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Gymnastics Competition FAQs


What are AAU, USAG, and NGA?


These are the three gymnastics organizations through which clubs and gymnasts can compete in our area. They set the rules, level requirements, and scoring systems. Flip City Gymnastics is a member of AAU and attends AAU-sanctioned competitions. Some competitions host sessions for gymnasts of each organization. They typically don't compete at the same time and never against each other. A longer explanation of organizations and why Flip City competes through AAU can be found here.


What happens at a competition?


Meets begin with 15 minutes of general warm-up, or “open stretch”. All gymnasts in the session do their cardio warm-up on the competition floor or on the vault runway followed by stretching. It looks like chaos and gymnasts have to be careful not to run into other competitors. 


Then the teams are presented during “march in”. At some meets, such as the State Championship, teams line up outside of the arena and walk in when announced. Most of the time gymnasts just stand with their team and salute to the crowd. Teams then move to their first events. 


The order of events is Vault, Uneven Bars, Balance Beam, Floor. If a team starts on Uneven Bars, they go to Balance Beam second, Floor third and end on Vault. Coaches are sometimes told prior to a meet which event their teams will tentatively be starting on. It is not final until coaches receive the rotation sheet from the meet director during the general warm-up.


Meets that have two full sets of equipment divide teams into Flight A and Flight B. Gymnasts in Flight A do their first event warm-up on the A equipment. After their allotted warm-up time, each gymnast performs their routines for the judge. Flight B warms up on B equipment while A is performing. When Flight A is done performing the judge moves to the B equipment and judges Flight B's routines.


The amount of event warm-up time each group is allowed depends on how many gymnasts of each level are in the group. Groups get 30 seconds per Bronze gymnast, 45 seconds per Silver, 1 minute per Gold, etc. Sometimes teams paired together will warm up together to maximize warm up time.


After all gymnasts in the session have performed on all four events, gymnasts and spectators move to the awards area.


How do awards work?


Once scores are tallied, gymnasts are called up for placements within their levels and age groups. In AAU, scores in the top 50%+1 on each event are recognized. If there are 10 gymnasts, 6 will be awarded medals for event scores. All gymnasts are recognized for All Around. The All Around score is the sum of a gymnast’s event scores. 


After individual awards, the Team Awards are presented for each level. Team Scores are the sum of the top three scores on each event for each team. Only teams with three or more kids in a level qualify for a potential Team award for that level. Sometimes the top 3 teams are awarded, sometimes the top 50%, sometimes 100%.


The whole awards ceremony can take 30 to 90 minutes.


What are the age groups for awards?


Age group divisions are often not provided prior to the meet as they can change until the start of competition, based on which kids actually attend. Meet directors try to split age groups into even numbers of kids, but also can't have more than a three year gap between the youngest and oldest. The divide is usually not at a whole number of years old. For example, it can be ages 8.6-10.04. A child may be on the older end of their age group at one meet and on the younger end at the next meet. Gymnasts may not always be grouped with the same kids unless they have the same birth dates.


How is the order in which gymnasts perform determined?


The performance order is sometimes predetermined by the meet director and sometimes coaches get to choose. Either way, coaches are asked to group gymnasts by equipment settings on Uneven Bars and Vault. When we can choose the order, we try to put kids where we think they'll all perform the best. For larger groups and younger gymnasts, we keep the order the same on each event when possible to avoid confusion amongst the kids. Judges don’t appreciate when they’re ready but the next gymnast isn’t.


Where do parents sit?


Seating may be on bleachers or chairs. At some meets, spectators may have a decent view from the same spot for the entire event. At others, they may need to move seats in order to see the team compete on each apparatus. 


Can gymnasts go over to parents during the meet?


Generally, no. Gymnasts should be sure to have everything they may need with them on the competition floor. At some venues, such as the Five Flags Center in Dubuque, spectators sit upstairs above the arena. Quick access to parents in this case is nonexistent. Please prepare your child to remain with the team in the competition area throughout the session.


Can gymnasts eat snacks in the competition arena?


