TOPs Gymnastics 101

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)

TOPS Gymnastics 101 | explaining the program, who, when, why | Gym Gab

#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!

 

 

50 Responses to “TOPs Gymnastics 101”

  1. Nicole

    My daughter will turn 7 yo on January 18 (2008). Will she be eligible to try out tops testing in June?

    Reply
    • Gym Gab

      Yes! She’ll be old enough to test as a 7 year old at the State Level this Summer. Her coaches can fill you on their plan :)

      Reply
  2. Gym dad

    Hello. My daughter is almost 6 1/2. She will be competing in level 3 this season. Her coach has mentioned the word TOPS to me a few times since this past summer. He would like her to begin the training at the conclusion of this season. At this point I just want her to learn as much as she can this year, have good experiences, and continue to develop her skills. If she began training TOPS after this season, I’m curious how this usually works. Is it usually an additional training training program beyond her
    normal practices? Or is TOPS training incorporated into a regular practice? Many thanks. I really like the blog.

    Reply
    • Gym Gab

      TOPS training varies depending on the needs of each gym/gymnast. Many gyms have athletes attend JO workouts (example level 3) and then an additional workout for TOPS skills. Other gyms have a group of tops-mentality athletes train together and address the needs of both TOPS requirements and JO routines within each practice. Your coach will be able to provide a more concrete schedule but most likely, practice hours will increase.

      Sorry this answer is not too specific. If you have more questions, send them our way.

      Reply
    • Gym Gab

      It’s not an acronym as far as I’m aware. Just the name of the modified competition rules for girls (10-13 yrs. olds) preparing to test elite.

      Reply
  3. ann

    Hello, my gym doesn’t have a Tops program and I was wondering if there was a list somewhere of gyms that have this program? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Gym Gab

      There is not an official list. I suggest sharing your interest in the TOPS program with your current team director. They might be able to provide you with insight, extra training opportunities, or steer you towards a gym that does have a TOPS program. If your coach or team director isn’t able to help, try contacting your State’s TOPS director. Contact information is found here: https://usagym.org/PDFs/Women/TOPs/tops_statemanagers.pdf

      Let me know if you have any other questions!

      Reply
  4. Valerie

    My daughter is 4 and has been training for TOPS for about 8months. However relocation be happen in 2015, can u recommend the best way for us to find/researching other gyms that offer training in Texas? Thanks

    Reply
    • Gym Gab

      I suggest calling the gyms in the area and “interviewing” the team director or TOPS coordinator either by phone or email. Ask questions that are pertinent to you and allow them to share their gyms successes and philosophies. You can also ask for a trial class or two, so you can see if it’s a good fit for your daughter. If you’re having trouble finding gyms with TOPS programs, contact Texas’ State Manager here: https://usagym.org/PDFs/Women/TOPs/tops_statemanagers.pdf

      Reply
    • Gym Gab

      It is not required that kids be homeschooled to compete at a TOPs testing event. However, gyms may require a workout schedule that interferes with traditional school times. My TOPs athletes workout in the morning to accommodate coach/gym scheduling needs and allow the gymnasts time with their families in the evenings as they are still quite young. Because of this, the gymnasts attend half day at public school and are enrolled in an online program that allows them to study any missed material. Hope this information helps!

      Reply
  5. Becky

    My daughter is 5. Her coach approached me and asked if we’d be interested in training for TOPS. Is TOPS something would prevent her from doing regular team competitions? After age 10, would the girls just go back to regular Level whatever competitions? I haven’t gotten more information from our gym, so I’m just trying to research what this would mean for her. She just wants to be part of the “team” she sees practicing. Right now, the proposed TOPS program at our gym would be only 3 girls. Honestly, I know very little about gymnastics, team, TOPS, or otherwise.

