Compulsory vs. Optional Gymnastics: What’s The Difference

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Compulsory and optional gymnastics might sound independent of each other, but you can’t have one without the other. Every gymnast in the United States begins at the compulsory level before entering optional gymnastics.

Knowing the difference is a crucial part of understanding the sport. Without understanding where a gymnast starts and what they are working toward, the pathway to success blurs.

Compulsory Gymnastics

Compulsory gymnastics sets the stage for each gymnast’s progression. Levels 1-5 in U.S. gymnastics include baseline skills that give gymnasts a solid foundation in technique.

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What Skills Do You Need To Master?

Levels 1-3 are an introduction for young gymnasts. These developmental levels might or might not include competition and are not mandatory. All gymnasts begin competing at levels four and five.

Specific Skill Requirements for Compulsory Gymnastics By Level:

Level One:

  • Pullover — Bar
  • Cast — Bar
  • Back-hip Circle — Bar
  • Needle Kick — Beam
  • Stretch Jump — Beam
  • Cartwheel to 3/4 Handstand Dismount — Beam
  • Forward and Backward Rolls — Floor

Level Two:

  • Glide Swing — Bar
  • Underswing Dismount — Bar
  • Arabesque to 30 Degrees — Beam
  • Cartwheel to Side Handstand Dismount — Beam
  • Backward Roll to Pushup Position — Floor
  • Bride Back Kickover — Floor
  • Split Leap with 60-Degree Leg Separation — Floor

Level Three:

  • Handspring Over a Raised Mat — Vault
  • Glide Swing and Pullover — Bar
  • Squat-on, Stretch Jump Dismount — Bar
  • Leap with 90-Degree Split — Beam
  • 180-Degree Heel-Snap Turn in Passe — Beam
  • Handstand to Bridge Kickover — Floor

Level Four:

  • Front Handspring — Vault
  • Straddle or Pike Glide Kip — Bar
  • Long-Hang Kip — Bar
  • Cartwheel — Beam
  • 180-Degree Squat Turn — Beam
  • Cartwheel to Side Handstand and 1/4 Turn Dismount — Beam
  • Round Off Double Back Handspring — Floor
  • Passe Hop with 135-Degree Turn — Floor

Level Five:

  • Kip — Bar
  • Cast to Above Horizontal — Bar
  • Long-Hang Pullover — Bar
  • Flyaway Dismount — Bar
  • Back Tuck Dismount — Beam
  • Round Off Back Handspring Back Tuck — Floor
  • Front Handspring Step Out — Floor

The Routines in Compulsory Gymnastics

Compulsory level routines have strict guidelines. Identical routines ensure all gymnasts showcase the same skills with the same expectations. Therefore, each athlete receives a fair comparison.

Competing in Compulsory Gymnastics

Judges pay close attention to timing. A gymnast’s score varies depending on the order skills are performed. If a gymnast skips a skill, judges subtract that skill’s point value twice. A judge also subtracts half the point value for a skill if a gymnast performs any in reverse. 

Optional Gymnastics

Optional gymnastics are levels 6-10. Gymnast’s no longer have to perform identical routines. Each level receives a list of guidelines and requirements to build customizable routines showcasing a gymnast’s strengths.

What Skills Do You Need To Master?

In levels 6-10, skill requirements are more complex. Just as with levels 1-5, each level has different skills a gymnast is required to showcase. 

Specific Skill Requirements in Optional Gymnastics By Level:

Level Six:

  • Front Handspring — Vault
  • Cast to Minimum of 45 Degrees Above Horizontal — Bar
  • Minimum “A” Dismount — Bar 
  • Non-Flight Acro Series or One Acro Flight Skill — Beam
  • Foot 360-Degree Turn — Beam
  • Salto or Aerial Acro Element — Floor

Level Seven:

  • Cast to Handstand — Bar
  • Salto Dismount Minium “A” Value — Bar
  • Acro Series with Minimum of Two Skills — Beam
  • One Acro Flight Skill — Beam
  • Single Foot 360-Degree Turn — Beam
  • Front Acro Series with Minimum of Two Skills — Floor

Level Eight:

  • Salto Dismount with Minimum “A” Value — Bar
  • One Minimum “B” Skill with Flight or Turn — Bar
  • Front Handspring Minimum — Vault
  • Minimum of Single Foot 360-Degree Turn — Beam
  • Acro Series with Two Skills, One with Flight — Beam
  • One 180-Degree Split Jump or Leap — Beam
  • One Acro Series with Two Saltos (Can be Directly Connected Saltos) — Floor

Level Nine:

  • Minimum of Two Bar Changes — Bar
  • Minimum “B” Value Flight Skill — Bar
  • Minimum “C” Value Flight Skill — Bar 
  • Acro Series with Minimum Two Flight Elements — Beam
  • Minimum “B” Value Aerial or Salto Dismount — Beam
  • One Acro Series with Two Saltos (Can be Directly Connected) — Floor
  • Dance Passage with Minimum of Two Leaps, Jumps or Hops, One With a 180-Degree Split — Floor

Level 10:

  • Minimum “C” Value Flight Skill — Bar
  • Minimum “B” Value Flight Skill — Bar
  • Minimum “C” Value Salto Dismount — Bar
  • One Leap or Jump with 180-Degree Split — Beam
  • Single Foot Minimum 360-Degree Turn — Beam
  • Acro Series with Two Saltos (Can be Directly Connected) — Floor
  • Minimum of One “C” Value Salto in Passage — Floor

The Routines

Optional level routines have no specific music to follow and are unique. As long as a routine follows the specific skill requirements, gymnasts have artistic freedom.

Competing in Optional Gymnastics

Judges look for how many requirements a gymnast fulfills within each skill level. For every requirement missed, judges deduct half a point. 

Each level also contains value part requirements. If a gymnast misses an “A” value part, judges deduct 0.1 of a point. For missing a “B” value part, gymnasts see a 0.3-point deduction. Missing a “C” value point results in a half-point deduction.

Levels 9-10 also receive scoring for Bonus Connections. Without Bonus Connections, a gymnast at these levels will not start with a score of 10.

So, What Exactly Is The Difference?

Compulsory gymnastics provides a solid foundation for all gymnasts.

Pros:

  • Fair and identical routines.
  • Good learning curve for new gymnasts.
  • Lays out foundational skills and techniques.

Cons:

  • Not all levels compete.
  • Lack of individuality in routines.

Optional gymnastics tests foundational skills and techniques.

Pros:

  • Individual freedom in routines.
  • More opportunity to grow in the sport.
  • All levels compete.

Cons:

  • Gymnasts can receive more pressure from increasing competition.
  • Judges look for a higher number of requirements.

Conclusion

That’s a wrap on our compulsory vs. optional gymnastics guide. Did you find the article informational and enjoyable? Add your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below.

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