The USA Nationals Scoring System Explained

The scoring system that was introduced last year during the American Bouldering Series Nationals can be quite hard to understand. In this video I do my best to explain how it works and why, in my opinion, it is not a good system. It is a long video, brace yourselves.

Based on the USA Climbing 2015-16 rulebook (section 8.4).


  1. Thanks for the detailed explanation. Great stuff.

  2. Thanks for the explanation and a good critique of the problems with this system. It does sound unnecessarily complicated. If you need a calculator to work out who the winner is that’s surely a poor system.

    It reminds a bit of a format used at comp here (in the UK) recently. This was a much more informal comp with about 30 problems in one round, everyone climbing together. Each problem was worth 1000 points. However the total points of each bloc were divided amongst those who completed it. If you were the only person to do it you’d get all 1000 points. But if 10 people did each person would only one tenth of the points, so 100 points. What I liked about this was it was a way of ‘grading’ the problems. Some problems are obviously harder than others and it makes sense that doing a harder one is more worthy than one that everyone can do.

    But this format was totally different to a six person final like the US nationals and I thought it sounded pretty interesting.

    • Thanks for the comment steve. That system you describe sound reasonable for a comp with a ton of climbers and a ton of problems. A comp in which most people are just having fun and just a few can really win. In that case “grading” the problems sounds ok. But with 6 world-class climbers and 4 boulders it can be problematic. With such low numbers a tiny mistake can make a big difference and the grading doesn’t really work. I think all problems should be consider equal, regardless of how many climbers can top them.

  3. The problems need to be normalized for difficulty. Maybe the current system isn’t perfect but it addresses many of the issues associated with varying difficulties of the problems. Your reward should be amplified for doing well on a difficult problem and your penalty should be amplified for not doing well on an easy problem. The issue of a particular problem suiting a particular height etc may be too difficult to address, but not normalizing for difficulty would cause more unfairness. How all the climbers do on a given problem seems like a reasonable way to estimate difficulty.

  4. And also about the “math”. The normalization within an individual problem and has nothing to do with taking the product or the forth root. That is simply a way to combine the scores for individual problems. Taking the 4th root has no barring on the rankings so no one should be complaining about that. You could simply take the products of the individual scores and the rankings would be the same. Taking the 4th root simply makes the final score closer to the average of the individual scores. It’s just for appearance. However, taking the product itself, instead of say, taking the sum is interesting and important and a possible issue of controversy. What taking the product of the individual scores does is give you a lower score if you do well on some and not so well on others, as opposed to doing so-so on all the problems. For example, imagine two problems with a total sum of 8 points, with the points distributed differently between the two problems.

    1*7 = 7 This is best.
    4*4=16 This is worst.

    The effect of this is similar in spirit to giving so much weight to tops. I think the normalization within a problem makes sense, but I wonder if taking the product of the individual scores results in too much bias. Perhaps something between the product and the sum would give a better estimate of ones performance. This point is subjective and depends on if you are more impressed by singular standout achievements or by a well rounded performance.

    On the topic of “tops”, we all like to see them, but in many cases topping out one problem can be much easier than getting part way on another, and this happens very often. Therefore, although this is unlikely to happen, the number of tops shouldn’t matter; only a score that represents ones ability relative to the rest of the climbers.

    So in summary:
    1. don’t count tops
    2. keep the normalization within a problem
    3. perhaps, change the product of the individual problem scores to something between the product and the sum
    4. don’t get your panties in a bunch over the 4th root. It has no relevance to the score.

    • Wow Tom. That’s a lot to chew on. I don’t have the time now but I’ll think about this and I’ll give you a proper reply. Thanks for the comment.

    • Hi Tom, let me address your points.

      About the 4th root. Yes, that’s not the biggest issue. But I had to address it to explain how the system works and how you get to the final score. Also, it adds to the complexity of the system, making it harder to keep up with the scores during the comp.

      I don’t see why the problems need to be normalized. Some will be harder and few people will get tops, some will be easier and a lot of people will get tops. Why complicate things making some tops better than others?
      The biggest problem with normalizing “on the fly”, based on performances, is that you risk making climbing comps too competitive. With the IFSC system, for instance, you know that the only factor involved in your score is your own performance. Nobody else can alter your score.

      The example with the tall and short guys is very important for me. In my opinion a climber’s score should be judge in a vacuum, without any inputs from other climbers’s performances. So each climber in that example gets 2 tops in two attempts. Then you compare the scores and you get a tie. That’s how I think it should work.

      In my opinion tops should be the most important factor. So I think we gonna have to agree to disagree on that one. From my point of view doing a lot of moves simply doesn’t compare to doing the entire problem. And I think the audience likes it and it is very easy to understand.

  5. What i think they are forgetting is that these competitions only exist on sponsorship / funds (commercials etc). Every sport is in service of their own spectators (fans). When the scoring system is much too difficult (It should be very easy to follow who is in de lead, runner up etc.), the spectators will walk away and sponsorships will be disappearing and there will no or less funds.

    • I agree (but I guess it would take years) and I think they won’t go on with this system. I would be surprised if they were to use it again next year. Pretty much everyone who has given an opinion on the matter is against the system, including 9 times champion Daniel Woods. So I expect to see a different system in 2017.

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