Progression of a Gymnast to Elite

Subject: progression of a gymnast

Dear Coach,

I was reading one of your responses about a young gymnast, which prompted my question.

Can you please go over the gymnast’s progression from Level 4 up. I thought you went Level 4-10 then Elite. Can you please clarify that for me?

This is an interesting but complicated question. It has been some time since we wrote that answer to that question and there have been a number of significant changes to the Elite program since then. It is more usual than unusual for there to be significant changes to the Elite program at each meeting of the Elite committees (there are two Elite Committees – the National Elite Program Committee and the International Elite Program Committee).

Your question deals with three separate programs – the J.O. Program. The TOP program and the various Elite Programs. All three programs are almost completely separate from each other and neither the J.O program nor the TOP program is required before testing for Elite.

The J.O. (Junior Olympic) Program is the Level 4 – 10 program that you are apparently already familiar with. One thing, though, about the J.O. program is that gymnasts are not required to start competition at Level 4. They may start competition at Level 5.

While it is possible for a gymnast who starts in the sport at a young enough age to start at Level 4 and move up one level each year and then test for Elite, this is not the usual path an Elite gymnast takes. A primary reason for this is that most Elite coaches and programs will not want to be wasting a whole year especially on Compulsory skills that are not direct progressions to high level skills. The J.O. program is a participatory program, not an Elite training program.

The TOP program is a completely (well almost) separate from the Elite programs and from the J.O. program. It is a strength/flex testing and high level skill progression program modeled after the highly successful USAIGC (United States Association of Independent Gymnastics Clubs) JEDP (Junior Elite Development Program) program. These programs were and are designed to emphasize the point that high level gymnastics is first and foremost dependent on first building sufficient strength and flexibility and then training skills that will lead to high level optional skills and routines. Winners in the program are rewarded with a camp.

The slight overlap of the TOP and Elite program is that the top two TOP’s gymnasts are allowed to attend an Elite camp. The TOP’s program has rapidly grown and a number of sub-levels and awards have been created. The TOP’s program is not a requirement for becoming an Elite, although the concept of building strength and flexibility first and training high-level skill progressions is exactly what gymnasts training for Elite do also. The TOP program is under the control of the Elite Committees. There are also numerous similarities between the Elite testing and Top’s testing but the testing is not exactly the same.

It is relatively difficult to keep up with Elite program rules and changes unless you have a gymnast in the program. Rule and program changes can and often do occur at every monthly meeting of the two Elite Committees. These changes are often driven by individual athlete’s situations and their coaches who are on the committees. The Elite community is small enough that this is possible and sometimes.(often times) desirable.

Essentially the Elite system is that any gymnast may request to be tested for Elite and in general (historically and traditionally) if any gymnast is good enough to test and qualify for the Elite level. Each region hosts one or more Elite Program Qualifications (sometimes held at the same time and place as TOP testing. Elite testing usually consists of Physical Abilities testing, Compulsory testing and Optional testing. This can vary depending on the year in the Olympic cycle, the time of year and the age of the gymnasts being tested.

Once gymnasts qualify by testing, they can become eligible to compete in one to four Elite meets each year depending on what Elite program they are in.

There are a number of commonly used paths to the Elite level. Perhaps the most traditional and a very common path over the last twenty years is for gymnasts to train and compete in the USAIGC Optional only competitive program (which has its own televised national Championships). Gymnasts would often simultaneously train in the USAIGC JEDP program, which has now been replaced with their STEP program. When ready, gymnasts would jump to and test for the USA Gymnastics Elite program.

A recent path is for gymnasts to train and test for the TOP program. Some gymnasts and coaches still use the USAIGC to build competitive experience. Some develop their own competition schedules and some us the J.O program to build competitive experience. Some train in TOP’s or TOP-like programs without competing for a few years and then test for Elite.

Some coaches jump their gymnasts through multiple levels in the USAG J.O. program in one year. Our personal record in this area is that in one meet, one of our gymnasts competed and moved up through Level 5, Level 6 and Level 7 in one meet qualifying to compete in level 8. With special permission for the meet director, she competed one level each day of the meet. In this type of scenario, coaches move their gymnasts up as rapidly as possible to Level 10 and compete at that level until they are ready to test for Elite.

As we pointed out earlier, it has and is not uncommon for Elite rules and testing policies and procedures to be adapted for especially talented gymnasts. Essentially, USAG wants the best possible gymnasts in the Elite program and eligible and available to compete in International competitions. The rules are likely to accommodate any gymnast at that level or capable of reaching that level.

The major change to the Elite program this year has been the addition of what is called the “Hopes” Division which is for ages 10-12. There is the Pre- Elite level with a Junior age group for 13-15 year old gymnasts and a Senior age group for ages 16 and over. The Elite Level has a Junior age group for 11-15 year olds and a Senior age group for age 16 and over. Upon first making the Elite level, gymnasts are classified as National Elite gymnasts. National Elite gymnasts may then qualify by score at one of the Elite meets to become an International Elite. Jr. and Sr. International Elites represent the United States in various international competitions. Sr. Elites are eligible to try out for the World Championship and Olympic teams.

This is the basic outline of the system at the current time. As we mentioned, Elite rules and policies are constantly changing and it is necessary for coaches who do not already have an Elite gymnast to actively research the current rules when they have a gymnast about to be ready to test for Elite.

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