(this is the -slightly altered- article that was published in SNACK, januari 1996)
I am not a complete stranger in the field of team flying and judging. After about three years flying with the six persons team The Dike Hoppers (from its start in 1988 until just after World Cup 1991, Bristol -fourth place-) I started judging in spring 1992 and judged since at about 40 international festivals, including 5 Euro-cups and 3 World Cups.
To start with something not that important: I don't think judges are only interested in the rulebook (it is not that fascinating anyway) I never saw a judge read the rulebook instead of watching a routine.
Around World Cup VI the judging of team flying was extensively debated. By the judges in long sessions before and after, and by teams and others during and after competition. Let's look at the matter in some detail, trying to combine answers on a lot of different, but adjacent questions.
Is there a "best size" for team flying? According to the rulebook size itself is no reason for higher or lower results. It is not that easy to decide, so my conclusion is at the end. What are the (dis-)advantages of a certain team size?
For a small (3 person) team things are easy: a lot more space on the field (about 3 meter to each side), far less risk of twisted lines, of crashes, a lot easier to do compulsories. There are some difficulties as well though: there are only two team formations: a straight line and a triangle (not many 3-persons teams can suggest a "curved" formation by flying a big circle). Also only two 'splits': three separate or 2-1.
Some maneuvres are no longer interesting like a weave, some compulsories even become more difficult to show properly (like Mirrored Diamonds).
For the big team (6 persons) all has become very difficult. Changes of hitting another kite have grown exponentially, field is too small, getting all kites on line, flying an Arc de Triomph. But you also have a lot more possibilities to show interesting maneuvres, with relative ease. It is possible to dazzle the public (and even some judges) by something like a horizontal thread. And even if one third of the kites is 'off line' you still can show a 'straight line' formation. With five (or six) spaces between kites judges will measure spacing against an average instead of comparing the only two with a three person team! And a reasonably good performed Cascade will definitely look better with six!
(Field size as stated in the rule book (III), a recommended minimum of 91.5 m square is not enough. But the field size as prescribed in the STACK- amendments to Rulebook III, 110 m square is quite adequat).
One of the problems in judging teams is the impression teams give you. The bigger team,(almost) no matter what they do will impress more. With a (strictly theoretical!) 'equal performance' the larger team will tend to score a bit higher. It might also be harder to look as a "Team" instead of a group of separate kites with a 3 person team. Compulsories defenivetely are a problem. Some are a lot easier with a odd numbered team ( 3 or5) like the Hairpin, some just don't look right with only 3, other are a lot harder with 6 like Arc de Triomph. A figure like Knit one, Pearl one is set with the outer kite at a fixed position, the required straight line formation might easier be suggested by a bigger team. Again, the flaws in the formation will show a lot more clearly in the small team. It has become norm to penalise on the percentage of 'wrong' kites, rather then the actual number. The chief judge will always try to balance the choice of the compulsories in respect of team size, but good ideas of solving that problem fairly are welcomed.
Of course the risks involved (crashes, collisions, contacts) are not the same for small and large teams. This is of course *not* a matter of change, but of reaction speed, spacing and flying capabilities!
In judging crashes or the contacts between kites and lines as a result of a crash or of a contact are considered to be one incident. So if in a 6 p. team two kites collide, crash and take a third or fourth kite down, it is considered as *one* incident. Only the disruption of the routine will be penalised heavier. (there is no time for the judges to do a "what if" analysis; it could not be done fairly and 'intentions' either good or bad should not be judged) Twisted lines will not help in such a situation. Good 'homework' and good movement on the ground should solve that (but, I agree, will make it harder for the larger team).
One definite disadvantage for the smaller team is the possibility to show variety and a large degree of difficulty. You can do just that much with 3 kites, and it is no surprise the routine of team "Skydance" packes most of it in the first 3 minutes or so. If, in WC VI, Tsunami really would have done the Skydance ballet routine 'double' with the same quality, they probably would get more points than Skydance since it also would have ment crossings with two groups of three, synchronising the two groups etc. so overall they would show a greater degree of difficulty and more variety than Skydance! Of course some judges would have asked themselves why a six persons team would use a typical "three persons" piece of music. And also what you could do with such a team if you did not "simply" divided it in two. I am glad they did a six-persons-team-routine!
