Finding a Program Who Can Train Elite Gymnasts


I will start out by saying that I’m not one of those parents who gets heavily involved in the intricacies of the sport.  I do not attempt to coach my child or interfere with the coaches.  I’m a professional person and I trust the professionalism and expertise of my daughter’s coaches.  I also do not have an insistence on an Olympic dream.  Although my daughter is driven, she’s in agreement with the satisfaction of competing on the college level as achieving a “good enough” goal.  Nonetheless, she’s a hard worker and has passed the compulsory and optional elite testing completions, to the reluctance of her coach, who has many gymnasts and has admitted that he will be focusing on another girl for the next steps.  He admits that he wants my daughter to be an excellent level 10, trained as an elite.

My problem is that I desire for my daughter to identify her ceiling, or how high she CAN go, before settling, and she continues to get denied opportunities for proceeding without some type of obstacle presented for getting to the next steps..  I’m confused/concerned that her coach has decided her ceiling without exploring her “true” ceiling. I can’t say that I know more than him about this process, but we began this path thinking that the playing field was level, and did not find out that it wasn’t until recently.

Of course you can’t provide definitive answers but I am torn between considering if I should find someone who’s willing to see if she can go further versus keeping her with her friends and accepting this course for her career.  Of course, finding a program who can train elite level gymnast’s appears to harder that finding a needle in a hay stack. But what would I look for if I decided to explore?  Do you think that you need to be an “insider” as an elite trainer??  Do you think that coaches who train very good level 10’s and desire to train an elite gymnast can actually make the jump up to that level of coaching?  Is the coaching drastically different?  Is it a progression in training, or a new set of training techniques that coaches must learn?

I’m really at a dilemma because my daughter feels good about her gym friends, and I feel as if she needs to know what her capabilities are in ALL things, so that she can understand the importance of not settling until you have recognized your ceiling.  Hopefully this wasn’t too long-winded or disjointed.  I value your feed back.

It really seems as if you want to do justice to your daughter’s chances in the sport. Let me say right off that my intent in setting up this Ask the Coach service was not to disparage any gym or program or to second guess from a distance, but to provide much needed information to parents and gymnasts. ÂWe do try to provide perspective that less experienced coaches may not be able to give or coaches with a personal agenda may not want to provide.

Before I get any deeper into your questions, I have one suggestion you may want to act on quickly.  There is still time this summer to sign your daughter up to go to a camp at a gym where they are already producing Elite gymnasts so she can see what such a program is like.  Certainly, if there is such a gym very near to you that you might consider switching to, I would choose that one.  See down below how to find Elite producing gyms or let me know where you live.

There is a tremendous shortage of coaches in this country who are capable of getting or willing to do what is necessary to get gymnasts to the highest levels.  You should feel lucky already since you are already at a gym that is producing Level 10 and Pre-Elites.  The majority of gyms in the country may never do that. Most of our questions about Elite training involve helping parents find out where they can go in their area to find any level or hope of Elite training and all too often there are no gyms within driving distance that are proven and capable of providing that.

There are more and more gyms opening each year and yet less gyms producing Elite gymnasts.  Producing an Elite gymnast, especially one who does not make the Olympic Team is often a money losing process for a coach and gym.

From a marketing point of view, too many gyms claim to be training gymnast for Elite that the average customer has no idea who can really do it.

The best indicator that a gym can produce Elites is whether they are currently producing Elites, have produced Elites in the past and preferably have produced more than one Elite.

How to find the needle in the haystack?  The system I use to rate gyms is to keep track of meet results from elite meets.  The results list the gyms that have Elite gymnasts.  I look at which gyms have Elite gymnasts, which gyms have more than just one Elite (who might be extremely talented and not an Elite because of the coaching but because of natural talent).  Gyms with more than one Elite gymnast likely have a good training program and how Elites from the various gyms perform and win gives an indication of their program.

