It’s time for some Junior Olympic Meet Season Facts! Here are simple answers to common questions we heard in the stands this year. Please note that our answers apply to the Women’s JO levels 1-10. Although some information may apply to the Xcel program as well, we will provide more detailed information for that program in the future.
WHAT LEVELS COMPETE?
Although it is not required to compete levels 1, 2, and 3, as they are considered developmental levels, more states are now holding competitions for these beginning levels. USAG Levels 4 & 5 make up the required compulsory levels. Levels 6 – 10 are considered Optional levels due to the nature of their routine structure. Each level is given a required skill set or difficulty level, but Optional routines are not pre-choreographed by USAG. Gymnasts usually compete in levels 4-10 before they reach either an Elite or Collegiate level. Some athletes choose to forgo these levels and compete exclusively within the TOP’s or HOPES programs. (The USAG Junior Olympic levels were altered Fall of 2013 – see our post for more information).
The Judges at meets aren’t just random gymnastics fans who were asked to come watch each event. No, quite the contrary. According to the National Association of Women’s Gymnastics Judges (NAWGJ), in order to officiate/judge a gymnastics meet, each individual in their navy blue and white uniformed outfits are required to take a series of tests (a written exam for compulsory levels and a written plus practical film exam for higher levels). They must also maintain rankings of each judgeship for at least a year before testing for the next level higher, along with becoming members of the NAWGJ, the USAG, and successfully passing their safety certifications (ie. CPR, Fire Safety, etc.).
WHEN ARE THE COMPETITIONS?
Optional level (6-10) competition season is fairly unified across the nation. It begins around the first of the year and runs through Spring (State in March, Regionals in April & Nationals in May). Because compulsory levels do not compete at Regional or National qualifying competitions, level 1-5 competition seasons are more varied. Most states choose to hold Fall compulsory competitions seasons, while others compete in Winter or Spring. Some states even host multiple seasons within the same year. Most gymnastics clubs will have a few pre- season meets called intrasquads that are held within the club and often judged by certified judges who help the gymnasts and coaches see and understand where start values (we’ll touch on what that means later) and scores might expect to be given going into the season. These intrasquad scores do not count on a state or national level.
USAG requires a minimum age requirement for competition. Gymnasts must be the following ages or older to compete in the designated level:
Level 1: 4 years old
Level 2: 5 years old
Level 3: 6 years old
Levels 4 – 7: 7 years old
Levels 8 & 9: 8 years old
Level 10: 9 years old
The age groups (for awards) are regulated by the age at which each gymnast will be on the last day of the State Competition (Regional Competition for Level 8’s). For example, if your gymnast is 7 years old all throughout the season but will be 8 years old on or before State Meet, your gymnast will be considered in the 8 year old age group.
USAG MEMBERSHIP REQUIREMENTS?
Every gymnast who is age-eligible to compete must apply for and receive an individual USAG number by becoming a member of the USA Gymnastics federation. A USAG Membership includes a membership card, secondary insurance coverage within each sanctioned meet, a subscription to the USAG Magazine, and discounts for seasonal apparel and education courses within the USAG year. Each membership is good for only one competition season.
Each gymnast, if able, although rare, may compete in more than one level per year. However, once a gymnast has competed in a State Meet at a certain level, they are not allowed to drop back to a level below that which they competed in. There is no rule regarding how many times a gymnast can or must compete each level. Gymnasts are not allowed to skip levels 4-9 (with the exception of level 6)–unless they are 14 years of age or older or entering into high school. If this is the case they are allowed to begin their competitive experience starting with level 6 or 7. Gymnasts are not required to compete an entire season at each level, but they must receive the required one-time score (a 31.00 AA or higher in levels 4-7 and a 34.00 AA or higher in levels 8 & 9) at a sanctioned meet before advancing to the next level.
ORDER OF EVENTS?
In Junior Olympic gymnastics, all competitions should follow the Olympic Order of Events. For women’s events, that order is vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and then the floor exercise. Everyone has a different opinion as to which event is “the best” to begin on, but no matter where you start, your next rotation will be that of which comes next according to the Olympic Order. (For example, if you start on bars you will always rotate to beam afterwards).
Each of the branches of the USAG have a unique scoring system devised by the International Federation of Gymnastics (FIG) and is governed by the Code of Points. These systems are based on the level of difficulty of skills, the fluidity of movement, the execution of the skills, and for women’s gymnastics, also for the artistry presented. This can get crazy complicated, so we’ll touch on that more in another post…but for now, you can read further on USA Gymnastics website.
We’re excited and determined to clarify all of your questions and hope to give you a whole collection of good-to-know bits of information along the way! If you have specific questions that you’d like us to address sooner than later, contact us HERE.