TOPs (Talent Opportunity Program) is a common buzzword in the gymnastics community. Have you heard it yet?
If you have, I’m guessing you have some questions . . . most parents do. If you haven’t heard about TOPs, you’re probably curious now. So, let’s GAB about it!
The purpose of this series is to empower parents by providing information and insight about a sometimes confusing and often-misunderstood program.
This post is #1 in a 5 part series about the Talent Opportunity Program (TOPs)
- Who, What, & Why of the TOPs gymnastics program -> YOU ARE HERE
- How TOPs testing works
- Is the TOPs program right for your child? – Coming Soon
- How you can empower your TOPs athlete – Coming Soon
- Advice from TOPs coaches across the country – Coming Soon
The first question most parents have is, “CAN my child participate in the TOPs gymnastics program?” Don’t worry. I’ll address that very question in this post.
BUT before I jump in, I want to clarify that the information in these first two posts are shared to lay a foundation for a more important question, “SHOULD your child participate in the TOPs program?”
Spoiler alert: The answer is not the same for everyone! My hope is to empower you as a parent to feel confident in the final decision whether it be yes or whether it be no.
Keep reading. I hope you feel empowered.
Who can participate in the TOPs Gymnastics Program?
USAG defines TOPs as “a talent search and educational program for female gymnasts ages 7-10 and their coaches.”
As noted, age is the main requirement for eligibility to test in the TOPs program. But as straightforward as it may seem, age groups are one of the more confusing aspects of the TOPs program.
How is Age determined in TOPs? Athletes are divided into testing groups based on the child’s age as of December 31st of the testing year.
For example, if an athlete’s birthday is December 31st and she is 7 years old at every testing event, she would still test as an 8 year old.
An easy trick is to subtract your child’s birth year by the testing year. If your child is testing TOPs in 2018 and was born in 2009, your child would test as a 9-year-old.
Equation: 2018-2009 = 9
Children Younger than 7 – Although a child must be 7 by December 31st to test within the TOPs program, there is no age requirement to train within the TOPs program.
Children Older than 10 – If a child turns 11 by December 31st even if she is 10 most of the year, she will be ineligible to test within the TOPs program. At this point, a child may integrate into HOPES testing. We will address this transition in POST # 2.
Although age is the only requirement defined by USAG to participate in TOPs, clubs may have their own standards and requirements to train and test within the TOPs gymnastics program.
What is the TOPs Gymnastics Program?
In a nutshell TOPs is a talent search and education program under the direction of the International Elite Committee of Women’s Artistic Gymnastics. The TOPs program was first introduced in the early 90’s with three main goals set by USAG:
1) Identify talented young gymnasts
2) Identify deficiencies in fitness and skill in order to remedy
3) Enhance the information flow and educational opportunities to talented athletes, their parents and their coaches to help improve the athlete’s training.
The first goal of the TOPs program, to identify talented young gymnasts, is the main culprit for the HYPE around the word TOPs. With a little stretch of the imagination this goal is misinterpreted as, “to scout future Olympians”.
This misconception is only magnified by the fact that most Olympic gymnasts were also former TOPs participants. And yes, the National Team Staff has the tricky job of identifying potential National Team Members at a young age, as Olympic gymnasts are more often than not, teenagers.
However, TOPs is NOT the program used to determine National Team Members or pick the next Olympic athletes.
So what does “identify talented young gymnasts” mean and what are the incentives for participating in the TOPs program?
Why do Gyms Participate in the TOPs Gymnastics Program?
Let me clarify that by dissecting the three goals previously set by USAG for the TOPs program, I’m inserting my own experiences and opinions.
Identify talented young gymnasts
Although the National Team Staff at TOPs national testing and TOPs camps may notice talented athletes, the real “scouting” happens at Developmental Camps and HOPES/Elite events.
Rather, the TOPs program provides a system for COACHES to identify talented young gymnasts within their club and create a training system that accommodates accelerated learning.
Let’s take a break for a minute and lament over the use of the word talented . . . it’s a bit loaded. There are many factors that determine athletic success and usually we just associate the word talented with physical aptitude. Viable indicators of future success include persistence, passion, focus, work ethic, resilience, and a teachable spirit to name a few.
Interested in this concept? I recommend the book, GRIT.
But above all else, the BEST indicator of success is TIME. I don’t mean increased hours in the gym. I’m referring to the saying, “only time will tell”.
Anne Josephson debunks the myth that kids who progress the fastest in the beginning are more talented than the children who take longer to learn athletic skills in her article, HOW A GYMNAST IS LIKE A CARROT. Take a peek when you have a minute.
So although early development is not a crystal ball for future success, it can be an indicator that a child may be capable of handling a faster timeline for skill acquisition than may be common at her age. This is where the TOPs program becomes a training aid.
Psst. There are other issues with the word “talented.” I’ll address them in post #4. But, for now, let’s move onto TOPs goal #2
Identify deficiencies in fitness and skill in order to remedy
Just as there are many indicators that contribute to mastery, there are also many components to mastering the sport of gymnastics. The list includes strength, flexibility, speed, balance, grace, aggressiveness, consistency, and of course proficiency on four very different events.
The TOPs program evaluates gymnast’s physical abilities and skill sets to encourage equal attention and development in all aspects of gymnastics. The goal is to identify deficiencies that may interfere with future mastery, in order to remedy at an early stage of development.
As TOPs routines are simplified versions of Elite Compulsory routines, the TOPs program specifically allows for continual progress and preparation for HOPES (modified Elite) and Elite qualifiers, although the TOPs program can enhance participation in Junior Olympic Levels (example Level 6-10) as well.
Onto the third goal . . .
Enhance the information flow and educational opportunities to talented athletes, their parents and their coaches to help improve the athlete’s training.
TOPs camps and national testing were designed to provide education for athletes, parents, and coaches. If an athlete qualifies to National Testing, parents are invited to attend an educational meeting held by a National Team Staff representative.
If an athlete qualifies to TOPs A or B Camps, coaches and athletes are invited to attend a 5 day camp under the direction of the National Team Staff. More information provided in Post #2.
Other opportunities for education within the TOPs program include Developmental Invite Camps (by invitation only) and Make It Right Camps (open enrollment).
- Children must be between the ages of 7 and 10 within the TOPs calendar year to test in the TOPs program. There are many other factors, besides age, to consider before deciding to participate in the TOPs program.
- The TOPs program encourages coaches to identify and train athletes that may enjoy future involvement in accelerated programs such as HOPES and ELITE.
- The TOPs program identifies deficiencies in fitness and skill in order to remedy through education of coaches and athletes.
Now you know who can participate in the TOPs program. You also know what the TOPs program is and why it was created. But, I’m sure you have a whole new set of questions! Continue learning by reading Post #2 HOW TOPS TESTING WORKS.