Yes, but only non-messy snacks. Avoid foods that create a ton of crumbs, would be a wet mess if they spilled, or leave cheese dust on the hands. Gymnasts need to be able to take a bite and stuff it back in their bag. Their hands may be chalky and germy so something they don't have to touch is good. Granola bars are great. Yogurt and popcorn are not.


Why do we hear the same floor music repeatedly?


There are two different programs in which gymnasts may compete within the same session, Xcel and the Developmental Program (Levels 1-10). Flip City competes in Xcel, which allows us to choose music, routine composition, and skills. The Developmental Program requires every gymnast in the U.S. to do a specific routine on each event until Level 6. That includes using the same Floor music, a “song” that was created to fit the routine, not to be a decent song. Some teams who compete in Xcel choose to use their own identical music and routines for all of their gymnasts. This is because it is much easier and more efficient to teach one routine to a group of kids than it is to create and teach them each their own routines. At Flip City, we agree the extra work is worth it to allow the kids to play to their strengths, be creative, and actually like their routines hopefully. A bonus is not hearing the same music hundreds of times per week.


How are gymnasts scored?


Xcel gymnastics scores are based on a 10.0 scale. If all Special Requirements for a level are met, gymnasts receive a starting value of 10.0 on the apparatus. Each missed Special Requirement results in .5 off of the starting value. For example, in Silver on Balance Beam, gymnasts must hit a 90° split in either a leap or a split jump. If their split appears smaller or they forget to do it, their maximum score becomes a 9.5. The starting value is displayed briefly on a card on the judge’s table after each routine. Deductions are taken for errors such as bent knees, toes that are not pointed, lack of amplitude, incorrect angle of repulsion, incomplete rotation, etc. On Vault, gymnasts take two turns. They can perform two different skills or the same one twice. Each skill is judged and the better of the two scores is entered.


Scores cannot be contested until advanced levels. There are times that judges make errors that substantially affect gymnast scores. In this case, we have to accept human error. Video review is not allowed. At championships, there are two judges for each apparatus to help minimize judging errors. Each judge gives a score and the gymnast receives the average of the two scores. If scores are listed under the wrong names or entered incorrectly then coaches can request that they be corrected.


There is some subjectivity in judging routines. Some judges are sticklers for pointed toes and will take the maximum deduction possible for imprecise footwork. Others may be more focused on the amplitude of skills. Judges stay at the same apparatuses throughout each session so that each gymnast is judged by the same people. 


More information on scoring, including specifics of each level, can be found on Keep in mind that rules and scoring within programs and organizations vary and change frequently. Not all of the information on this site, or any other, is completely up-to-date. For example, most do not yet include information on two new Xcel levels added this year, Copper (before Bronze) and Sapphire (after Diamond).


Also note that the scoring systems for Xcel and the DP are very different from WIAA and NCAA scoring. In high school and college gymnastics, the starting values are based on the difficulty of the skills because gymnasts are not split by level. Scores still max out at 10.0 but a 10 start value is hard to achieve. In Olympic scoring there’s a difficulty score and an execution score. There is no true maximum score. Common Olympic scores are between 13 and 16.


Competitive Gymnastics Programs and Organizations in Wisconsin

Programs (sets of levels with skill and routine requirements)

  • Xcel - Levels: Copper, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, Sapphire

  • Developmental Program (DP) - Levels: 1-10


  • Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) - use Xcel & DP with a few small rule changes

  • USA Gymnastics (USAG) - set the rules for and use Xcel & DP

  • National Gymnastics Association (NGA) - use their own set of levels and rules - not much competition opportunity available in WI yet.

Flip City teams compete in the Xcel program through AAU.


Xcel vs Developmental Program

Xcel gives gymnasts and coaches flexibility to choose skills and choreograph routines, while meeting requirements for each level. In contrast, the DP requires every gymnast in the U.S. to perform identical routines and skills in each level with only a few small options until reaching Level 6. This is mostly why we often hear the same floor music many times in one session. The kids competing in levels 2-5 are required to use that specific “song”. Also, some gyms who do use the Xcel program choose to use one song and one routine for their whole team because it’s much, much easier from a coaching perspective.

