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Commentary Jul 24, 2014

LeBolt: The feeble, sickening art of flopping is getting out of hand

WendyLeBolt-HeaderLet me see if I am getting this right:

  • keep your footing – no foul
  • hit the floor – foul

There are so many bodies and so many moving parts, how can any stripe-shirted, whistle-toting human being know for sure whether illegal “contact” was made? Why not help him out? Writhe on the ground, grabbing a shin, a foot, a head, anything that might have been brushed, and you might get the call. In fact, why try to keep your footing at all? If you keep your feet, most likely you won’t get the call even if contact was made, but certainly you are slowed and must stumble your way to balance. How inconvenient. Let’s go with the high percentage play: the dive.

[ +READ: LeBolt: For America to win a World Cup, we have to do the one thing we can’t bear]

If you don’t know how to dive “properly” there are blogs and websites that will teach you proper diving technique. They consider diving just another skill in a player’s toolbox. “It’s just part of the game that…helps referees make the right call,” they say. How thoughtful, eh?
They offer instruction and advice on when to dive, where to dive, how many times to dive, selling the dive, who to target with a dive, how to avoid penalization in diving, defending against divers (ironically) and on and on. Frankly, this sickens me, but you can find help to learn how to do anything on the internet these days. Your choice. It’s a free country.


Embellishment, the players call it.  Isn’t it interesting how people can use fancy words to justify cheating? Make it sound like something so harmless, perhaps even your responsibility to learn, since it’s “just a part of the game.” I find it interesting that diving does not play much part in the women’s game. Are we stronger, more agile, or better balanced? Maybe we avoid contact, don’t slide tackle, or just don’t try as hard. Perhaps we have an aversion to cheating. You decide. As far as I can tell: same game, same rules, very little embellishment. What gives?

I was on the road during the World Cup final and forced to resort to listening to play-by-play on the radio. It’s not the same, but it has its advantages. Verbal description is delightful to fill in all the blanks. Toss in an Irish lilt and sense of humor and you’ve got entertainment. Also, a heavy dose of insight. Messi has a chance. He’s in the box. Tripped up but keeps his footing. Fires wide, uncharacteristically. “Credit Messi for keeping his footing,” ESPN’s Tommy Smyth says. “Had he gone down, he probably’d got the call.”

I’ve not met Messi, but I do admire that man’s ability to keep his feet. Tremendous agility and balance! But where does that leave him among today’s “diving” soccer players? Wide right and runner-up.

I guess most pros only care if they win or lose. Whatever it takes to get them there is just fine. But the young folks are watching and learning. What they are learning is to play the percentages. It’s better to blast through with the intention of falling than to try to keep your feet. Better to fall at a touch rather than try to stand your ground. Whether or not you call this cheating or just playing smart, two things became painfully clear to me, as a soccer trainer and fitness profesisonal:

  1. If you don’t attempt to keep your balance, you won’t develop dynamic agility.
  2. If you don’t attempt to stand your ground, you won’t develop game-ready core strength.

In other words, the easy dive prevents you from improving your game. And frankly, since Fit2Finish training practices focus on developing agility and core strength, I might as well quit now. Who needs them when you can flop and draw the foul? Let’s just work the ref, time the dive, and target the player on a yellow card if you’re savvy enough to avoid a booking yourself? Why be agile and able to sidestep trouble when it comes? Why be strong and able to stand up to things that threaten to move us from our rightful place? If weakness and lying can get us our way, why not use them to our advantage?

  1. Because they’re wrong
  2. Because they’re feeble
  3. Because they make us losers. If not in the short term, then in the long run.

If players can pull a fast one on the best refs in the world, what chance do the young refs have who do yeoman’s duty on our youth fields? They can’t help but be influenced by the trajectory of the player and the drama after the fact. It’s human nature.

Make no mistake, embellishers and non-embellishers both hit the ground: It’s a tough game. The difference is completely in the intent. If I go into the play, leaning to lose my feet, I know it. If I go in, attempting to keep my feet, I know it. The one develops disability, the other capability. Both are justified consequences with long term impact. Sooner or later, your intentions will get you.

So, how to address the problem we have now? I have an idea! Perhaps next World Cup we could have a judges table on the sidelines. You know, like they do for figure skating and gymnastics and diving competitions. Then the competitors could receive proper marks for their performances. We would need to train judges from all the participating nations, and create a rule book with deductions for breaks in form and multipliers for extra rotations. Three revolutions certainly should earn more points than a simple single-twisting summersault.

This would give that fourth referee something to do though the 80+ minutes when there are no substitutions. He could call out the scores: 7.5, 8, oh my, 6 from the Italian judge, 8, 8.5, 7, 7.5. Computers would whir, throwing out the high and low marks, and arrive at an average score to be flashed on the Jumbo-tron along with the slow motion replay. Then, we will deduct that from the game total. Of course, let’s be sure and tally the high point scorers so we can reward them. Perhaps the Golden Swan award?

If outcome is all that matters, then, by all means, let’s do the math. You be the judge.

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