Pro Judging Tips: Q&A with Poultry Judging Coach Tod Pinnell, Texico, NM

February is iCEV Judging Month! In honor of iCEV Poultry Judging Week, Tod Pinnell, Texico FFA Advisor, shares insights and tips on training a poultry judging team.


Why do you feel participating on a judging team is so important for students? How does it bring students success in the future?

Participation on a judging team is the best way I know for students to develop the decision-making skills they need to be successful in today’s competitive job market. All industries need employees who they can trust to look at a situation and make a decision, defend it and develop a plan of action that’s in the best interest of all concerned. I don’t know any activity that teaches priority-based decision-making better than participation on a judging team. I believe that competition is healthy and that students learn to compete in a healthy and friendly environment through judging.


What advice do you have for students that might be interested in judging?

Judging is fun, challenging, competitive and educational all at the same time! Judging is one of the few activities that allows you to meet so many people, develop life-long friendships and travel to so many places. You’ll develop confidence and skills that you cannot learn in any other activity. A friend I judged with in school, who is now a medical doctor, shared a story with me about his experience in medical school. On his first day of having to identify body parts, everyone else was stressing out with the format and he felt confident. They asked him about it and he said, “I just felt like I was back in my meats judging days and went about it like I was in an FFA contest." You never know when the skills you learned in judging are going to pay off.




What are the important qualities of a judging team member?

  • Lots of “Try!” and “I won’t quit, even when it’s tough” attitude.
  • Work ethic! Students who are ready to work hard enough to gain all the necessary knowledge.
  • Students who like to be challenged! The hard is what makes it great. If it was easy, everyone would do it.


How do you prepare your students before each event?

General workouts: I treat workouts as the most important activity in judging. “You practice the way you play.” I use a tremendous amount of resources including iCEV, contest rules, and approved references for FFA CDEs in my workouts. I use repetitive techniques and I try diligently to make sure all members understand before I move forward. I usually provide an activity, sometimes one they haven’t seen, to trigger their thought process. They complete the activity and then I cover the proper method or priority for placing the class or grading the items.

Practice contests:  I treat them like what they are, a practice! They are essential for students to prepare for a real contest situation and to make decisions on their own. They also can’t practice marking a card enough because that’s half the battle, in my opinion. However, I try not to get too caught up in how they place in comparison to other teams at practice events or invitational contests. I’m interested solely in qualifying my teams for state competition and will score my students according to the way I think they’ll be scored at our qualifying and state events. Don’t get trapped into letting the contest train your team.

Night before a contest: Don’t overcook your team! There’s no need to try to retrain your team because you find out what the classes are the night before. I have wrecked more teams the night before a contest than I care to think about because I got caught up on something. Students will lock on to one thing you say and forget their principles. I prefer to cover everything again in the week building up to the event and focus on reminding them of their priorities for placing different types of classes the night before. They’ll perform better if you give them confidence that they know what they are doing. Jerry Franklin would say, "Keep it as simple for them as you can and build their confidence. Don’t overload them with information."



How do you prepare students to give oral reasons?

I try to build confidence in the reasons room by giving students a format they can easily follow without having to say things exactly the same every time, allowing each student to utilize his/her individual strengths. Example: If I have a student who is not a strong speaker, but is good with terms, I allow him/her to be creative with his/her terms in an effort to build speaking confidence. It is also vital to all students to have a good way to identify the animals or objects so they can easily remember them. The I.D. box is the most important part of our notes. “Students remember pictures better than words so have them write down a word that helps them remember a picture." –Jerry Hawkins


What advice do you give to struggling students?

Stay hooked! The light will come on if you just keep trying. I promise.


What are some common challenges a judging team can face and how do you help your students overcome those challenges?

  • Inconsistency from week to week in various contests. "I did the same thing last week and it was correct there." Opinions vary; we just have to deal with it.
  • The scorecards are becoming more and more complicated. There are two contests going on, one is knowledge, the other is filling out the card.
  • Confidence. The biggest challenge I see anymore is getting students to believe in themselves. Be consistent and upbeat with students. Stick with it and when they see that you are willing to go the distance, they will too.