The Developmental Program existed first. It was designed with the goal of developing strong Olympic athletes, strengthening America’s international gymnastics status. It was quite limiting and set a high barrier to entry into competitive gymnastics. It did not take into account the majority of children who participated in other activities or otherwise couldn’t spend several days per week in a gym. Those kids often got frustratingly stuck in levels because they were unable to ‘play to their strengths’ to meet requirements.

Xcel was created to make it possible for more gymnasts to have some success in the sport without dedicating 5+ days per week to practice. Because it offers more creativity, fun, and success for athletes who aren’t singularly focused on gymnastics, it has become very popular with gyms. It is now quite competitive and the levels have expanded to include Sapphire, the equivalent of levels 9 & 10 in the DP.


USAG is currently the governing body of gymnastics in the United States. They choose the athletes and coaches on the Olympic team and represent U.S. interests in international competition matters. Until 1978, AAU was the regulator of American amateur sports and represented the U.S. on the international stage. That ended with the Amateur Sports Act of 1978.

Until 2020, USAG and AAU were the only options for participation in gymnastics competition in our area. Since then, NGA has been created as a sort of resistance to USAG’s abusive monopoly. They are a 501c3 organization with their own rules, levels, and scoring system. Unlike AAU, they do not use USAG’s Xcel or DP programs. Their focus is on creating accessible, athlete-centric competition opportunities. They emphasize abuse prevention over medals and money. 

Flip City is a supporter of NGA. In 2020-2021 we participated in some NGA virtual gymnastics meets to avoid attending large in-person events during prime Covid times. Unfortunately there are very few NGA competitions held in our area currently. The few meets that do offer NGA competition are all hosted by 360Sports, the same organization that runs the Wisconsin Dells Circus meet. We are hopeful that as more clubs join NGA, more competition opportunities will become available. At that point, we will likely prioritize our NGA membership over our AAU membership.

In recent decades, AAU has had more of a focus on the well-being of gymnasts than USAG. For example, gymnasts in AAU have long been allowed to wear shorts over their leotards in competition without receiving a deduction on their score. USAG only began allowing shorts recently after a huge nation-wide petition forced them to.

Flip City dropped its membership with USAG after the 2016 exposure of serial sexual abuse in USAG training facilities. Google Larry Nassar for more information on that scandal. To summarize, Nassar did what USAG wanted, including giving doctor approval for competition participation despite serious injuries. USAG provided him with one-on-one access to their gymnasts under the guise of mandatory medical evaluations and treatments. Medical records and other documents went missing just prior to the execution of a search warrant at their headquarters. When their CEO, Steve Penny, testified before Congress, he pleaded the 5th to every question. Since then we have not seen USAG make the necessary changes to ensure that doesn't happen again or to properly compensate the 500+ victims. Instead, they tried to force victims to continue to train at the facility in which their abuse occurred in order to be considered for the Olympics. It was only after Simone Biles said that she would instead end her gymnastics career that they agreed to allow potential Olympians to train elsewhere. As a result of all this, Flip City no longer supports USAG financially and will not trust them with any of our gymnasts unless huge changes are made someday.


Is a gymnast’s future in gymnastics limited by the organization or program through which they compete?


A gymnast's future in the sport is not so much limited anymore by the organization or program in which they compete, but by the number of hours they practice and the effort they exert in that time. Gymnasts are allowed to switch from Xcel to the Developmental Program at any time. If entering the DP at a level above 3, they must first demonstrate proficiency of each lower level in front of a judge. Gymnasts may also switch to USAG, either Xcel or DP, by doing the same through that organization. Generally this is not necessary unless switching to a gym that competes through a different organization or program.

It is still thought by some that competing in the DP through USAG is the primary route to Olympic or NCAA Division I gymnastics. However, recruiters have increasingly expressed willingness to recruit athletes from any program or organization as long as they demonstrate the necessary skills and qualities. They still are most likely to show up at Level 9 & 10 USAG competitions to scout but they also select gymnasts from videos submitted to them or publicly available on social media. Gymnasts from all organizations and programs are now eligible for recruitment into collegiate or international competition as long as they demonstrate high levels of ability.

Programs & Organizations
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