Gymnastics TOPs Program
The Gymnastics TOPs Program, or Talent Opportunity Program, is a talent search for female gymnasts between the ages of 7-10. Potential gymnasts are evaluated, and those who qualify are invited to the National TOPS Training Camp, giving them a chance to develop their talent.
What Is TOPs Program?
What is TOPs, and why does it matter? The Gymnastics TOPs Program is a talent search initiative that was started around 27 years ago. Its goal is to find fresh talent among young female gymnasts. Only gymnasts between the ages of 7-10 qualify for this program.
USA Gymnastics manages the program, and there is a TOPS State Manager assigned to each state in the union. The State Manager sets evaluation dates to evaluate potential talented gymnasts. Athletes who pass are eligible to join a special training camp to develop their talents.
How to Join the TOPs Program
To join the TOPs program, you will need to find a testing center near you. The testing dates are usually during June or July, but training should take place long before that in a private gym that offers training for TOPs. You need to make sure your child meets the TOPs gymnastics age requirements too.
Participating gyms and clubs generally have expert coaches who understand the athletic requirements the TOPs program sets for athletes. These coaches train and prepare athletes to perform well during the evaluations.
I will talk more about how to find a TOPs training program near you or who to contact for more information about TOPs programs in your area. However, let’s first talk about the program testing and evaluation process.
TOPs Program Testing
The TOPs program tests for physical capabilities and gymnastic skills in several areas. Some exercises your child may have to practice include:
- Rope climbs
- Press handstands
- Left lifts
- Regular handstands
- Flexibility tests
- Hold tests
Let’s go over some different TOPs testing skills in more detail and their requirements. Keep in mind that the exact tests can vary based on TOPs gymnastics age requirements. For example, the youngest gymnasts may only have to test for six basic physical capabilities, such as handstands and leg flexibility.
Also, testing will be different on the state level vs. the national level. For example, the sprint test, which I will talk about below, is only present during national testing. Finally, keep in mind that TOPs testing skills criteria are updated every year.
The rope climb exercises involve climbing 12 feet up a rope. The athlete’s legs must be pointed out in a piked position, and the athlete can not use them to climb the rope.
The athlete’s legs must be to one side of the rope and held horizontally throughout the climb; they can not be straddling the rope in between her legs. If the athlete does use her legs to facilitate the climb, they will get a score of 0.
The scoring coach will also deduct points based on other mistakes. For example, if the athlete bends their legs or does not keep them together, the evaluator will deduct from the score, even if her legs were only slightly bent.
The gymnast needs to start in a straddle L position, with her hands on the floor and her legs pointed forward and held above the floor, and then straddle press to a handstand and then back to the starting position. She then repeats this throughout the test, but she can not rest for more than 2 seconds in any position.
The athlete cannot walk with her hands, and her hands can not be further apart than her shoulders. Her fingers must face forward, and she must come to a full handstand and a full straddle L position each time.
Failure to follow those and other requirements will lead to a deduction in the score.
During the handstand hold, the athlete kicks up into a handstand position using one of the allowed types of floors (such as a padded floor). Her fingers must remain in the forward position, and she must stay in a handstand position for a maximum of 30 seconds.
She only gets one second chance if she falls during the first five seconds. The evaluator may give deductions based on bent arms, shoulder alignment, body alignment, and other faults. The longer the athlete can hold the handstand, the better the score.
The leg flexibility test measures how flexible the athlete is. The athlete must deliver a series of six kicks, including both forward and backward kicks, holding onto a beam.
During the leg lift, the gymnast starts by hanging from a bar, with her feet facing forward, in an L shape. Her feet must remain horizontal until she starts the exercise, in which she has to bring her legs up to touch the bar.
She then has to bring her legs back to a fully horizontal position and repeat. She can perform up to 20 lifts.
The 20-meter Sprint evaluates how fast the gymnast can run 20 meters. She can not use gym shoes, and time is calculated to the hundredth of a second for the most accurate results.
TOPs Program Requirements
So, how can your child join the program, and who is qualified? The best place to start is to look for a gym or sports club in your area that offers TOPs training.
Gyms with professional TOPs training programs will help your child prepare for TOPs training. Remember, they will be competing against some of the best talent in your state, which is why you need to make sure they get as much training and practice as they can.
A professional TOPs training coach will help your child practice for TOPs gymnastics testing. They may even accompany your child to the TOPs training camps.
Google can be a good resource for finding TOPs training programs in your area. If you live in a large city, it should be relatively easy to find such a training program.
The actual TOPs gymnastics testing takes place at specific state testing centers. You can see a complete list of the testing centers in each state in 2021 here, along with a list of each state’s TOPs State Manager.
Remember that this list is updated every year, so make sure to check the USA Gymnastics website and look for the TOPs option in the menu for updated information about TOPs gymnastics competition testing.
You can usually find updates regarding testing centers on the New Updates page.