Making a team look like a *team* instead of as separate kites is a problem all teams face. It can exist only in the minds of the observers, it can hardly be defined, but it is quickly recognised when it happens.
It is obvious there were a lot of things that needed to be researched for every team, regardless of size, like the use of difference in line-length in the team, type of kite, way to move on the ground etc. Sharing that knowledge (both between teams as well as between teams and judges f.i.) might make it easier for starting teams to concentrate on abilities (and get us more six persons teams in the future!). Other things might be worth considering, f.i. having a 4 ft distance on the field between team members, or splitting the team on the ground and flying the kites 'in the middle'.
Good music for ballet is hard to come by and that is a good reason to compose your own, or make 'some' changes in existing music. Since no good judge will even try to "judge the music" or will be let it influence the score, there is no reason not the get the best music you can. To have the speed of the music made a variable on the field by some teams will make competition unfair, and should not be allowed to my idea. Although I would like to see someday the use of a small windmill combined with a Dutch street organ to get "variable speed music"(an old Dike Hopper idea) I think using this or f.i. live music as something in an "Innovative" routine.
A definite advantage of special composed or 'changed' music could be that you can have more usable tempo changes, more 'hooks' to perform special maneuvres on. I think most of that advantage is lost when it is made as obvious as the combination of "the final crescendo/ Starburst"
You could look at a routine as a piece of a language -maybe even a poem- of which words, meaning and grammar must be learned on the field, within 5 minutes, preferably shorter.
If the technique is there separate 'words', 'phrases' etc. are recognisable (?), in a poorly flown routine all this might be lost and no meaning, no 'poem' remains. Choosing a well known piece of music gives the advantage of offering a 'knowledge base', 'a frame of mind' from the start on for that language. But if it is a 'strong' piece, the interpretation you give might not coincide with the ideas of the public or judges. On the other hand if a unknown piece music is made better understood by flying the routine, it must be a -very- good routine! Ninja tried (WC VI) and came along way.
I am not sure "interpreting" is the right word in this case. Reflecting, counteracting, balancing theme, mood, beat of the music might be better. I don't think designing and flying a 'ballet' (on whatever kind of existing, adapted or new piece of music) is in any way easier then choreographing and dancing a ballet!
Three or four years ago it was common to have only one routine, a precision one, and to fly it as the ballet one also. Still many teams use one routine, but now they fly the ballet-without -the-music as their freestyle. It shows the importance teams attach to the ballet, and that points can be gained by designing a real technical routine!
It also shows that many teams feel their technical abilities make a better use of music possible. Apart from the 'how' and 'what' of flying the 'why' has become more important. For most teams, as well as the judges at World Cup it is clear that simply follow the beat is seldom a good ballet. As I wrote before, flying and music (and maybe even the used text) must form a 'unity'. Analysing the routine on technical merits, on following beat, mood and theme(s) is one part. "Feeling" it is the (unexplicable) other. It is the difference between plain vanilla ice cream and the "Strawberry/ Cassata with the crispwafle, cream and cherry on top" one.
For me the best size for a team (still) is six (no doubt as a consequence of flying in "The Dike Hopppers'), but it may be true that four is the best compromise.
In many discussions outside the judging panels one aspect of judging is often left unspoken: *quantifying* the different aspects. Sometimes a part of the public or some competitors judge the performances as well, and end with a ranking or final scores. But balancing all aspects of a routine,and put it into a figure is no easy task.
Not many flyers realise that the rulebook (as the only agreement between flyers and so as the only agreement between flyers and judges) gives specific details about the analysis and the calculations to be done.
Describing the process to qualify as a judge is impossible, since there is no "formalised" one. Knowing the "agreement between flyers and judges" is necessary. Experience with observing, explaining and discussing routines is vital. But agreement with other judges *not* specifically. A well argumented 'different' opinion might be more valuable then a scary 'middle of the road one'. Recognise the difference between the two ???
Personaly I can not resist looking at aerobatics, diving, ice dancing or synchronised swimming in the same way as looking at flying, in fact I try to do that as much as possible (with usually an equal ranking as the official judges EXCEPT for one or two of the competitors where it differs much).
It is in explaining their analysis and scores to the competitor that judges might prove they are on the right place on the field. Discussing things, even on "paper" seems a suitable way
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