‘Keep your eyes on the arms’: a UVic professor’s key to catching dives at the World Cup

Click to play video 'Teaching World Cup refs how to spot a ‘dive’' Teaching World Cup refs how to spot a ‘dive’
A B.C. expert says he can teach referees at the FIFA World Cup the difference between a legitimate fall on the pitch, and Oscar-worthy acting. Richard Zussman reports – Jun 19, 2018

It’s an ugly part of the beautiful game, soccer players diving in an attempt to draw penalties.

University of Victoria (UVIC) neuroscience Prof. E. Paul Zehr has an idea for how to fix the problem.

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“Keep your eyes on the arms. What you see with a lot of soccer players is when they are being tripped they are doing things with their arms that are actually not part of your programming,” said Zehr.

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“If you are falling you are bringing your arm forward even if you are not aware of it. What they don’t do is go back over your head or to the side.”

Zehr detailed his findings about flopping in an article published in article in Psychology Today.

In the article, he described three different faking positions: the “Platoon,” the “Finish Line” and the “Belly Flop.”

Often, soccer players will contort their bodies in certain ways when they come into contact on purpose, rather than being pushed into that position.

Aside from the arms, Zehr said players’ feet also provide some clues to help figure out the diving dilemma.

“If you are tripped you will do everything you can to get that foot back on the ground because you are going to fall,” said Zehr.

“What you often see with soccer players who are trying to embellish things is they will move their feet further from the ground, in other words you are in a more dangerous position.”

The UVic professor knows it’s not realistic to expect FIFA, soccer’s governing body, to read his article and quickly implement changes.

But he does think there is value in soccer organizations teaching referees how to differentiate between a trip or a fake.

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“I wouldn’t mind if there was some idea for referees taught to look for certain cues,” added Zehr.

“Get the criteria right for what it looks like when you are tripped and what it looks like when you are faking it. And you know what, give retroactive cards or something to clean it up. I don’t think the beautiful game needs all the lying and deceit.”

Diving has been improved with the addition of video review, but even so, Zehr said referees can still be fooled by the acting job.

One way for a referee not to be fooled, according to Zehr, is to understand the way the body is conditioned to move.