Judges of competitions must have a set of guidlines or values that they can fall back on to make decisions. If a photographer tries to work outside of this "box" he will almost always fail to win the judges praise. Of course there are those individuals who probably study how the judges decide winners and they embark on focusing effort on pleasing judges and not creating for themselves.
I can gaurantee you that for every criticism, or rule that a club judge says you violated, I can go to my book shelf and find dozens of examples of the same rules being broken by masters of the medium in famous images.
The key is to recognize the rules, understand them and then have the courage to toss them out the window if your vision and creativity take you in that direction.
When you quit worrying about what others think of your work you can find the freedom to go on to greater things.