Psychology of Judging Diving


Module Two: Pressures and Challenges of Judging Diving

The pressure of judging:

The difficulties of evaluating diving outlined above become even more relevant in pressure situations.  The reality is, nobody comes to a diving competition to see a judge, yet each judge plays an essential role in determining the outcome of a competition.  Generally, when an athlete makes a mistake, the diving community and the audience feels sorry for them and their coach.  However, when a judge makes a mistake, at times they can be unfairly labelled as incompetent, biased, or ‘out of their depth’.  Athletes can be awarded a re-dive when the referee believes that conditions warrant one, but a judge cannot re-award their score!

The pressure on judges to ‘get it right’ has increased in recent years with the arrival of social media and the increased coverage of major international diving events.  It is every judge’s worst nightmare to be the centre of attention when they give a score that is different, even if they may have had a valid reason to do so.

Research undertaken by a FINA Technical Diving Committee Member (TDC Member) in 2018 found that even the most experienced Olympic-level diving judges feel pressure officiating at major events.  Several experienced judges confidentially advised the TDC Member that they experience either nervousness, anxiety, or other physical symptoms of stress, prior to judging in the finals of major events.  One judge mentioned that prior to officiating at the Olympics for the first time they were unable to sleep the night before the first event and felt as though they would faint before getting in the judge’s chair. Another judge advised that they occasionally still feel physically ill due to nerves when they realise they will be judging a major event.

In recent years, TDC Members have encouraged an environment where judges are able to share the emotions they feel prior to, and during their judging experiences.  New judges have found it particularly helpful to hear that more experienced judges have also felt nervous, or may still feel nervous.  It is important that all diving judges, and particularly newer ones, are able to feel part of a ‘team’ whilst officiating during competitions, and engaging in social situations.  This helps to encourage open discussion on the pressures associated with officiating at major events, and allows the transfer of knowledge between peers. Remember: a problem shared is a problem halved! Diving judges always work as part of a team, whether in the chair, or in meetings, and it is important to treat your colleagues with the dignity and respect you would like to be given.  There is always going to be differences of opinion, and while you might not necessarily agree with a score another judge has given, or a point they have made, you can learn a great deal by listening and gaining an understanding of their position.

Most discussions of this nature have concluded that it is quite healthy to feel a degree of nervousness (and perhaps excitement) before judging a major competition.  This is often a sign of adrenaline which is a healthy and natural reaction to a major occasion. The difficulty for a judge arises when their nervousness tips over to anxiety or fear, as this can have a negative impact on their ability to officiate.  If a judge begins to feel fearful or anxious before judging they should approach a more experienced judge, or a TDC Member, to discuss their feelings and seek support. 

Experienced judges have noted the importance of developing routines to counter the stress of officiating at high-level events.  These include deep-breathing techniques and/or focussing only on the diver and ignoring the crowd, cameras and fanfare associated with a major event.

Moving on after awarding a different score during a competition:

Research shows that humans like to ‘fall in line’ or be part of a group or team.  However, as a judge there will be occasions where you give a score which will be different from the rest of the judging panel.  This can occur when a judge makes a mistake, and all judges make mistakes on occasion.  It can also occur when a judge is being brave, and it could be possible that they alone have entered the most correct award. 

Regardless of why a judge’s score is different, it can be a stressful situation, particularly at a major event.  One judge recounted a situation that they experienced at the Olympic Games when they gave a score a point lower than the rest of the panel to a diver from the home nation.  They remembered being jeered and booed by the crowd for almost a minute and found the experience terrifying, even if they did not consider changing their score.

The importance of recalibrating, or ‘getting back on track’ after giving a different score cannot be understated.  Experienced judges have generally learnt how to quickly move on when they have given a different score.  Judges who have not learnt to quickly move on tend to continue questioning (or worrying about) a score they gave for a previous dive and may lose focus for the next dives.  If focus has been lost, and the judge cannot regain their concentration, their chances of making a mistake increase. 

Some experienced judges use the motto “I am not afraid to be different” and this can be helpful in situations where your award differs. In any case, there is nothing you can do when you give a different score during a competition until after the event is complete when you can speak to an observer, or review the dive on video.  Some judges take a pen and paper to the judge’s chair with them and write down dives where they give a different score.  Others store the dive in their memory to speak about it later but do not dwell on the award they gave.  Teaching yourself personal methods to get ‘back on track’ is well worth pursuing and will ensure that you are able to regain your focus and feel confident judging the rest of an event.

  • Consider the biggest competition you ever judged at, and try to recall how you felt prior to judging your first event, and then during the first event. How did you feel? What advice would you give to judges who are less experienced than you?
  • As a diving judge do you feel like you have the support of your peers? Have you been doing enough to encourage judges who are less experienced than you?
  • Think about strategies that work best for you to get ‘back on track’ when you award a score that is different than the rest of the judging panel. How do you move on?  Could your strategy be shared with others?

Feb 8, 2019 | Diving Articles