Stephanie's daughter has been competing in artistic gymnastics since she was 6 years old. She is now a Level 10 gymnast.
Girls Competitive Gymnastics
Do you have a daughter, granddaughter, or niece that loves competitive gymnastics? My 7-year-old is already in her second year of competition and is enjoying showing off more advanced skills in girls gymnastics Level 5. Personally, I just love attending her gymnastics meets, as well as her practices!
Gymnastics is both a team and individual sport. Girls perform routines and skills individually and obtain scores for their routines. They can win awards for each of four individual events (floor, vault, uneven bars and balance beam), as well as for their combined "all-around" scores. The all-around scores of the individuals on a gymnastics team are also added together to get a team score, which determines which teams at a gymnastics meet get first, second and third place.
Girls gymnastics not only develops athleticism, but also poise, balance, core strength, and the ability to perform in front of an audience. For better or worse, these athletes also learn important life lessons about "fairness"—it's a subjective sport, so scores are not always consistent.
But what is "Level 5 gymnastics" anyway? How old do you have to be to compete in gymnastics? What are the requirements and what can you expect with a gymnastics program?
Read on! This article is a guide to the USA gymnastics (USAG) program.
Gymnastics Levels in USAG
There are 11 levels in the USAG, but not all individual gyms will offer training and/or competition in each of the levels. If you live in a large, metropolitan area, you can probably find a variety of approaches to fit your individual needs.
- Girls learn routines and skills in levels 1-3, but will not compete in sanctioned USAG meets. Gymnasts at these early levels will develop a familiarity with the four Olympic events in which girls compete: floor exercise, balance beam, uneven bars and vault.
- In gymnastics levels 4-6, all athletes learn and perform the same skills at gymnastics meets. The routines are called compulsory, in that the gymnasts are directly compared against each other as they execute a pre-choreographed series of skills; on the floor exercise the same music is used for each competitor. The minimum age for competition for level 4 is 6 years of age. For levels 5 and 6, you must be 7 years old to compete.
- From level 4 through 6, you will see similar skills, but they build on each other with respect to difficulty. As a gymnast moves through the compulsory gymnastics levels, the routines will look much the same, but - for example - level 4 requires a round-off back handspring, while level 5 requires a round-off back handspring series (2 back handsprings). Level 6 requires a round-off with 2 back handsprings and a back flip.
- Levels 7 and above are optional competitions. Gymnasts choreograph their own routines on each of the events. However, the skills performed on each of the four events must meet optional rules established by the Federation of International Gymnastics (FIG). Rules pertain to compositions, degree of difficulty and execution (which correlates to scoring). For level 7, the minimum age for competition is 7; for levels 8 and 9, the age is 8. Level 10 gymnasts must be at least 9 years old. It is generally the highest level in many gyms and is considered to be a pre-elite level. My daughter has one Level 10 gymnast at her gym, and two Level 9s.
- Beyond Level 10, there is Level 11, which consists national and international competitions. Child National Elite (10-12 years old) and Junior National Elite (13-15 years old) compete through skill testing and optional routines. Senior National Elite (16 + years) compete with optional routines only. For those amazing athletes at Junior International Elite (11-15 years old), they compete optional routines. Senior International Elite compete at the Olympics and World Championship if they are chosen for the teams.
Level 5: Vault
The level 5 vault in girls gymnastics is a front handspring. After being called by the judges, the athlete salutes, then runs down a run way, hurdles and jumps onto a springboard, up to a handstand from which they "pop" their shoulders and land onto the mat on the other side.
Scores are awarded on a scale of 1-10. Every gymnast starts with a 10 and the judges take deductions from 10 to arrive at a final score.
The USAG allows 2 vaults at each competition. The highest score of the two vaults performed counts (there is no averaging). If a gymnast touches the springboard or the vault without going over, a score of zero will be given—for that vault.
Points are deducted for poor form (including bent legs, legs apart, body rotated, toes not pointed, sluggish execution and failure to stick the landing).
Here is a summary of items judged at competitions in Level 5 Vault:
- RUN: Should be even, strong and accelerated, without slowing before the spring board
- PREFLIGHT: From the spring board to the vault. The gymnast's arms must swing forward until the shoulders are extended and open. Head must remain neutral, while the body is tight and straight (no pike position). A close-to-vertical position is optimal.
- CONTACT: The gymnast must block (pop) their shoulders against the vault without bending arms.
- POSTFLIGHT: Much the same as pre-flight with tight, straight body position. Land and stick without stepping out.
