Ref Watch: Players Taking Dives

By Randy Vogt

I started refereeing in 1978 and for every game that I officiated in the United States for my first decade or so of refereeing -- nearly 2,000 games -- I did not see one player take a dive. Certainly, my ability to detect simulation was not as good as it is today as I now have much more experience.

But when I refereed in Brazil in 1987, in what was the Soviet Union in 1991 plus in Italy in 1992 and 1994, I saw players taking dives. And see it on occasion in my games today in the United States.

When I started refereeing, there were very few soccer games on TV in the United States and that’s part of the reason why dives were extremely rare. Today, there is a vast array of games to watch and sadly a few of our players are emulating their role models in taking dives.

My dentist is a high school basketball ref who asked me if the dive in soccer is like the flop in basketball.

“It’s similar,” I told him. “Except that if a basketball ref is fooled, it’s two points out of 100 while a fooled ref in soccer who makes a call that leads to a goal, it can dramatically change the game since just a few goals are scored in a soccer game.”

Now I must admit where players took dives and I was fooled while other times there was a foul and I thought the player took a dive instead. Any of my colleagues who have advanced beyond pee-wees have done the same.

Let’s take a boys U-13 player, No. 8, in a futsal game. He was dribbling, and as a defender approached him from behind, No. 8 fell to the ground. Unfortunately, my partner (as futsal uses two refs) whistled a foul.

After the game, I told my partner that the boy had not been touched. Before we refereed the team again, I reminded my partner that No. 8 goes down very easily. In the 5th minute, he was dribbling the ball when the ball was cleanly tackled yet he went down to the ground as if he had been shot and looked back to me. I went up to him and told him to get up.

Two minutes later, when he had the ball inside the penalty area, as a defender challenged him, No. 8 jumped to the ground and again looked back to me. I blew my whistle and restarted play with an indirect kick to the opposing team after giving No. 8 a caution for unsporting behavior.

At the beginning of the second half, No. 8 deliberately pushed an opponent off-the-ball so he was sent off for his second caution.

Then there was a boys U-15 game. An attacker had the ball seven yards from the opponent’s goal. A defender marking him stuck out his leg. The attacker pushed the ball to the left of the defender and as it was going over the goal line, he “tripped” over the opponent’s leg. He actually made a detour to the right to initiate contact with the opponent’s stationary leg but he had played the ball to the left. I certainly could have given him a caution for unsporting behavior but did not as the dive was not as clear-cut as those of No. 8.

Yelling or moaning as the player goes to the ground and quickly looking at the referee are generally two signs that the player is diving.

A word of warning to the few youth players who actually take dives: You will get a reputation from both referees and opponents that you don’t try to stay on your feet. And when you are actually fouled and go down, the foul might not be whistled as the ref thinks that you are trying to fool him or her again.

Yet there is the scenario of a defender who sticks out a leg right in front of an attacker and misses the ball. We cannot expect attackers to change their leg movement to avoid contact. Should the attacker trip over an outstretched defender’s leg, even if the attacker goes down easily, a foul needs to be whistled.

(Randy Vogt  has officiated over 9,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to 6-year-olds being cheered on by very enthusiastic parents. In Preventive Officiating, he shares his wisdom gleaned from thousands of games and hundreds of clinics to help referees not only survive but thrive on the soccer field. You can visit the book’s website at

10 comments about "Ref Watch: Players Taking Dives ".
  1. Brian Something, May 18, 2016 at 10:33 a.m.

    I’ve always thought the Anglo-American obsession with diving TO THE EXCLUSION OF ALL OTHER CHEATING was counterproductive. Defenders cheat all the time. They grab jerseys, lock arm, kick heels, rugby tackle on every single corner kick. Forwards diving is merely a way to even things up. If you are going to call diving, you have to call these other forms of cheating as well. Otherwise, it’s the defensive cheating that gets rewarded. I’d also like to see refs call fouls and especially penalties in cases where the player tries to stay on his feet. You rarely see this and this encourages players to go to ground “too easily” for one simple reason: they know their honesty will be punished and defensive cheating rewarding. Diving cannot be remedied when viewed in a vacuum.

