Expert advice: The role of the judge

People who serve as 4-H judges are content matter experts, but also teachers to youth.

Each year across the country, various livestock and horse shows occur on any given day of the week. Exhibitors enter the show with the expectation that they will be rewarded for their work, and the truth is they may not be rewarded in the way they expected. However, everyone who enters the show ring will have the opportunity and privilege to learn what another person, who is an expert at their craft, thinks about their performance and their animal. When we don’t get the feedback we were hoping for, unfortunately more often than not that expert is the one that gets blamed.

The role of a 4-H judge is much more than just evaluating a youth’s project and placing classes; they also serve as teachers, mentors and experts. Their evaluation on that one day can have lifelong impacts on youth; it is up to the youth, however, to determine if the impact is positive or negative. Those who choose to take the evaluation as a positive position themselves to learn and grow no matter what color ribbon they received from that judge. Those who choose the negative road will blame the judge for “not knowing what they are doing” or “being biased” to name a few of the common excuses used over the years.

We all have experienced both of these situations. So the question is, how do we change the paradigm of thinking to really emphasize that judges are teachers? Michigan State University Extension believes the simple answer is that it starts with the community of people, whether that is the club, project area or entire county program.

The first step is truly understanding what the judge is at the show to do. The judge was hired to evaluate.

Listening to the evaluation is where development occurs for youth. In some classes, showmen are asked to “reflect” upon their animal, their experience and the concepts they learned. Reflection is one of the Experiential Learning Model components that is particularly highlighted at the conclusion of a project and what makes showmanship a very important class. Showmen are encouraged to share and reflect on their experience. The evaluation period provides a perfect opportunity for judges to ask questions to youth about what they learned over the year in their project and what their future goals in the project are. The judging experience should encourage youth to critically reflect upon their experience and share what they have learned.

The second step is intently listening to the reasons the judge gives not only about your animal, but about all of the animals. You learn a lot about what aspects of the animals and show techniques that particular judge appreciates and rewards, and you also learn what characteristics the judge faults. Remember that during this evaluation, the judging is not about the individual, it is about the individuals’ performance and the animals’ performance.

The third step is understanding and beginning to apply the knowledge you gained from that judge and use your own critical thinking, problem solving and decision-making skills with your project animals to improve.

Sometimes it is hard to accept criticism and have the projects we have worked so hard on evaluated through an objective lens, but please always remember that it is at these points in time we are able to experience our most growth. Always strive to learn and grow from every situation – this is how successful people become successful.

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