If you can not find the information you are looking for on the USA Gymnastics website, consider reaching out to the Vice President of the Women’s Program at USA Gymnastics, Annie Heffernon.
She can give you more information about TOPs gymnastics competition testing sites, testing dates, and perhaps even training programs in your area. You can reach her via email at [email protected]
Why Should You Join TOPs Program?
If you are considering TOPs for your child, there are numerous benefits and reasons to join the intensive program.
It Can Prepare Them for High-Level Competition
If you are serious about your child’s gymnastic future, I would highly recommend signing up for the TOPs program. Many Olympic winners have attended the TOPs program. In fact, the Fierce Five, who won Gold Medals at the Olympics in 2012, attended TOPs.
Also, almost all gymnasts on the US teams in the Olympics in 2008, 2012, and 2016 attended TOPs.
While you may think that the Olympics is out of your reach, that doesn’t mean your child can’t become a successful gymnast and compete at high levels. TOPs will help train her for that. TOPs is not always easy; it requires hard work and effort. However, it pays off in the long run.
It Helps Discover Hidden Talent
Remember, the TOPs program gives athletes with a lot of talent the opportunity to thrive and develop that talent. If your child does have such talent, not enrolling her in the TOPs program might be wasting that talent.
You may not even know they have such talent until they try out for TOPs. Many young gymnasts achieve peak performance during their teenage years.
That’s why the TOPs program is so important; it allows your child to get top-level gymnastics training and develop high-level gymnastics skills at a young age, so they can succeed in their career or gymnastics journey later on.
The skills your child learns during the Gymnastics TOPs program will serve as a solid foundation for advanced gymnastics skills later. They will get a chance to develop their flexibility, body alignment, and physical strength. Gymnasts who attend TOPs see noticeable improvement.
It Develops Discipline and Confidence
Even if you don’t see a serious gymnastic future for your child, TOPs is a great program to enroll your child in. It will give your child self-confidence.
It will teach kids discipline and how to work hard to achieve a goal. If they manage to make it to the training caps, they will feel incredible accomplishment.
However, even if they don’t, they will feel a sense of accomplishment due to participating in such a high-level program; it will be something they can talk about with their friends.
In general, gymnastics gives children a chance to develop their bodies physically and strengthen their immune systems while also having fun and developing their minds.
Gymnastics requires a lot of mental strength as well. Children learn how to keep going, despite failing at times, so they achieve their goals.
Several pros are listed above, but here are a few more potential benefits for a child in TOPs.
It Gives Everyone an Opportunity
TOPs is a great way for talented girls from smaller gyms – without access to top-level training coaches – to develop their skills. Your child can learn top-level skills from the best instructors who can develop their form and help them improve. They may not be able to get such great instructors at their small gym.
It’s Great for Their Career
The Gymnastics TOPs program can prepare your child for high-level competition. Even if they don’t want to do that, having attended a TOPs program is a great thing to have on your resume.
A young gymnast’s flexibility and strength will develop while training in TOPs can seriously improve her gymnastics capabilities later in life. Also, the TOPs program is a great way to discover a hidden talent.
Training with TOPs can be a great addition to your child’s regular training regimen. Participating can be incredibly fun and rewarding for your child. Also, attending TOPs training can boost your child’s self-esteem and motivate them to continue their gymnastics journey.
Of course, nothing comes without its drawbacks. Consider the following cons before you sign your child up for the program.
It Is Difficult and Can Lead to Burnout
Not all girls will enjoy the TOPs program; some may find it too difficult. The program requires a lot of work and effort.
The TOPs program may tire your child out. There is a serious concern for burnout here, so you need to make sure your child can withstand the pressure and physical strength required for the TOPs program.
It Is Not a Guarantee
Attending the Gymnastics TOPs program is not a guarantee that your child will make it in their gymnastics career or that they will get a chance to compete at high levels.
In addition, not everyone who trains for TOPs makes it through the testing and gets to go to the special TOPs training camps; that can be a blow to the self-esteem of some young athletes who have high hopes for qualifying.
Also, if your child is already training at a large, high-level gym with excellent coaches, they may not even need the TOPs training program to develop their skills.
It Is Not for Everyone
Not everyone will have the exceptional talent the TOPs program is looking for; it’s not for every young gymnast. If you can’t find quality training in your area before the testing begins, it may not even be worth training your child to test for TOPs, as there will be less of a chance of her qualifying anyway; you don’t want to waste her time.
Also, if your child is only training for the Gymnastics TOPs program, they may not get a chance to compete in their local gym competitions; that can cause them to lose out on that valuable experience.
Take all that into consideration before deciding TOPs is suitable for your child.
So, there you have it: our complete guide to the Gymnastics TOPs program. Did you enjoy this guide and find it helpful?
Are you thinking about enrolling your child into a top training program or taking them to a TOPs training center? Or have you already done that? If so, what have your experiences been, and would you like to share your opinions with others? Let us know what you think in the comments below!