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TOPs Gymnastics Program [Requirements, Pros And Cons]

tops gymnastics

In the world of gymnastics, you might have come across the phrase “the TOPs program” quite a few times. If you’re confused about what this program is, you don’t need to look much further for answers.

I’ve come up with a basic guide as to what the TOPs gymnastics program is and what are the program’s requirements. I have also made a few arguments about why you should or should not send your child to the TOPs program.

The exact definition of what TOPs are as per the USA Gymnastics Website is “a talent search and educational program for female gymnasts ages 7-10 and their coaches.” TOPS stands for talent opportunity program.

Established 22 years ago TOPs set out to find young gymnasts who possess a “special” talent which with the right kind of coaching can be a perfect fit for the national gymnastics team and future Olympians.

By no means, however, is the TOPs program the decision-maker for who gets to join the national team. They simply train the young athletes, strengthen their skills and work on their weaknesses enough to draw them to the scout’s attention.

So, in essence, TOPs provide the best coaching that can be offered.

How does one qualify for the TOPs program?

A) Age

Gymnastics is a sport that requires athletes to start at a very young age and by the time the athletes are 16 or 17 years old they end up qualifying for the Olympics and winning gold.

So needless to say, age plays a very huge role in qualifying for the program.

However, this is where things get a bit tricky. The age groups are a bit confusing and so I’ll try my best to make it as simple as I possibly can.

The testing groups are set up according to the athlete's age as of the 31st of December of the year of testing. So, let’s say your child was born on the 31st of December and is 6 years old, they will be tested as a 7-year-old.

Another way of determining the testing group is to minus the athlete’s birth year from the testing year. So, if the testing year is 2019 and your child was born in 2010, they will be grouped with 9-year-olds.

While children younger than 7 are not eligible to be tested by TOPs, there isn’t any age requirement set to train with them.

Children ages 11 and above are not eligible for the TOPs test. Instead, they will be tested under the HOPES test. If your child just turned 11 on the 31st of December, despite training as a ten-year-old, they will not be eligible under the age bracket.

B) State/Regional tests

To qualify for state and regional tests, your child has to be chosen by their respective gyms.

Please note that not all gyms follow the TOPs program so choose wisely. Also, the athletes have to be registered with the Athlete Members of the USA Gymnastics.

Once your child passes the requirements laid out by their gyms, they will be evaluated by a regional or state level test which usually takes place in June and July.

At these tests, the young athletes are evaluated based on 6 varying physical abilities which I’ve explained later on in this article. Based on their score on this test, your child will qualify for the National TOPs test. 

The athletes are tested based on their skill routines as well. Athletes in the age group of 8 to ten are tested on skill and the skill sequence.

C) National test

If the athlete manages to secure the highest scores in the national TOPs test, they will snag a place in the National TOPs training camp which starts in December.

The top 100 athletes from every age bracket, other than the 7-year-olds, are selected for the TOPs national testing.

The top 50 scorers from the 7-year-old bracket are chosen for the Diamond Team. They are announced on the USAG’s official website and receive a TOPs certificate and leotard.

The test and the training both take place at the Karolyi Ranch National Training Centre which is a training site for the US Olympics.

Physical Abilities Testing Criteria

The physical abilities test is a combination of 6 different tests that are as below:

  • The Rope Climb in which the young athletes whilst in pike position have to climb 12 feet.
  • The Handstand Hold requires the gymnasts to maintain a handstand with the correct body positioning for 30 seconds.
  • Press Handstands are different for each age group. For the 7 and 8-year-olds, the athletes have to perform five press handstands while the 9 to 10-year-olds have to do 10.
  • The gymnasts are required to do 20 leg lifts with their legs starting ad ending in a horizontal position every time.
  • Cast to Handstands is to be performed five times and has to be within a 15-degree vertical range to be accepted.
  • The flexibility test is a sequence that included 6 holds and kicks. Here are some ways to increase your flexibility in gymnastics.

Should I Enrol my child into this program?

Now before I get into the pros and cons of the TOPs Program, I feel the need to add a disclaimer.

This article is in no way here to tell you whether your child should or should not enrol in the program. No one can make that decision other than you and your child. All I’m here to do is to provide a clear and simple picture of what goes on in the program.

PROS

  • TOPs training is very focused and so rather than teaching your child compulsory routines, they focus on your child’s individual needs such as working on their strength and flexibility and how to master the skills that will up their game.
  • TOPs are doing something right in their training considering that most of the Olympians including the Gold Medal Winning Team from 2012 passed out from this program as well as the members of the Fierce Five.

CONS

  • TOPs training is not fun and games. The program is tough, and your child could end up hating gymnastics altogether.
  • TOPs training is very tough and that leaves very little time for other activities including school work.

So, there you have it. I hope this article is able to help you understand and gain more insights on the TOPs gymnastics program.  You now have an important discussion to have with your young gymnast, that is, is gymnastics just a fun sport or are they in it for the long run. Good luck!