Psychology of Judging Diving


Module One: Judging Sports like Diving:

As diving judges or officials, we often speak in detail about our sport from a technical perspective.  We frequently discuss the FINA Diving Rules and use statistics and videos to help with our ongoing education.  This is undoubtedly an important part of being a diving official as every judge should have the required knowledge to fairly officiate in a competition, regardless of the level.  However, it is also important to consider the psychological or mental side of judging a sport like diving, including the challenges and pressures judges face when officiating.  This paper aims to look at some of the psychological considerations that judges encounter when officiating, and provides some tips on how to meet the challenges of judging diving at an advanced level.

Judging Sports like Diving:

Performance judgement is an important part of many sports, be it at grassroots or highest level. In fact, almost one-third of all sports registered with the International Olympic Committee use judging to partially or entirely assess performance. In moments of controversy, when immediate decisions need to be taken that could affect the outcome of the competition, the ‘human’ element of judging and refereeing becomes important.

Performance assessment in aesthetic sports such as diving is almost entirely dependent on judges looking at, evaluating and categorising an athlete’s skill. There can be no doubt that judges should try to remain fair at all times during a competition. We can – and should – assume that judges want to do their job well. But it is very likely that most judges also try to avoid the negative consequences associated with making a mistake.

The process of judging:

Evidence exists within psychological research that ‘getting it right’ when judging aesthetic sports such as diving is not as easy as it sounds. Whenever a judgement is made, the brain will run through several steps of complex processing. The first step involves the perception/observation of a situation, or, in the case of a dive, a particular movement. Following on, that movement is given meaning, (i.e. it might be considered as good or satisfactory within the context of the diving scoring categories). Research shows that this process of categorisation relies heavily on prior knowledge. For instance, what the judge has learnt about classifying performance, and what type of other performances the judge may have considered to be good or satisfactory. Finally, research shows that a judge then considers the dive in combination with relevant memories and other circumstantial information, such as where the competition is held, and whether the competition is in a preliminary, semi-final, or final stage.

Errors in judgement can be due to a number of smaller errors in any one (or all of) the three different steps of decision making outlined above. For instance, a judge could assign a score on the basis that they could not see a particular movement very well, or that they simply missed an aspect of it.

‘Shortcuts’ in judging diving:

Judging sports such as diving also presents an additional problem relating to the human capacity to process complex information. When assessing dives, judges are required to deliver their verdict under the increasing time and social pressure to ‘get it right’. Divers are continuing to perform more and more complex dives, consisting of a number of technical and artistic elements that all need to be considered at once. However, research has shown that the processing of such complex information in a condensed timeframe simply exceeds human capabilities. In order to be able to provide relevant scores within the given timeframe, judges may, at times, rely on ‘shortcuts’ which essentially represent a judge’s knowledge of how athletes generally behave or perform in certain situations or competitions. These ‘short-cuts’ can be based on a number of different information sources, such as the athlete’s reputation, their previous performances, and which team they belong to.

  • Were you aware that your brain had so much to process in such a short period of time when judging diving?
  • Take some time to reflect on the three phases our brains run through when we judge an individual dive. What can you learn from reflecting on this?

Feb 8, 2019 | Diving Articles