give more than 100%. As judges, our discipline and attitude must be an extension of those the Drillers follow. We expect them to be professional — so must we be professional. We expect them to respect us — so must we respect them. Demand no less of yourself than is demanded of each Driller.

A great teacher continually learns from his/her Drillers; a great judge continually learns from the instructors/coaches. Communication is a two-way street. Good units and good judges grow together by helping one another, by keeping communication lines open and by setting mutual goals and standards for the activity.

Judge with your head, heart and with a positive, nurturing, and challenging manner as you contribute to the growth and development of this unique activity.

To become a WDA certified visual judge, click here.

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