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Athletic development specialists dedicated to the art and science of excellence in movement

TOPS Testing: Is it Enough? Part II

Sometimes it’s nice to be validated when you take an unpopular stance…

A couple of years ago, Katherine wrote about TOPs testing in gymnastics (TOPS Testing, Is it Enough?), specifically addressing how sport specific testing paints an incomplete picture of physical readiness.  This was not a popular position in the sport, and managed to irritate more than a few folks, almost like insulting their first newborn child…

TOPs stands for Talent Opportunity Programs testing and is used by gyms across the country to assess the physical readiness of young gymnasts.  One intention of the test is to remove subjectivity from advancement decisions by coaches.  By more effectively placing gymnasts in the right skill levels, they would have better learning environments and suffer fewer injuries (in theory). 

Many in the sport defend TOPs with religious fervor and refuse to acknowledge its shortcomings.   A complete reliance on TOPs is analogous to schools basing their entire teaching on standardized tests.  The test itself is acceptable….the problem is excess reliance on the test based on a faulty belief that mastery of upper level skills automatically reflects competency in basic movement fundamentals.    

The International Journal of Physical Therapy recently published a study investigating a separate test, The Gymnastics Functional Measurement Tool (GFMT).  The test can complement TOPs and fill the present gaps in gymnastics movement assessments.   Whereas TOPs looks at a battery of gymnastics skills, the GFMT is a hybrid of basic movement function and physical capacity.  Personally, I don’t think the test fills all the gaps, but it’s a step in the right direction.  However, the authors do acknowledge the role of other methods such as the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) to address more basic movement fundamentals.  Authors found the test met standards of construct reliability and test-retest reliability.  More study is needed to assess its predictive value for injury and performance.  

Most importantly, they provide a sound thought process behind their reasons to explore the GFMT....

**Without a reliable and valid field-test for measuring gymnasts' physical abilities, fitness evaluation and training are often left to the tradition-driven ways of individual coaches. As stated by Sands, “…. Gymnasts often simply ‘trick’ themselves into shape meaning they perform skills over and over until they acquire the fitness and skill to perform the movement.” This may lead to an athlete who is simply fit to do certain skills but who does not have the overall fitness level necessary for prolonged participation in the sport (Sleeper 2012)

And what did we say two years ago that managed to irritate more than a few folks in the gymnastics community?

**While specific skill testing is important, the results of a test paint an incomplete picture.  Take two gymnasts, they can get the same TOPS score and have the same visual presentation. One might think the test so easy that it is a joke and another might be compensating her way through the test.  The compensations might not appear visually since such compensations often exist as neuromuscular dysfunction.  Allowing the compensating gymnast to progress on without addressing dysfunctional movement is doing her no favors.  At some point her gymnastics potential will be limited by the movement dysfunction (we have all seen the gymnast that gets stuck on the same skill for a year) or she will be plagued by injuries.

Reference

Sleeper MD, Kenyon LK, Casey E.  Measuring fitness in female gymnasts: the gymnastics functional measurement tool. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2012 Apr;7(2):124-38.

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