USAG Compulsories as a Training System

What’s all this obsession with perfection of the USA Gymnastics compulsory routines? Level 4, Level 5, whatever. Where did all these professional compulsory gymnasts come from? Who is sentencing America’s gymnasts to a lifetime of compulsories?

Basics are Fine
We’re not arguing with perfection. Only with the concentration of perfection on such a limited number of skills for such long periods. We’re not arguing with mastering basic skills. We’re not advocating skipping progressions.

Locked at a Low Level
It always seems such a pity to see teams with gymnasts who have stayed in the compulsory levels for an abnormally high number of years when they could and should have moved on to the optional level. Such proud team coaches reciting to any who will listen, their record number of team and individual championships. At level five.

Set a Goal To Win at Every Level, Especially Optionals
There are, of course, teams whose gymnasts win at every level. A good program must be good at the younger ages and lower levels if it is to produce high level athletes (unless they just steal them from other coaches).

Everyone Important Knows What’s Really Going On
But gymnastics is a sport of progression and coaches who hold gymnasts back so they may win at a level below their natural competition level are fooling no one in the know in the sport, including those gymnasts themselves.

One Year Per Level
Let’s face it. Let’s put it out in the open. In a really good program, there is virtually no reason, no reason at all to have a gymnast at a compulsory level for more then one year, one season. The only possible exception is a serious injury. Other than that, they should be ready to move up. If they are not ready, look long and hard at the program.

Winning Compulsories Is Not as Important As Making Optional Progress
What about if they didn’t win at that level? Shouldn’t they have to prove themselves a winner at the lower levels before they are allowed to move up? No.

Competition Is Useful
The only real value of compulsory competitions is the competitions. Compulsory competitions give meet experience. Competing helps you learn to compete better. Competition experience is invaluable. Learning to compete under pressure, in front of a crowd, dealing with nervousness, travel, etc. are all lessons a successful high level gymnast must learn. Compulsory competitions can fulfill that function. It’s not particularly important what level you compete, as long as you gain competition experience.

Most Compulsory Skills are Not Progressions For Optional Skills
But let’s not obsess about the particular skills or routines. They are not the basis of the sport. They are picked every four years from a list of equally valuable skills to be put together in some more or less good order that might teach some of the concepts that progressing gymnasts need to learn. There is no magic to their selection or in their value.

Training Time Is Valuable
There are hundreds of other necessary and important skills and combinations to be learned. Wasting years concentrating on only forty to fifty particular skills can only slow ultimate high-level gymnastics development. At some point, those additional skills must also be mastered. Meanwhile, years have passed in the compulsory levels and time is running out or already has. There is not enough time to learn all the progressions to doubles and triples that should have been being taught all along.

The Generational Effect
There is a psychological toll paid also. Coaches’ expectations that they are not good enough to move up, when all around them in the sport others are doing so, play on their minds. With each year of not working on bigger skills, they begin to loom large in a gymnast’s mind, too large. A double is an unreachable goal for so long that it becomes an unreachable goal forever.

Follow the Natural Progression of the Sport
There is a natural progression in the sport – 1/2 twist, full twist, 1& 1/2, double, etc, etc. When one is mastered, it is time to go on to the next.

It’s Time To Go To the Next Level!

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