USA Gymnastics, also referred to as USAG, is a national level sports entity that culminates in the U.S. Olympic team. The AAU is a league, consisting of numerous clubs and teams that compete against each other in individual and team events. Both organizations offer gymnastic opportunities for girls and boys. USAG has stricter rules and more focused levels of competition, designed to feed exceptional athletes into Olympic competition.
TOPS, HOPES, Elite and Future Stars
TOPS and HOPES are two training programs, exclusive to USAG, designed for young female gymnasts who show elite promise. The programs are offered for children ages 8 and up. To qualify, your child must pass a series of rigorous tests administered by USAG. The programs test beam complex, overall conditioning and technique. These training camps are offered in selected regions throughout the country, making it possible for you and your child to get involved without moving or traveling to other parts of the nation. For boys, USAG offers similar training programs -- Elite and Future Stars for five different age groups.
AAU stands for Amateur Athletic Union, and AAU gymnasts do not compete on a professional level, eliminating any chance of financial compensation and other professional benefits for the athletes. USA Gymnastics offers professional memberships for competitive coaches, judges and meet directors who qualify. Most of the coaches and employees who help run AAU events are parents of the children competing in the events and games. Both the AAU and USAG are nonprofit organizations.
Both AAU and USAG require athletes to have memberships in order to compete in their respective events, but the membership benefits of the two organizations differ. The USAG offers its gymnasts discounts on apparel as well as a membership card and decal. AAU members get special discounts from Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Motel 6 and other participating companies. With either membership, athletes receive varying levels of participant insurance during competition and practice.
Both the AAU and USAG have different levels at which your child can compete, depending on ability. While the AAU recommends appropriate competition levels for its athletes, there are no specific eligibility or mobility requirements in order to compete at a specific level. USAG requires tryouts and specific competitions in order to decide if your child can move up in rank or level. As a result, the USAG offers deeper levels of competition for highly skilled gymnasts.