15. Feb, 2021

Why be a competition judge?

Why would anyone want to put themselves under pressure and become a judge in a competition, especially as there are often complaints about ‘getting it wrong’?

I’ve been involved in competitions and judging in some form for most of my life and thought it would be interesting to explore how they have made me the person I am today.

The first competition I can remember is from when I was five and had to do a drawing of a park. It was a school competition, I don’t know how many schools were involved but I do remember that I drew the recreation ground that was adjacent to the very small primary school in the village of Samlesbury, near Preston in Lancashire. In the school there were only 30 people including the two teachers and the dinner lady. There were two classes; the ‘big class,’ where the infants had their lessons and the ‘little class’, which had the juniors. The recreation ground had a set of two swings and a roundabout plus a huge green area. It had once been a field and sloped away from the road. I remember being told I had come second and feeling such a sense of pride. I can’t remember what I won, but that doesn’t matter. It gave me such a sense of confidence that someone somewhere believed in me.

Many people think that living in the countryside is dull and boring with very little social life. How wrong these people are! From an early age, I remember being taken to Agricultural Shows and coming into contact with the National Federation of Young Farmer’s Clubs. There was a strong family link and so it was a natural progression that I would become a member. YFC has been in existence for 80 years. The first club began in Hemyock in Devon in 1921 and started with a competition. United Dairies gave prizes to children from the area’s milk producers in calf rearing and set high standards. It was in March 1922 that the federation was officially formed with a head office in London. Lots has happened since then and I don’t mean this article to be a history of its achievements. You can read about those for yourself. (www.nfyfc.org.uk) It’s enough to know here that it’s for anyone aged 10 to 26 and that clubs exist throughout the world. My membership in the 1970s saw me entering competitions from public speaking, debating, quizzes, variety shows as well as judging cattle and being creative with rural crafts.  

It links a great deal with education and so it’s hardly surprising that I became a teacher. I remember explaining how to milk a goat in my Homerton interview. How we approach those we support in their educational journey is so important. Encouragement is paramount and this is what I hope I do – encourage people, no matter how poorly they feel they have done. My mantra to my tutees has always been: “Your greatest strength is knowing what your weaknesses are and doing something about it.”

“How can I help you?”

The answer now is in engagement. Do things for experience and the joy of taking part. Doing different competitions helped me gain diverse skills and through judging competitions for COBIS I am still learning. Over the years “Remember the 6W’s!” became an additional mantra, especially as I have failed many a time from not reading questions properly or doing what was actually asked.

I’ve always hated having to give a mark and prefer to look at the individual to see how they have grown and comment on that aspect. Clearly, in judging a competition, entrants are not known to me, and so I am able to be completely impartial and safe from outside influence. I base my opinion on my enjoyment of the piece, the judging criteria and a feeling of intuition. The latter has proved to be invaluable but that’s another story.