It’s October already! At our house that means spooky decorations, a costume debate, and TOPs National Testing – all things scary. We all know what’s creepy about skull decor, and that the price of Disney Store costumes can give you the chills, but what’s so haunting about TOPs gymnastics testing? For most parents, it’s the unknown.
TOPs is a word that floats around the parent viewing area every now and again. Unfortunately, it is a word that creates a lot of confusion. More than once, I have had parents come to me with disturbing misinformation from the stands. I’ve also had parents hope to be part of the program with no other reasoning than they knew someone else whose kid was in a TOPs group. Today, I’d like to discuss the goals of the TOPs gymnastics program, who is eligible for testing, characteristics of a TOPs candidate, how a child get’s involved, benefits of the program, and how testing works.
QUIZ QUESTION: which of the Fierce Five trained TOPs?
(answer provided below)
#1 What is the TOPS gymnastics program?
TOPs stands for Talent Opportunity Program. As defined by USAG, it is “a talent search and educational program for female gymnasts ages 7-10 and their coaches.” TOPs has three main goals listed in USAG’s general info: 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.
#2 Who is eligible for TOPs testing?
The only requirement for State TOPs testing is that the athlete be between the ages of 7 & 10. Gymnast’s “age” is determined by how old she will be as of December 31st of the testing year. For example, one of our athletes was born on December 31st. She tested as a 10-year-old last year, although she was actually 9 years old at all the tests. Had she been born three hours later (January 1st), she would have tested as a 9-year-old. There are no other prerequisites established by USAG, however do to safety reasons, gyms may require a certain skill set or ability to attend a test.
#3 Who is a good candidate for TOPs training?
TOPs training is appropriate for a small percentage of athletes. Last year just over 2,000 gymnasts tested TOPs throughout the nation. Although that might sound like a large number, in comparison to the hundreds of thousand gymnastics participants in the US, it is a fraction. Because TOPs training is very demanding, the risk of burn-out is high. Coaches are extremely selective because they know that training the wrong athlete for TOPs gymnastics can be harmful to the child’s confidence, progress, and long-term desire to participate in the sport. On the other hand, training the right athlete in the TOPs program can lead to increased confidence, skill acquisition and motivation. When selecting athletes to train in the TOPs gymnastics program, coaches consider strength, flexibility, skill acquisition, focus, ability to juggle multiple skills and routine sets, commitment, desire, and age.
#4 How does a child get involved in the TOPs program?
Gymnasts are selected for TOPs gymnastics training within their club. Some gyms start training TOPs before an athlete is eligible to actually test. Although rare, in other cases, gymnasts may not be selected to train TOPs until nine or ten years old. I have an athlete that will be competing at the National Test this year, as a first time tester at the age of ten. Not all gyms offer TOPs training. The expectations of the TOPs program caters to a small percentage of gyms. If your child demonstrates many of the characteristics listed above, you may want to seek out a gym that has a TOPs program. Ask for an evaluation and information about what will be expected in terms of training, commitment, and finances.
#5 What are the benefits of testing tops?
TOPs gymnastics training promotes increased strength, flexibility and skill acquisition. Because TOPs routines and requirements are assigned by age (not level), athletes are challenged to perfect progressive skills at a faster rate than is typical in the J.O. Program (levels 1-10). Another great advantage to TOPs training, is the preparation it provides for Elite or Hopes testing. TOPs routines are simplified versions of Elite Compulsory routines. Additional benefits include education and training for athletes, parents, and coaches throughout testing and camps at the National Training Center in Huntsville, Texas (aka “The Ranch”).
#6 How does testing work?
Gymnasts are tested on physical abilities (strength & flexibility) and skills (designated routines) during the months of June and July at a state level. State TOPs Managers are appointed by USAG. Testers are selected by the State Managers. Gymnasts may attend multiple TOPs tests within the two month period. They may also attend tests in States other than the one where they live (although this is rare and usually unnecessary). I have my athletes attend two tests. This relieves some of the pressure from the first test. Scores from the State test are submitted to USAG.
Based off of State results, Gymnasts are selected to attend the TOPs National Testing in Texas. Out of over 2,100 athletes that tested TOPs this Summer (2013), 302 were invited to attend the National Test in October. Testing at “The Ranch” is very similar to State testing. There are a few additional skills and variations on the physical abilities.
Out of the National testers, approximately 100 athletes and their coaches are invited to participate in the National TOP Training camps. The final number and athletes are determined by the TOPs committee. Athletes are divided into two camps (A & B) held consecutively in December.
Past National TOP Athletes of the Year
2007 – Samantha Peszek
2006 – Natasha Kelley
2005 – Alicia Sacramone
2004 – Courtney Kupets
2003 – Carly Patterson and Chellsie Memmel
2002 – Courtney Kupets
2001 – Ashley Miles and Katie Heenan
2000 – Tasha Schwikert
1999 – Morgan White
QUIZ ANSWER: All five members of the Gold Medal Winning 2012 Olympic Team, The Fierce Five, competed in the TOPs program!