In the beginning of the movie we meet three friends biking to a development being built in their town. They want to do bike tricks in the unfinished pools of the houses. Two of the friends (boys) do some bike stunts while a third one, hooded so we can't see the identity, looks on. Suddenly three skateboarders come over and want the trio to leave the pool so that they can do stunts there. They decide to have a contest. One person from each group will jump off the roof of the house, go down the pool slide, and do a trick in the pool. Best one wins their group use of the pool. First the skateboarder goes and almost makes it but wipes out in the pool. Then our hooded biker goes and does a very impressive series of stunts ending, unfortunately, in a crash through the large picture window of the house. Here we discover that he third biker is actually Haley, a girl (Missy Peregrym). When her friends come to help her one stupidly sets off the house alarm and the cops show up. Haley is arrested but the others get away.
We learn that this isn't Haley's first brush with the law and the judge gives her two choices, Texas Military Academy or "VGA." Haley chooses the military academy and the judge says, "VGA it is." Haley is very upset to find out that her father is the one who set this up but she has to go anyway or face a year in Juvenile Detention.
When she gets to VGA (Vickerman Gymnastics Academy) she immediately gets off on the wrong foot with the coach and the other gymnasts there. Apparently, a few years ago at the Worlds competition she just left in the middle of a routine and cost team USA the gold medal. As a result all gymnasts hate her.
She doesn't do much to help herself at first though. She acts bratty and like she is better than the others. When she refuses to participate in an exercise the coach, Burt Vickerman (Jeff Bridges), makes the rest of the girls run laps until Haley agrees to participate. They run for a very long time and at the end they lock her out of her dorm and expect her to sleep outside.
The coach pulls up in his car and takes her out to a restaurant. He eats but doesn't let Haley have anything but water while he gives her a whole, "you're too good to quit" speech that she basically throws back in his face. Finally he offers another deal. There is a competition in four weeks and if she works at it he will send her on his team. If she wins the prize then she can pay back the damages to the house she crashed into and can leave VGA and go home.
He makes her walk the five miles back to VGA and by the time she gets there she decides to take him up on his offer as long as she doesn't have to train with the other girls until she is in better shape. He agrees to let her use the old gym to train in until she is ready and we see a montage of her training, falling down, bathing herself in ice, etc.all the young athlete sacrificing herself for her sport stuff.
During this time, Vic shows up and offers to help her control her tricks (landings pretty much). After a little bit she agrees and joins the other girls to train. When the time comes to pick the team for the championship Haley is expecting to be chosen because of the deal she made with Vic but he chooses someone else instead because she says that she is not ready. She gets upset and finally he agrees to have a competition with all the girls and the four best will go to the championship. Guess who is part of the four?
When the team arrives at the competition Haley is a target right away. The other gymnasts are staring at her and one throws soda on her. She starts to get upset. While she is getting ready she tells two of the other girls that they need to do something to make the judges notice them and that if the are going to "eat mat" they should eat it hard. This makes the other girls try tricks that are too difficult for them and they get bad scores.
After Haley lands a difficult routine and takes 1st place another gymnast tells the two teammates that Haley is sabotaging them so that she can win the prize money and leave. This isn't true but the two teammates get mad at Haley and she feel even worse.
During a break Haley's mother comes to see her and tries to get Haley to agree to go back to her old coach. Mom reveals that her dad had called every coach in the country and no one would take her on. In the end Vic only did it because her dad agreed to pay four times the normal fee. This gets Haley even more upset. She feels betrayed by everyone. When she gets on the balance beam after her break she falls off and we see as she gets back on that she is crying. After she finishes the routine (with a bad score) she starts to leave and her coach stops her. While he is trying to get her to stay she reveals that the reason she walked out on the world competition was because she found out that her old coach was having an affair with her mother and that as a result her parents were going to get divorced. Then she runs away from the competition.
We next find Haley in the judge's chambers. She is expecting trouble because she ran out on VGA. Instead the judge shows her a letter from Vic recommending that she be given leniency. We also learn that Vic used the money from her dad to pay all the damages to the house. Haley is free to go.
Once she realizes that Vic really does care for her as a coach she goes back to him and agrees to work hard for the championship in another month. We get to that competition pretty quickly and this is where things get fun. At the competition the immediate focus is not on the girls but on the judges. Haley, in a voice over, makes is clear that the judges can mark off for anything and that if they don't like you they'll nitpick your score down until you have no chance of winning. We also learn that the judges don't like Vic as a coach so his girls are in trouble right away. Haley tries to talk to one of the girls who was on her Worlds team a few years ago (I think the name is Alicia) because she wants to apologize for walking out, but the girl won't listen.
Then we get into the meet. After the first day all the commentators say that Haley should be in the lead but the judges have placed her second, probably because they don't like that she left Worlds a few years ago. On the second day one of Vic's girls, Mina, lands a perfect vault that everyone says deserves a 10.00 but the judges only give her a 9.5. The crowd starts to boo and Vic goes over to see why she got a bad score. The judge says that her bra strap was showing when she flipped, but everyone knows it's because the judges don't like Vic. Haley is so mad that she "scratches," intentionally forfeits the vault. Then the girl after her, who is also mad, does it, and the girl after that. All the other girls scratch so that Mina will win the gold. Suddenly the girls realize that they can choose the winners of the meet by letting the best girl do her routine and having all the others scratch. This is what they decide to do.
After the second time though the judges bring in Alicia, Haley's teammate from the past World's competition, who is focused on winning. She does a great balance beam routine that puts pressure on the girl, Wei Wei, who the others had chosen to win. Wei Wei decides to shake things up, though, and does a funky gymnastics/dance routine to the song, "Come Baby Come." It's very cool. Unfortunately Alicia wins and Wei Wei takes silver. After this the only routine left is mat, which the girls had decided Haley should win.
They try to talk to Alicia but she's not listening. Haley does a great routine and we all hold our breath while Alicia takes the mat. Suddenly Alicia scratches and Haley has won. We see all the girls getting their medals and hugging and talking to the press about how the finally got to give medals to the best gymnasts no matter what the judges wanted.