Level 5: Bars Routine
The USAG Level 5 uneven bars routine is a significant step up from Level 4. The routine requires gymnasts to execute two glide kips - one onto the low bar and other up to the high bar. It also requires a cast to squat-on on the low-bar, jump to high bar and both front and back hip circles.
Once again, the gymnast starts with a total possible score of 10.0. Deductions are taken for elements that are not properly executed until a final score is reached at the end.
Again, the gymnast waits her turn until called by the judges. She will salute the judges and then begin the routine. At the conclusion, she will salute again, and then leave the mat.
Here is a summary of requirements for a Level 5 bars routine for girls gymnastics:
- GLIDE KIP: The gymnast must take off of both feet at the same time. Body is extended at the end of the glide.
- FRONT HIP CIRCLE: Maintain a straight, tight body position with straight arms while going around forward around the uneven bars and finishing in the same position.
- CAST: Immediately following the front hip circle, the athlete must cast from the bar and reach a horizontal height (straight from shoulders to feet). Tight body and straight arms are a must.
- CAST SQUAT ON: From a second cast, place both feet on the low bar at the same time and balance so that you can execute the next skill—jump to high bar (if you fall off the bars here, it is a .5 deduction).
- JUMP TO HIGH BAR with LONG HANG KIP: Maintain good form, swinging to close to horizontal before executing the kip and keeping arms straight.
- BACK HIP CIRCLE: Keep a straight, tight body position, as well as keeping hips or thighs in contact with the bar.
- Series of COUNTERSWINGS and TAP SWING: Maintain tight, straight line swinging twice (first to 30 degrees below height of high bar and second to 15 degrees below); Tap swing is scored by ensuring that gymnasts' feet reach the height of the high bar.
- DISMOUNT: After reaching at least 45-degree angle below the high bar, half turn and re-grasp the high bar then drop to the mat and stick landing.
Level 5: Beam Routine
The balance beam is an especially challenging apparatus in girls gymnastics. Just 4 inches wide and standing 4 feet above the ground, athletes tumble, pose, turn, and leap on the beam. The mount and dismount also count towards the final score.
A flawlessly executed beam routine will be smooth—no wobbles and no falls. If a girl falls off the beam, it's an automatic .5 deduction from her score. More than one fall can quickly lower an overall score.
The level 5 beam routine includes several difficult elements: a cartwheel, a handstand, a series of leaps and a quarter turn handstand dismount. Here are the key elements of the routine:
- MOUNT: Swing your leg up and over the beam, to end in a cross straddle sit. Pull your legs up in a V-sit and then stand up without touching the beam. Keep all the movements fluid and strong.
- 1/2 TURN: In a coupé position, smoothly turn, using your arms, to face the opposite direction on the beam.
- LEAP: To get the best score, legs should reach at least 90 degrees separation. Keep legs straight and toes pointed. Land and hold a low arabesque.
- HANDSTAND: Hinge into and out of the handstand while stretching out body. Close the legs together at the top. Reach vertical position and hold for one second.
- TWO PIVOT TURNS: In a releve position, turn once each direction.
- CARTWHEEL: Slowly and deliberately executed, keep body tight, legs straight and toes pointed.
- JUMPS: A pair of jumps, connected together—straight jump, then split jump.
- ARABESQUE and SCALE: Back leg lifted at least 45 degrees and hold for 1 second, go into a scale, lifting the back leg up to at least 90 degrees and hold for 2 seconds.
- DISMOUNT: Cartwheel to side handstand and hold for 2 seconds, then turn 1/4 to dismount, parallel to balance beam. Land and stick.
Level 5: Floor Routine
What gymnast, or spectator, doesn't love the floor routine? For girls gymnastics, this apparatus is the only one for which music is played. Compulsory routines use the same music for all athletes. But, skills are a combination of ballet, strength, and tumbling.
The Level 5 floor routine is the first compulsory level in which more advanced tumbling skills are showcased. Just remember that graceful moves will help garner the highest scores!
Instead of summarizing the routine, step-by-step, I'll review the key elements of the level 5 floor routine:
- BEGINNING: Start in first position (ballet) with feet. Stretch arms up side and down. Two bounces and then straddle jump.
- PUNCH, DIVE ROLL: Anticipating Level 6 routine's punch front flip, in the level 5 floor routine, the gymnast does a punch (jump with both feet) then dive roll to smooth stand and finish.
- DANCE: Side chassé with a 1/4 turn, hop, pose and then stand.
