The National Optional Track consists of USAG levels 7 – 10. While it is primarily an extension of the National Compulsory Track, levels 3 – 6, there are multiple entry points and progressions through this track. The main focus of this track is building skills beyond the foundations and succeeding in a serious competitive environment. At this age, gymnasts may compose their routine in any number of ways to play to their strengths.
The minimum age is 12 years old for competing in level 7 or 8, 14 years old for level 9, and 16 years old for level 10. The gymnast must be turning the minimum age in the calendar year they wish to compete. Gymnasts may only compete through their senior year of high school, at which point they continue on to a collegiate or adult pathway.
The progression along the levels may not be linear. Those who complete many years in the compulsory track may jump directly to level 8 or 9, depending on their age. Meanwhile, level 7 serves as an introductory optional level and is designed as a home for any age-appropriate athlete who may have limited prior experience. For example, it serves as a starting point for athletes transitioning from the USAG Club Track, athletes who began the sport after the typical age groups of the compulsory track, or any age-appropriate athletes who choose to spend time on the foundational skill sets.
Some prerequisite competition experience is generally required, whether it is through the Compulsory or Club Tracks. However, some gyms allow middle and high school athletes to try out directly for level 7, given its introductory nature. Typically, gyms have the capacity to add athletes to these levels, and decisions are made based on age and skill, not by roster constraints.
The required hours ramp up from prior pathways. Level 8 – 10 athletes typically train 15 – 25 hours per week. Level 7 athletes may require fewer hours in the gym, often around 9 – 15 per week. Because of the lower time commitment, some athletes may choose to compete level 7 for their entire Middle and High School career. Level 7 is also the level used by high school varsity gymnastics. In some states, athletes who compete level 7 for their private club may also compete, representing their high school. See High School Varsity Gymnastics for more information.
Gymnasts typically compete in 4 – 6 competitions between November and March, and the season culminates with a State Championship, Regional Championship, and National Championship – Either Eastern/Western Championships for levels 7, 8, and 9 or DP National Championships for level 10. Costs are set by the club and typically range between $200 to $600 per month, with additional expenses for meet registration, travel, and uniforms.
The National Optional Track serves as a stepping stone to many of the collegiate and adult tracks. While the majority of NCAA athletes are recruited from the Elite Track, the very top Optional athletes may be able to walk onto a team. There are only about 75 total spots available each year for athletes from both the Optional and Elite tracks. There are, however, many additional collegiate opportunities available through GymACT and the NAIGC.
If you are at a gym that already has a boys competitive team, talk to the coach about how to try out for the team. To find a gym in your area that may have a boys team, USAG has a gym locator. Just type in your zip code, and it will give a list of nearby gyms. From there, you’ll need to find out which gyms have men’s programs by clicking on the link to each gym’s website and investigating their class offerings. You can also search Google Maps (or your maps application of choice) in your area for “gymnastics” or Google “recreational gymnastics [insert your city/town/area here]”. Some gyms offer boys-only and coed classes. Coed classes will expose an athlete to all artistic gymnastics equipment in gyms with boys equipment but may only offer girls apparatus at gyms with only girls gymnastics equipment.
State Boys Directors may also be able to give information on compulsory programs in the area. Contact information for the State Directors can be found in the men’s program directory.
For coaches or gym owners, it is very easy to start a compulsory or club program, even with limited equipment. See this document for more information on how to start a new boys program.