Psychology of Judging Diving


Module Three: Subconscious Considerations and Being Prepared

Subconscious considerations to take into account when judging:

Diving has maintained an envied position amongst aesthetic sports for the fairness of its judging.  Judges are actively educated on the inappropriateness of officiating in a biased manner, and in any event the two lowest and highest scores (on a seven judge panel) are discarded.  It is important that diving maintains this credibility as bias can be viewed as a form of corruption which is damaging for our sport.  While all judges are aware of what nationalistic looks like, there are other important subconscious issues to consider.

Firstly, while it is obvious when a judge favours competitors from their own club or country, it is not always as obvious when the same judge consistently gives lower awards to competitors who pose a challenge to a diver from their own club or country.  This can be an explicit form of bias (or cheating) but it can also be a subconscious reaction to different techniques/styles of divers from different nations.  It is important for judges to be aware of their preferences and to learn that there are many ways to perform a particular dive.  A different style from what you are accustomed to does not necessarily mean that an error has been made.

It is also important to only judge the performance of a diver in the current event, and not consider their reputation, or previous results. All experienced judges are well aware of divers who have had success at past major events but we must be careful to evaluate only what we see in the present competition. It is possible that a diver with good results can make a major error, and if they do so they should be penalised accordingly.  It is also possible for an unknown diver to perform extremely well and they should be rewarded appropriately for doing so.

Judges should also avoid subconsciously giving higher scores to divers who compete at the end of a round.  When a semi-final or final competition starts, scores usually start again from zero.  Judges should be prepared to give high or low scores throughout the competition (even on the very first dive) as the previous rank order should not determine the results of the current competition.  Judges should also remember not to ‘over-award’ dives that have a high degree of difficulty.  For instance, if you see a 109C that enters the water short of vertical, the appropriate deduction should be made.  Some judges can get excited when they see dives with a high level of difficulty but it is important to consider what score you might give if the diver was performing an easier dive (for instance a 101C) and they entered the water at the same angle.  At any rate, all dives have a predetermined degree of difficulty assigned to them, and judges need only look at the execution or synchronisation; they do not need to even know the degree of difficulty.

Finally, research shows that some judges in aesthetic sports may subconsciously react more favourably to performances from athletes from nations that their own country has a good relationship with.  It is important to remember that when judging a diving competition political and/or social relationships between countries are irrelevant.  The focus should only be on the performance of the diver and not their nationality.  In other words, what you read about a particular nation on the internet, or hear on the news, should have no bearing on the scores you award to its divers.

Being prepared for the unexpected or the unknown:

As diving judges we are guided by the FINA Diving Rules and we should all have a good understanding of these.  However, on occasion, judges and referees may need to deal with a situation that is not explicitly covered by these rules. 

For instance, one referee recently reported a situation where a diver doing a 105B on the 3m springboard balked/restarted and returned to the starting position (this obviously results in a 2 point penalty from the referee).  However, on the second attempt, the diver performed a 105C rather than a 105B (the maximum score for a dive performed completely in the wrong position is 2 points).  In this case, the referee could not declare a failed dive but had to resolve that all scores from the judges should be 0 points.  This is due to the fact that the maximum award for the dive was 2 points, but a restart also occurred meaning a further deduction of 2 points was required.  Referees may also need to consider requests from divers or their representatives for re-dives, and the circumstances of these requests may require careful thought.

In terms of judging, it is important to remain alert.  Do not expect that the competition will proceed without the need for you to make some challenging decisions.  For instance, a referee may not declare a dive as failed but as a judge you may well believe it was, and you have the right to award 0 points (this may happen when a diver lands very short or long of vertical, or over/under twists. Further, the safety of divers is paramount in our sport, and as a judge you need to be prepared to appropriately penalise athletes who perform their dives too close to either the springboard of platform.  This includes being prepared to award a maximum of 2 points when a divers head touches, or is unsafely close to the springboard or platform.

  • You were probably aware of explicit bias (for instance when a judge favours a diver from their own country) but had you thought about the other kinds of subconscious bias before?
  • Have you encountered a situation as a judge or referee that was not clearly described in the rules? How did you deal with it?  Were you prepared?

Feb 8, 2019 | Diving Articles