    Reply
    • Gym Gab

      Each child’s journey through the TOPs program is unique and different. Your coach/program director will be able to answer most of your questions with details specific to your club. Most TOPs athletes participate in TOPs competitions and JO “regular team” competitions. The TOPs program helps athletes develop skills specific to the Elite Compulsory routines, offering accelerated skill acquisition that can also aid in rapid advancement through the JO levels. When a TOPS athlete is ineligible to participate due to age (i.e. after age 10) they can work towards HOPES/ELITE qualifications or continue advancement through JO levels up through level 10 and NCAA gymnastics. Hope this helps!

      Reply
  6. Avery

    Hello! So my daughter is 5 and skipped a level at her gym to be on the mini team. A few girls started in the tops program at the gym. Two of the girls are 5, and my daughter wants to also be a part of it. ( she just wants to be at the gym more ). So will it hurt her not to be in the program and maybe get asked in the future, and is there anything I can do to help her be ready if she gets asked. I don’t want her to feel left out since she loves the girls and coming to the gym. Thanks

    Reply
    • Gym Gab

      I would express your interest in the TOPS program to your daughter’s coach or team director. They can give you insight as to why they think TOPS training may or may not be a beneficial thing for your daughter. There is no harm in her NOT training TOPS, especially if it’s not a right fit for her abilities/personality. On the other-hand TOPS might be a great fit, but maybe not at this time. Your daughter has more than a year (perhaps two depending on her birthday) until she is age eligible to compete in the TOPS program.

      Gymnasts wanting to spend more time at the gym is never a bad thing :) Coaches understand the reality and risk of burnout when creating workout schedules and would rather err on gymnasts yearning for more, than overwhelmed and unhappy. Finding the right balance is key. Your coach/program director should be able to help with a schedule that meets your daughter’s needs.

      Hope this helps! Best of luck!

      Reply
  7. Brooks

    My daughter will turn 11 next Jan. Would she train for tops and tryout this fall as a 10 year old or would she move into the hopes category

    Reply
  8. Avery

    Do you know how long it could take from being able to only do 1-2 presses to being able to do 10 for TOPs? And is it much harder for tall (4’10”) gymnast to do TOPs? What is a daily list of conditioning to do to start training for TOPs? Not too hard considering this gymnast can only do about 2 presses. Not looking to compete TOPs, but needs to get much stronger. Thanks!

    Reply
  9. Nell

    Do you know of any Tops gymnastics in Puerto Rico? Or any gym in the states we can just visit to to be tested/evaluated?

    Reply
    • Gym Gab

      As far as I’m aware, TOPS is a US specific training program. You can contact Tops state managers to find a gym that would be willing to help with Tops evaluations.

      Reply
    • Gym Gab

      TOPs A camp is composed of the highest scoring athletes from Tops National testing. Their camp expenses are covered by USAG funding. TOPs B camp is composed of the next group of highest scoring athletes and individuals are responsible for any expenses.

      Reply
  10. Kate Hruby

    How long should a child train before being tested? My daughter is 8 turning 9 and was asked to join the TOPs testing that will be at our gym in a few days. She was a 2nd year Level 3 the past year and just started training in May. Is that even justifiable? Wondering why she is even getting tested. I thought that this first test was a base line and then they would have a second test to see what the improvement looked like with the training. Thanks for you information above. That very much helped me but if you could let me know your thoughts on the above question. How little is not enough time to get ready, to be fair to the child?

    Reply
  11. Jacki

    We were given a percentage score for my daughter who tested as a 9 year old. What is a “good score” for a 9 year old to qualify for National Testing? We are not sure if we should do more testings or not. I know it varies from year to year, but do you know what average scores made it in the past?

    Reply
  12. ME

    What about a “good score” for 8 year old or 10 year old? Also, what’s the typical qualifier score to Team A for each age group? I am assuming it varies from year to year, but I thought I’ll ask in case someone knows.

    Reply
  13. DML128

    What is the parent’s meeting like at National TOPS testing? My daughter is our gym’s first and only TOPS gymnast. I would like to know what to expect.