  2. Raymond Weigand replied, May 18, 2016 at 11:56 a.m.


  3. R2 Dad replied, May 18, 2016 at 4:49 p.m.

    Brian, what you are describing is found in the professional game, whereas Randy is talking about the youth game. I'm sure given more column-inches Randy could go on to expound on the differences between the two, to your edification. IMHO, the youth game is simpler since there are fewer issues off the ball, so you can focus on the activity around the ball. This makes officiating much less complicated (and more fun). When you start talking about BU16 and older, all the bad habits associated with the pros comes into play, as you mention. The man management (PG has a specific disdain for this talking-to) is nonetheless critical to keeping a lid on chippy matches that might spin out of control. And things might still blow up. I have the utmost admiration for those referees that can invisibly manage a huge derby like Real/Athletico, Rangers/Celtic where the emotions are already at a 10 before kickoff, and yet there is still flow to the match and the officials are (relatively) invisible.

  4. Daniel Gil, May 18, 2016 at 11:25 a.m.

    I agree with Brian and All American. Most youth refs hardly ever call fouls when young players push from behind. Brute force is rewarded over skill all the time. The end result is overly physical, naive players.

  5. Pasco Struhs, May 18, 2016 at 11:39 a.m.

    So here is my question. Taking the example of the U15 player who pushed the ball out of the way and initiated contact, would you consider that a dive and thus improper under the letter of the rules? Maybe a better example is a player who see's the defender closing in and pushes the ball forward as the defender is going for the tackle and instead of jumping over the defender's leg, allows the defender to sweep his feet and so the attacking player is tripped. Is that a dive? If so, how is that different from a basketball player who pump fakes a defender to get him to leave his feet and then clearly jumps into him as he pretends to shoot the ball (clearly trying not to avoid the defender and clearly having no real shot)? Different game with different rules?

  6. James Madison, May 18, 2016 at 5:56 p.m.

    The primary reason that Randy did not see dives when he began officiating is that he then could not tell the difference between fair play and foul Foul recognition is the biggest single weakness in inexperienced referees. The secondary reason is that in the 1970s and 1980s young American soccer players were not sufficiently skilled to simulate being fouled. They are now.

  7. F. Kirk Malloy, May 19, 2016 at 8:08 a.m.

    Huh? Excusing diving by pointing out routinely over-physical defense? How about condemning both? US soccer, and for that matter British football, rely WAY TOO MUCH on physical play instead of skill and speed. Unfortunately, the US game seems to be modeling itself after the Brit, as opposed to Spanish, German or South American, version of the game. Ultimately that's a failed path, as the World game, and its refs, prefer a more offense-oriented, free-flowing game. And as the Brits re-discover every 4 (or 2) years, you can't just flip a switch and change style of play.
    So US, clean up your act, and US refs turn off the EPL and turn on La Liga or UEFA if you want to see football's end zone. Clean up the entire game, including the diving, so US can one day compete for Cups.

  8. Wooden Ships replied, May 19, 2016 at 9:44 a.m.

    Roger that F. Kirk.

  9. R2 Dad replied, May 19, 2016 at 4:46 p.m.

    I wouldn't say the US game is modeled after the UK version as much as it is formed by the economics of club soccer (which you all are familiar with). I just worked a U15 match, supposedly academy level, that was very poor, with lots of bad decisions on both sides, poor challenges, overly physical to counter the poor touch and skills on the ball. Two teams both from wealthy enclaves, essentially all white. No fun to officiate, with petulant coaches and whiny parents. But they can pay the fees so their kids can claim they are playing Academy. Every time a new league comes along it runs into the status quo and follows the money down the rat hole of mediocrity. The only positive I see is that clubs are merging into larger entities in order to remain relevant. Between MLS, NASL & USL private amateur clubs will eventually fall under local professional soccer clubs. The barriers to entry need to be larger because up til now, any yahoo could go out and start a club, and club creation dilutes the skilled player-per-team ratio.

  10. Big Dad, June 2, 2016 at 1:17 p.m.

    I see it all the time in high level boys competitions. Just last week, a kid was diving non stop and the ref would not address. I said the word " simulation" totally out of context and not associated with a specific instance as he walked by our parent sideline. He threatened to kick me out if I used the word again. The other team continued to flop around like a fish out of water.

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