The Xcel Program is a program run and recognized by USA Gymnastics, the governing body of gymnastics for the United States.
The main goal for the Xcel Program is to allow gymnasts to progress and excel in the sport at their own pace with more flexible rules of the game. Many Xcel Programs across the country train fewer hours than the traditional 10-level Developmental Program that is also run by USAG.
The Xcel Program was formed to help gymnasts have fun with gymnastics without the rigor of compulsory level gymnastics. It allows gymnasts to perform skills on each of the four events within their skill level.
The Xcel Program is designed for gymnasts to be able to achieve their goals of competing nationally, without pushing for the goal of the Olympics or NCAA competition. Many gymnasts in the Xcel Program go on to participate in collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling teams, High School Gymnastics, and sometimes NCAA Division III Gymnastics.
What is the Xcel Program?
Let’s start with the basics of the Xcel Program. It is run and recognized by USAG, but it has its own rules and regulations separate from the Developmental Program which is also run and recognized by USAG.
The Xcel Program has five levels. Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond. If you attempt to equate the levels to the levels in the USAG Development Program’s 10-level structure, it would look like this:
- Bronze is equal to and a mix of Level 1-2
- Silver is equal to and a mix of Level 2-3
- Gold is equal to and a mix of Level 4-5.
- Platinum is equal to and a mix of Level 5-6
- Diamond is equal to and a mix of Level 6-8.
It is important to note, there is no level 9 or level 10 equivalent in the Xcel Program.
Depending on the level of Xcel a gymnast is at, they can perform certain elements but cannot perform others. This is necessary to achieve fairness in competition at each level. For instance, at Xcel Gold, a gymnast cannot perform a backflip on the balance beam – a C-level skill. However, in Xcel Platinum, they can perform this skill.
This example shows how the Xcel Program is lenient but does have restrictions to even the playing field and to challenge gymnasts to move up in the levels as they attain more skills on all four events.
Xcel vs. USAG Developmental Program
The compulsory program in the USAG Developmental Program requires that you be equal on each in skill level before you pass on to the next level, but the Xcel Program does not. The Xcel Program also does not require gymnasts to score out of each level. They simply have to compete at each level before moving up.
Instead of the usual 10 levels in the Developmental Program run by USAG, Xcel offers five levels that are easier to get through and more tailored to the gymnasts’ ability than the Developmental Program. Many Xcel Programs are deemed a more recreational competitive experience.
It is important to distinguish the two programs because their end goals are very different. The Developmental Program often leads gymnasts into Division I and II NCAA competition and the Elite Level Program can lead to the Olympic Games.
Like the USAG Developmental Program, the USAG Xcel Program has its own sanctioned competitions throughout the year, as well as Regional Championship competitions. The Regional Championships are the highest level of competition the Xcel Program has. Gymnasts reach this level through the qualification at their State Championship competitions.
Beyond the skill requirements and restrictions, the Xcel Program has more lenient rules in terms of deductions and penalties judges should take.
For instance, in the USAG Developmental Program, a judge should take .30 off of a gymnasts’ score for an extra swing or extra cast on uneven bars. In the Xcel Program, there is no deduction for extra swings or extra casts at any level.
Another example of this is split requirements on balance beam and floor exercise. Many Developmental Program athletes have trouble scoring well due to split requirement deductions. In the DP rules, a splitting element, such as a jump or leap, must reach 180 degrees to receive no deduction. This is often difficult for gymnasts to achieve.
In the Xcel Program, each level has split requirements they must hit. As long as the requirement is hit, there is no further deduction for not reaching a 180 degree split in their splitting element.
Xcel Program Special Requirements
Another defining characteristic of the program is that the Xcel Program only has three or four criteria for each event that a gymnast must meet. These are called Special Requirements.
These special requirements vary from level to level. At the Xcel Bronze level, a gymnast only needs four skills in their bar routine, four skills in their beam routine, and six skills in their floor routine.
At the Xcel Silver level, the requirements are very similar to the Bronze level except this is the first level with a splitting requirement on floor and beam.
At the Xcel Gold level, the requirements are upped a bit to include 6 skills on bars and 7 skills on beam and floor.
Xcel Platinum level gymnasts must have seven skills on all events, minus vault. The splitting requirements get bigger and they must perform a ‘B’ element on all events.
Xcel Diamond is the highest level of Xcel. These gymnasts must do seven skills at each event, except vault. They must perform two ‘B’ level elements.
Each Xcel level has start values just like the Developmental Program levels. If they meet all requirements, then they will start at a 10.0. For vault, each level has a specific vault the gymnast must perform, or a vault chart which has the options they may choose from and their respective start values.
Restrictions are mainly in place for Xcel Platinum and Xcel Diamond level athletes. For example, Diamond level gymnasts may perform only one ‘C’ level acro element in their routine on beam or floor. At the Platinum level, they cannot perform any ‘C’ level acro skills.
In the Xcel Bronze level, no high bar dismounts are allowed. They become required in the Xcel Gold level.
These rules are in place to keep the competition field equal and prevent gymnasts from staying back at an easier level for them to win.
Xcel Program Pros
The Xcel Program has many pros. Most gymnastics clubs use it as an in-between level for gymnasts going from level 5 to level 6 in the Developmental Program. The skills in these levels are similar, but the competitive seasons for these levels often run opposite each other.
Using Xcel Gold as an in-between level for athletes moving from level 5 to level 6 is very beneficial since Xcel is such a fluid program.
Xcel is also beneficial for gymnasts who are purely recreational and have other interests outside of gymnastics. Many Xcel gymnasts also participate in dance, choir or orchestra, or other sports altogether.
Many gymnastics clubs have a separate Xcel Program that runs independently from the Developmental Program. In these cases, the Xcel Program athletes go to different competitions than the Developmental Program athletes, they train fewer hours, and they come in fewer days per week.
The cost of attendance and tuition is often lower for the Xcel Program if a gym chooses to separate it from the DP level.
Xcel Program Cons
There aren’t many cons to Xcel gymnastics. As stated, some clubs use it as an in-between level, so gymnasts may compete at Xcel Gold but not at any other Xcel level since they move to level 6 in the DP program and stay there.
If a gymnast has goals of Division I or Division II NCAA gymnastics or the Olympics, Xcel is not the route for them to go. That is one of the few cons to the Xcel program. If this is the case for your gymnast, moving them to a Developmental Program level is crucial.
Who is Best Suited for the Xcel Program?
Gymnasts who want to push themselves by getting as many skills as they can and competing at only a few meets per year are best suited for the Xcel Program. It is also a good fit for gymnasts who do not want to continue the sport in college and want to focus on areas outside of gymnastics, like other sports or school-related activities.
However, sometimes NCAA Division III gymnasts or collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling athletes come from the Xcel Diamond level. A gymnast can reach collegiate goals if they choose to pursue it through Xcel, but the DP program is generally the best avenue to reach that goal.
The Xcel Program was created to give gymnasts more autonomy over their routines and more flexibility within their levels. It is a program that is different from the 10-level Developmental Program level, making this an important distinction. Ultimately, it is most suitable for gymnasts who want to compete nationally.