    Reply
  14. Jennifer c

    My daughter is in TOPS currently she is turning 8 years old November 27 th 2015, her coach said next season she will compete as a 9 year old in 2016 but she will only be 8 years old. I am super confused. Her DOB is 11/27/2007. Can anyone confirm and help me out?

    Reply
    • Gym Gab

      She will compete as a 9 year old next year because she will turn 9 before the years end. TOPS ages are determined not by testing date but by the age the gymnast will be by December 31st. Hope that clarifies things. Here’s a little trick. Take the testing year and subtract it by the year your daughter was born. Example: 2016-2007 = 9

      Reply
  15. Tiffyb1212

    Good Day,
    My daughter is very interested in the TOPS program but her gym is not affiliated with the program (more so than competing). How should I approach the head coach requesting personal training for the 2016 test? She will be 8 in October 2016 so will test as an 8 year old I believe. I don’t want to offend or feel as if I am over stepping boundaries.

    Reply
    • Gym Gab

      I think an open conversation about goals is always appropriate. Set up an appointment with your coach, so not to ambush or distract from their coaching time. Your coach will be able to share his/her vision, goals, and insight with you as well. Hope this helps!

      Reply
  16. Jodie

    My daughter (8) just moved up to level 3. Some of her level 3 peers are doing TOPS. She hasn’t been asked yet and wasn’t last year. It doesn’t seem fair she competes against girls who get extra TOPS training. I’m fine if they don’t think she’s good enough, but I can’t help but wonder if the amount we are paying for level 3 is just a way for the gym to make more money without any real hope of my daughter becoming an elite gymnast. Give it to me straight please – I’ve read everything I could find and still don’t have an answer. I just want to make sure the sacrifice we are making is for a real cause.

    Thanks!!

    Reply
    • Gym Gab

      First, let me commend you for the sacrifices you’ve already made to get your child to this point. Gymnastics is expensive, it demands time, and can impose lifestyle changes. I totally understand a desire for a “return on investment”.

      In 2013 USAG quoted over 90,000 competitive athletes in the USAG Program and approx. 70 elites. The hard truth is that competitive gymnasts have about .08% chance of becoming an elite. If Elite status is the only “real cause” that would qualify for the amount you are sacrificing, than the “give it to me straight” answer would be to find another sport.

      The good news? There are SO MANY OTHER REASONS to invest in the sport of gymnastics! If you google “benefits of gymnastics” you’ll find countless lists that include “real causes” not related to college or elite status. The key is to decide if the sacrifices are worth the intrinsic value or “life lessons” gymnastics has to offer. Does your child LOVE the sport? Does she gain confidence through her participation? Is she learning valuable lessons through competition and commitment to a team? Only you, your family and your daughter can answer these questions.

      In regards to your child’s placement in a TOPs group (or lack there of), there are many factors coaches consider. Based on her age and level (not always a perfect indication), here’s what I’ve got for you: If your daughter turned 8 last year (2015) she would be required to compete 9 year-old TOPS skills at the state level that are comparable to level 6/7 skills in JO. With a current level 3 skill set, those expectations might have a negative effect on her progress/confidence. This of course is a paper answer, as I don’t know your daughter individually.

      If you have child-specific questions, talking with your child’s coach or team director may help. Try coming up with a list of benefits the sport can offer your child outside of the TOPS program, beforehand – it may make the conversation seem less futile :)

      Hope this helps!

      Reply
  17. Michelle

    My daughter just turned
    11 years old but her coach was looking into Tops for her…could she still test?

    Reply
  18. Heidi

    Hi,
    Do you recommend any specific videos (YouTube or what not) to watch TOPs training or testing (specifically for age 7)? My daughter and I would love to watch them. We searched a few but wondered if you had any favorites.
    My daughter will be joining our gym’s new TOPs team next week and we’d love to see more!

    Thanks :)

    Reply
  19. Vanessa

    Hi,
    I’m 11 years old and i was wondering if i could still try out for TOPs or is that out the window for me?

    Reply

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>