USA gymnastics has a meet results page that lists Elite meet results, among others) for this year and back through 2004.  The Elite meets for women are listed as:

  • American Classic
  • American Challenge
  • American Cup
  • Visa Championships
  • U.S. Championships

The results do not usually list what state and town the Elite gyms are in so you have to do a little research to find which gyms are near you. You can do that yourself or if you email me back and tell me where you are located, I can give you an idea of which gyms to look at (if there are any in your area).

I now also keep track of Level 9 and 10 results, since many gyms think it is too hard, they do not even attempt to take their kids Elite, and so now there are less than 50 Elites in the whole country.  It is much harder now to become an Elite since the rule changes in 2008.  The US system does favor insiders, even to the point of coaches having difficulty even finding out what rule and other changes are going on within the Elite program. If, however, a coach begins to consistently produce Elites, they can become an insider, as well.

If coaches are serious about training Elites and that is considerably less popular now than ever before, they are likely going to need to considerably revamp their current point of view and be very proactive in gathering information.  Historically, it has been difficult to get inside information about the Elite program and the frequent changes made to the program(s). The coaches, who are producing Elites and are on the Elite committees, have rarely ever made a big effort to distribute information and rule changes in a timely manner.  For a brief time when USAG first put up their web site, there was a much more concerted effort, but even that has faded now.

Unless you are on the Elite mailing list (and even then sometimes the information is late being passed on to coaches not currently coaching Elites), you have to spend time to track down the information yourself.  This may or may not be a result of current Elite coaches trying to keep others out but more likely is just because Elite coaches are busier than the average coach and can’t necessarily find the time to track down interested coaches to distribute information to.

To try to keep up a coach needs to keep track at least monthly of the the official USAG Elite web pages

To really keep up, you will need to get on good terms and the mailing list of your Regional Elite Program rep.  Be aware, depending on where you are, there are some Regional Elite reps who may not have had any Elites for some time and are not really in the loop either.  Go to your region’s web site and you should find out who you need to get to know to get current info.

Training for Elite is drastically different in many ways than training a J.O. team.  It is even more complicated in gyms too small to have coaches just for their Elites, where the coaches have to switch back and forth from working with the J.O. program, maybe even having to coach Compulsory gymnasts, and preparing Elite gymnasts for competition.  That requires extreme mental flexibility and careful planning and is a much tougher job than just coaching gymnasts of the same level.

The seasons are totally different.  J.O. competitions are in the spring and the J.O. gymnasts are in their off-season in the summer.  Elites must be training routines in the summer because the official Elite meets are in the summer and international meets are in the late summer and early fall.

Basically, training for Elite means switching to the new set of International rules and training for maximum difficulty instead of trying to get by with easiest skills to make the minimum difficulty as is most common in USAG JO competitions.  Elites need to get and train according to FIG rules because USAG has inflated the values of many skills.   The level of difficulty to make and be successful at the Elite level is as high or even higher now than it ever was.

The entire FIG program is available free online at the FIG web site, including the FIG women’s Code of Points download.

You did not mention how old your daughter is?  This may be one of the key questions.  The first thing I want to know is what is her “natural” Olympics (the Olympics where she will have first reached the age of 16).  She may have only 3 years for the 2012 London Olympics or she may have 7 to 11 years for the 2016 or 2020 Olympics.  Your gymnast may be off-Olympics (she will graduate from high school and theoretically go to college before her natural Olympics).  Gymnasts in this category may aim instead for World Championships.  Knowing her age and current skill level is an extremely important factor in how you evaluate her future gymnastic career.

The big thing I cannot evaluate is what is it that your daughter wants to do as far as Elite and what price in time, effort and work she is willing to pay to do that.  There will be some price to pay, whether it is having to switch to another gym, face working for higher level difficulty skills, more hours in the gym, etc.  What she wants to do and what price she will pay is the real first question.

I can already tell you that your daughter has the potential to be an Elite.  She already has tested out.  There are less than 50 gymnasts who will be competing in the Elite meets this summer.  That means your daughter is already in the very top of the 80,000 gymnasts in the USA Gymnastics system.  That means she is already in the 99.9th percentile of USA gymnasts.  She probably has less than 75 – 100 gymnasts to pass to reach the top of the Elite ranks.