- FRONT HANDSPRING: Run, front handspring, arch back and finish
- DANCE: Leap, step swing, hop 1/4 turn. Slide to floor, turn, kneel and then slide into front splits. Prance with weight transfer, then 1/2 turn.
- BACK EXTENSION ROLL: Backward roll to handstand. Keep arms straight and legs tight. Step out, and finish.
- DANCE: Step, kick, pose - full turn. Hitchkick, swing turn.
- BACK WALKOVER: Start with leg lifted, arch back, keep legs straight and toes pointed.
- DISMOUNT: Run and back-handspring series (2 back handsprings). Pose.
Tips for Attending a Girls Gymnastics Meet
Gymnastics meets can be nerve-wracking, especially for younger girls. For this reason, you'll want to make sure to be a courteous member of the audience.
In addition, the USAG has rules in place for spectators that must be observed:
- No flash photography—it can startle gymnasts and potentially lead to injury.
- Do not call out gymnasts' names or shout out their scores.
- Stay behind marked ropes and lines; spectators can forfeit team or individual scores by stepping onto the floor or other areas of the gym.
- Be respectful of all gymnasts; refrain from talking negatively about performances in the gym.
- Be respectful of coaches and judges; do not take them on for their decisions during a meet.
- Be supportive of your gymnast; scores are subjective and although you might believe that a routine deserves a higher score it is not your place to say so.
- Be respectful of other spectators; do not block them while taking photographs or videos. Keep talking to a minimum and silence cell phones.
© 2010 Stephanie Marshall
JEN2NS on June 01, 2012:
Hi - I loved looking through this and reading everything... My daughter is 6 yo and has been doing gymnastics since she was 3 - her coaches want to put her on Level 4 team - I'm just soo scared she will get burned out. My daughters dream since she was 3 was to be on team and I think we will do it and just see how she does - if it's too much - then we will pull her off team (but most likely let her continue the sport - just not competatively)... Good luck to your daughter - maybe our girls will be in the Olympics on day...
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on May 02, 2012:
Talk to your coach! There is also a site that gives you breakdowns of each element and deductions. For example, one step after your vault or bars landing is a .1 deduction. A very big step is .2 deduction. Good luck to you! Steph
victorious_gymnast on May 02, 2012:
Impressive hub... Anything on how to improve your scores?
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 04, 2011:
Hi Baily- we train in Central Oregon, in Bend. Portland is about 3 hours away from us. :) Steph
baily on November 04, 2011:
do you guys train in or around oregon?? I know the mac club is in portland thats why i ask
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on June 29, 2011:
Thanks Caralee! Good luck to your granddaughter in Level 5 this year. I love watching the girls compete gymnastics too. best, Steph
Caralee on June 29, 2011:
This was so helpful...I have a granddaughter that is a Level 5...I loved watching her compete...this is very helpful...I am actually going to pull it up and read it with her...Thank you..Yes it is a sport that you have to love and be committed to.
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on May 27, 2011:
Thank you Ellen! Gymnastics is a very big commitment for my daughter and our family. She absolutely loves it, and it is great to see her working so hard and learning presence, poise, confidence and more. Best, Steph
Ellen on May 27, 2011:
I have been a gymnastics coach for over 20 years, and it's nice to hear a parent that understand our sport. Most parents and gymnasts will tell you that competitive gymnastics is one of the biggest commitments in their lives next to family and church. Tough sport but so many lifeskills are learned. Great hub.
Christina on March 07, 2011:
This was sooo helpful!! Thanks!!! =)
Emma from Houston TX on March 02, 2011:
Very nice hub.i love every bit of it.
luciaberruto on February 11, 2011:
Luv ur pics !!!!
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 23, 2011:
Thanks marannt! Good luck to your son and your daughter. I love watching the competitive gymnastics. Such strength and skill. Hope your son recovers well. Best, Steph
marannt from Virginia on January 23, 2011:
Great hub! Our level 5 boy is trying to come back from a shoulder injury. It does take lots of dedication! Lots of time in the gym. He was training about 14 hours per week, before his injury on the rings. His 1st two meets this year were great, but it looks like his meet season is over.
Our daughter is hoping to be chosen to compete as a level 4 next year.
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 18, 2011:
Hi WallStickerDecals - you are right to be concerned about the potential for an accident. It can happen in any sport. The better gyms will have trained coaches that are experts in spotting and showing the athletes the proper way to execute skills. Best, Steph
WallStickerDecals from US on January 18, 2011:
My daughter really wants to do gymnastics, I just can't afford her to get an accident.
