College gymnasts compete in the National Collegiate Athletic Association while pursuing a college degree, while elite gymnasts are national and international-level competitors who focus only on their gymnastics. The typical elite gymnast competes during their teen years. The NCAA is the next step for some elite-level gymnasts since they are often offered full college scholarships, thus the average NCAA gymnast is 18 or older. The usual trajectory is elite competition followed by NCAA competition, although many elite gymnasts do choose to turn professional instead of competing on NCAA teams. Although it is unusual, some gymnasts have competed in elite-level competitions -- like the Olympics -- while being a member of an NCAA gymnastics team. College gymnastics in the NCAA and elite gymnastics have as many differences as similarities, including the teamwork, the pressure level, the scoring and the training hours.
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The Team Aspect
The elite gymnast is primarily a solo competitor. Much of an elite athlete's time is focused on individual training and on improving his or her own routines, so there may not be a lot of interaction with teammates. Although elite gymnasts do compete as part of a team -- during Olympic competition, for example -- they are also competing for individual titles and medals that are often heavily emphasized. Conversely, the college gymnast is usually much more focused on the team. Each gymnast is part of a greater whole in NCAA gymnastics, where the atmosphere is one of congenial support and teamwork.
The Pressure Level
Typically the pressure is highest at the elite level, where the gymnasts are usually always pushing to achieve the highest difficulty levels. College gymnastics usually has lower pressure, although gymnasts typically feel motivated to perform well for the sake of the team. While there can be a great deal of pressure in both college and elite gymnastics, it is a different type of pressure.
The Scoring System
The college scoring system has a "ceiling" score -- a perfect "10" -- while the elite gymnastic scoring system does not. In elite gymnastics, a perfect score does not exist. The elite gymnastics scoring system is based upon the difficulty value of all of the skills in the routine and the execution of the skills. The more difficult the skills, the higher it is possible for the elite level gymnast to score.
The Training Hours
The average elite gymnast trains for about 40 hours per week. This level of training is considerably more intense than what is usually required of a college gymnast, who usually trains for about 20 hours per week. In college gymnastics, athletes are expected to maintain both their gymnastics and their grades, so they spend a great deal less time in the gym to balance this.