Whether she is in the right place to fully develop her Elite potential is another story and is also something you should ask and talk to her about.  Her current coaches seem to have taken her quite far along the path. If they have taken her this far, there is a much better than average chance that they could take her the rest of the way.  But your comments do cast some doubt on whether they are really committed to taking her the rest of the way. This seems to be an unusual situation that you probably should talk out with her current coaches. Most coaches, who have the talent and chance to take gymnasts Elite, want to do so. It is the peak of the sport in terms of coaching.  But there are also, certainly, coaches who have concluded that it is not worth it to try to break into the Elite ranks, time wise and financially.  This is something you and they should talk about and face.

It is usually very difficult for gymnasts to switch gyms even when it is obviously in their best personal interests. Change is hard to face and most gymnasts don’t like to have to leave their friends and go into a new situation and not only have to start to learn a new training system but make new friends at the same time.  They often make decisions that will affect their entire life based on the feedback and pressures of their current peer group.  It is often extremely difficult for them to see outside of their current group of friends and see that there are friends to be made and enjoyed in every gym.

Without suitable coaching and the full support of their gym and coaches, gymnasts have very little chance to reach their Elite potential. ÂLook around and see what your options are for Elite gyms in your area.  Talk to your daughter.  Try out some summer camps at other Elite gyms.  Talk to your coaches and the gym owner again about what really are their intentions and requirements for your daughter to go Elite.

Hope this helps. It is impossible for me to write down everything I know about training for Elite in this forum.  That will more likely end up being 3 books about Training for Elite, 4 gymnastics event books and a Using Trampoline for Gymnastics Training book.  Good luck.  If there is anything else I can do for you or questions I can answer, let me know.

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4 Responses to “Finding a Program Who Can Train Elite Gymnasts”

  1. Deanna Dutt July 5, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

    My daughter takes gymnastics and I’m trying to find the right gym in Saint Louis, MO. I live in the city of Saint Peters so the closer the better. I feel like I hear good and bad about so many of them. She just turned 6 and has been only taking gymnastics for 6 months. she has been asked to competition but I have said no till I know if this is the right place. She does very well and loves it. Do you know were she should go around here?
    Thanks so much

    • Coach Howard July 6, 2011 at 4:31 pm #

      Since you asked this question on the web page article about “Finding a Program Who Can Train Elite Gymnasts,” it looks like the gym in your area that has a coach and program that has already produced an Elite gymnast – Vanessa Zamarripa is:

      Midwest Twisters‎
      615 North Main Street
      O’Fallon, IL 62269-3704
      (618) 628-3553

      The gym is on the other side of St. Louis from Saint Peters, but if you want a gym that has produced an Elite gymnast, they are the only one in the area that I know has done so.

      Your daughter is young and there is no guarantee that Midwest Twisters will put her in a team or team training program, but I believe that it is best to find the best gym possible from the very beginning. That way you do not have to change gyms later and that the training your daughter receives could be expected to be the right kind of training for her to reach her highest level possible.

      There are other possibilities that you should check out:

      A somewhat closer gym that has produced some Level 9 and 10 National Qualifiers is:
      St. Louis Gymnastics Centre‎
      315 West Pacific Avenue
      Webster Groves, MO 63119
      (314) 968-9494

      The closest gym to you that has qualified gymnasts to Level 9 and 10 Nationals is:
      Team Central Gymnastics Academy‎
      2675 Metro Blvd
      Maryland Heights, MO 63043-2411
      (314) 291-0101‎

      The best way to decide would be to go to the gym and have them evaluate your daughter and tell you what their plan for her would be. I would start with the Midwest Twisters, but I would visit all three before making a decision.

      Good luck.

  2. Stacey July 9, 2012 at 11:21 am #

    I’m looking for a Elite level gymnastics training gym in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, IL or in Chicago itself.
    Thank you!

    • Gymnastics Zone July 10, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

      Legacy Elite Gymnastics
      327 Gundersen Drive
      Carol Stream, IL 60188

      Phone: 630-682-0144

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