USA Gymnastics, the largest governing body of gymnastics (to which Spectrum is a member club) has had, for quite some time, a traditional Junior Olympic level system in which gymnasts compete. Once a gymnast is proficient at her level and earns a qualifying score, she has the option to move up to the next level. Competitive levels are levels 3-10, and above level 10, the gymnast has the option to go "elite" (those are the gymnasts you see at the Olympics).
However, there was a flaw in this JO level system. In JO, there is a very specific mold that the gymnast is required to fit into. For gymnasts who did not fit that mold, whether due to age, financial situation, ability, or commitment level, there was no other real option for them. That's when USAG made, in my opinion, the best decision they've ever made and created the Xcel program.
The difference between JO and Xcel can be difficult to explain, but USAG defines it as "a broad-based, affordable competitive experience outside the traditional Jr. Olympic Program to attract and retain a diverse group of athletes." Xcel, like JO, has different levels (Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond) that the gymnast can progress to as she learns more skills. Gymnasts who participate in Xcel also get the same competitive experience of being on a team and competing in front of a judge. The biggest difference between JO and Xcel is that where JO has very strict requirements, Xcel's are more relaxed and allow the gymnast more of a range of skills, as well as more room to train and progress at her own pace. Gymnasts who are maybe too old to go the traditional JO path blossom in Xcel, where they can still train skills, compete, grow, and progress. Often, gymnasts in the Xcel program do fewer competitions than their JO counterparts, and it is less of a financial and time commitment than JO.
I truly believe creating the Xcel program is the best thing USAG ever did. The JO program creates a very small box for its gymnasts, and before Xcel, there was nothing for gymnasts who didn't fit into that box, but who still loved gymnastics. Xcel has created the opportunity for girls to compete in gymnastics that wouldn't have otherwise been encouraged to. It has really opened the door to a new way of enjoying the sport and has encouraged more girls to participate. Girls who maybe would have quit without it are now staying with gymnastics and competing in Xcel.
Here at Spectrum Gymnastics, we are proud to offer both a JO team and Xcel team and have experienced great success with both. Mobility between the programs is not only possible, but encouraged if either is a better fit than the other. We have had many gymnasts switch from JO to Xcel, and gymnasts come from Xcel to JO. Many of the skills we train at Spectrum can overlap between the programs, making a smooth transition from any gymnast that may make the switch.
Approximate Comparison of Skill Level:
Xcel Bronze = JO 3 and under
Xcel Silver = JO 3/4
Xcel Gold = JO 4/5
Xcel Platinum = JO 6/7
Xcel Diamond = JO 7/8+
The JO athlete must demonstrate high standard of physical ability (including skill acquisition, strength, and flexibility) on all four events, strong work ethic, and coachability. The JO athlete spends more hours in the gym, competes in more competitions that may require travel, and may incur more of an expense for uniforms. As a result, JO is more of a family commitment as far as time and finances. This program is perfect for the athlete who only wants to do gymnastics!
The Xcel athlete must also demonstrate the physical ability, work ethic, and coachability required to be a part of a competitive team, but without the expectations and standards of JO. The Xcel athlete trains fewer hours in the gym, competes in fewer competitions that are, particularly at lower levels, more local, and in general have less expensive uniforms. The Xcel program is perfect for the athlete who demonstrates talent in gymnastics, but who also wants to pursue other sports/activities, or for the family that is unable to commit financially to JO.
Not sure which competitive program is right for you? Our coaches can help determine where each gymnast will be the most successful!
Coach Sarah ran this blog from 2012-2017. Sarah is a former Rhode Island College gymnast, NCGA National qualifier, All-American, current gymnastics coach and judge, and contributor for the gymnastics news source, The Gymternet. Find out what's going on at Spectrum and learn more about the incredible sport of gymnastics!
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