The Globe has a big feature today on A3 on the supposed “science” of the soccer dive, including an interview with some psychologist who has published a piece on diving in the excellently-named Journal of Nonverbal behavior. But honestly, it doesn’t a scientist to spot a dive, and I remain completely flummoxed as to why referees are duped so frequently.
When a normal human is tripped or stumbles, the automatic reaction is to thrust out a leg in the direction of the stumble, plant the foot, and allow the leg to absorb the force of the tilt and retain the body in an upright bipedal position. It’s a skill virtually every human learns by the age of four, and any professional athlete has mastered it. You simply cannot make it to the dinner table — let alone as a pro — without being able to stand up.
Countering the “staying upright” instinct is hard, and soccer players have to practice to make themselves fall down. My friend JP, with whom I played four years of varsity soccer at McGill, had mastered it. The trick, as he showed me, was to train yourself to let your legs go limp as soon as you are tackled. It’s similar to the idea of letting your body go limp when you are about to crash your car.