What is the best path to follow when looking to create an Elite program or athlete?
Many gyms use the Talent Opportunity Program (TOPs) offered by USA Gymnastics to begin or continue their path to Elite gymnastics for themselves and their athletes.
TOPs was created over 20 years ago to identify talented gymnasts by using Physical Abilities and Skills Testing for gymnasts ages 7-10 years old.
Jenn Larsen, Florida TOPs manager, says, “TOPs is designed to aid coaches in having a focused approach towards Elite development. While the TOPs program is not the only way to develop an elite athlete, it is the most concise and beneficial way in order to make sure that athletes have strong foundational skills and that their bodies are properly conditioned.”
Athletes between the ages of 7-10 years old begin TOPs testing at the State level during the summer months. But then only athletes between the ages of 8-10 years old are eligible to move on to National testing in October.
“We got involved in the TOPs program because we had some extremely talented young athletes that we felt would be successful on the elite track,” explains Marissa Ramos from Golden City Gymnastics in Brandon, FL.
For the Physical Ability testing at the State level, athletes must perform six different “skills” each evaluated on a 10 point scale.
The Physical Abilities testing includes:
- Flexibility Testing is the same as what is used with the National Team
- Sequence of 6 kicks
- Sequence of 6 holds (hold for 1 sec.)
- Rope Climb
- 12’ in pike position
- Handstand Hold
- Hold for 30 sec. on beam or floor
- Press to Handstand
- May use the floor, beam, or parallettes
- 7-8 yr olds: 5 complete presses
- 9-10 yr olds: 10 complete presses
- Leg Lifts
- 20 leg lifts
- Start/finish in 90 degree hold
- Cast to Handstand
- Complete 5 casts
- Within 15 degrees of vertical
During National Testing, a 20 meter sprint run is added to the Physical Abilities testing.
At the state level, athletes who are 7 years old are only eligible to test Physical Abilities.
Ramos has seen the benefits of the Physical Abilities in her own athletes, “Our TOPs athletes excel in strength and flexibility which allows them to progress in their skills at a faster rate.”
The second part of testing includes testing on “foundational” skills on Bars, Beam, and Floor at the State level and then all events at the National level.
Skills testing is specific to each age group; 8 year olds, 9 year olds, and 10 year olds. Skills progress from age group to age group meaning that each subsequent age group has more difficult skills or skill sequences to perform than the last.
Examples of Skills testing on Beam for all age groups includes:
8 Year Old Beam Sequence:
- Back walkover finish, 2 or 3 steps to split leap or switch leap, front to back cartwheel finish, standing back tuck dismount to stick. Front walkover on low beam to controlled finish, weight on both feet.
9 Year Old Beam Sequence:
- Back walkover finish in lunge, standing back handspring, 2 or 3 steps to switch leap, front to back cartwheel finish, standing back tuck dismount to stick. Front walkover on low beam to controlled finish, weight on both feet.
10 Year Old Beam Sequence:
- Back walkover finish, handstand in split, step down to back handspring, 2 or 3 steps to switch leap, Dismount Choice: Cartwheel – Back Tuck Stick OR Roundoff – Back Tuck Stick OR 1 or 2 back handsprings to back tuck stick. Front walkover on low beam to a controlled finish, weight on both feet.
Scoring for 8-10 years olds is 40% for Physical Abilities and 60% for Skills testing. Only the top 100 athletes in each age group are invited to National Testing.
National testing is held in October at the USA Gymnastics National Training Center located on the Karolyi Ranch in Huntsville, TX (aka. The Ranch).
At National testing, athletes are evaluated on their performance of National testing skill work which includes Vault, Bars, Beam Acro (80%, 10 pts), Beam Dance (20%, 10 pts), Floor Acro, and Floor Dance.
For each age group, their Physical Abilities and Skill work are weighted differently when calculating final test results.
- 8 year olds: 50% Physical Abilities, 50% Skills
- 9 year olds: 40% Physical Abilities, 60% Skills
- 10 year olds: 30% Physical Abilities, 70% Skills
Once all age group scores have been combined, the top 50 athletes from National testing are invited to the TOPs A National Team. These athletes receive a TOPs leotard and warmup, are invited to a training camp at the Ranch in December, and have their camp fees, room & board, and transportation paid for by USA Gymnastics.
The next 60 athletes are invited to the TOPs B team. These athletes also receive a TOPs leotard, are invited to a training camp at the Ranch but must cover all their own expenses to attend.
“Coaches who have never trained/developed an athlete to the Elite program should follow the TOPs program as the many TOPs State and National testings, along with the TOPs Camps in December, provide coaches educational opportunities to learn what’s new in the elite program,” states Larsen.
So what’s next?
Athletes that advance through TOPs have the potential to attend the Developmental Invite Camps held at the Ranch and conducted by National Coaching Staff. In addition, they can advance into Pre-Elite training and possibly begin training at the Hopes or Elite levels.
“Being involved in the TOPs program has really taken our gym to the next level. We have a couple kids who have been invited into the Developmental Invite Camps through TOPs. These camps have provided our staff with incredible training and knowledge that is irreplaceable, states Ramos.