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 Prep-Optional program, which is now known as "Xcel" (though I am so used to referring to it as "Prep-Op", it's hard for me to call it by its new name).
Heather (Xcel Gold) in competition
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 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 stringent requirements, Xcel's are more relaxed and allow the gymnast more of a range of skills, as well as 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.
Spectrum Xcel Gold team at Winter Carnival
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 started an In-House Prep-Op/"Xcel" program this fall. Before this program, the gymnasts we had competing under Xcel were former JO gymnasts who made the switch. Now we are grandfathering in this program, where gymnasts are invited from our recreational classes straight to the Xcel program. They first begin with in-house competitions, with the eventual goal of competing outside of the gym at USAG sanctioned meets. Miss Emily has done a fantastic job with this group, teaching new skills, and choreographing routines for them, which they showcased a few weeks ago at their first in-house competition.
Having devoted my life to the sport of gymnastics, I can see the numerous benefits that it can bring to a child's life, and anything that gets more young people to participate and fall in love with gymnastics is something I will always be in favor of.
Peace, love, and gymnastics,
Spectrum Gymnastics Academy
26 Buttrick Rd
About the Author
Coach 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!