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 26, 2010:
Hi Lamme - yes, it is very time consuming. My daughter trains "only" 12 hours a week at the gym, and then there are meets to which we have to travel. She is loving it so much, but we are carefully watching to make sure she doesn't get overwhelmed. Lots of work on moms' part too - you are right!
Lamme on November 25, 2010:
I loved reading this hub. My 7 year old competing level 5 gymnastics as well. She absolutely LOVED it, my problem was it started to consume her life. she trained 18-20 hours per week in the gym, not to mention what she practiced at home. I finally had to pull her out which was very hard, but it was the right thing for us. It can be a wonderful sport, but it is also tough on those little bodies. Good luck to both you and your daughter ... I know it takes a lot of work on mom's part too ;)
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 19, 2010:
Thank you xixi12 - gymnastics can be hard on the body, particularly as we get older. Maybe that's why the best girls gymnasts are so young? Cheers to you, Steph
xixi12 from Everywhere but here. In the truest sense, freedom cannot be bestowed; it must be achieved. You can never be truly free till you have the discipline to manage it. on November 19, 2010:
I used to do gymnastics back in the days, now I am getting older and ~I doubt my bones can withstand the strain. Brings back good memories. I can see your daughter will go very far, she is really talented
Jesse on November 16, 2010:
Very interesting. I love the whole thing.
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 14, 2010:
Thanks Jennifer! I just love watching the Level 5 gymnasts compete. Hope your daughter is having a great season - Stephanie
Jennifer on November 14, 2010:
My daughter competes level 5 gymnastics. At this level it starts getting serious, but still fun. She loves it. Nice hub, very thorough.
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 13, 2010:
Thank you Linda - I will tell her about the comment. Cheers, Steph
Linda Jo Martin from Post Falls, Idaho, USA on November 13, 2010:
Very impressive! Your daughter is lovely and talented!
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 12, 2010:
Hi Nell - I much preferred gymnastics to ballet, and my daughter is the same. Though ballet does add to gym routines! Thanks much for the comment - best, Steph
Nell Rose from England on November 12, 2010:
Hi, Wow, great info, great pictures, I always wanted to do this when I was small, but I ended up doing ballet instead for about five years, this is great, and will certainly be of help to any others that start, rated up cheers nell
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 11, 2010:
Thank you prasetio! Gymnastics does build strength, endurance, courage and poise. Cheers to you, Steph
prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on November 11, 2010:
I live the spirit of sport here. Gymnastic also the healthiest sport. Thanks for share with us. Very useful. I really enjoy all the pictures. Good work, my friend. Rating up.
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 10, 2010:
Thank you angin, you are right! No matter the outcome, these girls work so hard training for gymnastics, they are all winners. Cheers, Steph
anglnwu on November 10, 2010:
Wow, looks like your daughter is already a winner. Competitive gymnastics takes lots of discipline and your daughter definitely has it going.
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 08, 2010:
Yes, it is a systematic training program for gymnasts here in the US (and I expect in other countries, as well). I'm really enjoying it through the experience of my daughter. As pakpub mentioned, the higher the gymnasts go in the levels, the more time commitment it takes, too!
Ingenira on November 07, 2010:
Wow, US really provides a systematic training for gymnast. And your daughter is awesome ! Excellent hub for us, the outsiders, to know the overview of the programs.
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 07, 2010:
Thanks NN, Granny's House and Nifty - my daughter really loves the sport and (as a former gymnast myself), I am thrilled that she enjoys competitive gymnastics so much. It does take a lot of dedication and there are some big dreams (hers mostly) for the future! ;-)
nifty@50 on November 06, 2010:
The dedication and discipline that this sport requires should really pay off into adulthood! I can tell you're extremely proud!
Granny's House from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time on November 06, 2010:
Wow, you must be very proud of her. From the pictures, it looks like she does real good. Thank you for sharing
Nancy's Niche on November 06, 2010:
An extremely athletic child; keep the support there. I bet her future goal is the Olympic Championship.
pakpub from Florida on November 06, 2010:
My daughter made it up to level 8. She was practicing 20 hours a week then. I love the sport and loved to watch her compete. Nice hub!
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 06, 2010:
Thanks Steve - it is a difficult sport! My daughter practices gymnastics 4 hours a day, 3 times a week. But she absolutely loves it. I'm sure ice skating is similar. Best, Stephanie
SteveoMc from Pacific NorthWest on November 06, 2010:
Wow that looks like a tough sport. Adorable child, too. My granddaughter is trying a lot of new things, she is ice skating now, but this looks like something she might enjoy.