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Vision and Judging
by Wayne Oras
Diving coach for 35+ years

This discussion is a result of judging errors that seem to arise from the way people view dives. It will be an extension of articles "Viewing Diving as a Judge" and "Task Analysis" which can be seen on this web site. It is a result of understanding that a judge must pay attention during the performance of a dive in order to give a fair and impartial score.

If judging is considered a task, then there are four areas under task analysis that must be correct in order to give a performance the appropriate score (desired outcome). Those areas include: Perception, Recognition, Decision, Reaction

A question, posed at a clinic for officials, was: "When an error in judging occurs is it a matter of Perception and Recognition or a matter of Ignorance and/or Inexperience in applying the rules?" The answer was that it can be a little of each depending on the judge. Hopefully the following will clarify the answer to that question.

Everyone that sits on a panel for judging gives the appearance that they are attentively watching a dive as it is being performed. Their eyes seem to be looking at the diver as a dive is performed. When the dive is over, they shuffle through the flash cards and give their scores. This question arises, "How can one or two of those judges show a score that is way out of line from the others?" If one assumes that the eyes will see whatever they are facing, then how can such large discrepancies occur from one judge to another? A closer examination might reveal the cause.

Perception (Seeing)

Perception encompasses the use of all the senses that make us aware of our surroundings. For the purpose of this article vision will be the sense discussed. The eye has the capability of clear peripheral vision of 15 degrees side to side and 3 degrees up and down. As you stray further outside those limits, things are not as clear. You get to a point where movement can be discerned but one can not identify the cause of that movement. Now imagine that the 3 and 15 degree clarity is the frame of a picture viewed in diving and is within a much larger frame that contains less discernable detail. This larger frame could be 180 degrees or more side to side and for the sake of argument 45 degrees up and down. (It may be less for some since the curvature of the eye and bone structure surrounding the orbit may limit this vision making those ranges even smaller.) The more of the diver's body that falls outside the smaller frame, the less detail there is of that picture. 3 degrees up and down is fairly narrow and might explain why some will miss form breaks on dives. Not only is so much occurring at one time but most form breaks occur in the up and down plane of vision. That means most knee bends for dives like Reverse and Back 1 1/2's pike occur on the way to the top of the dive and may fall outside of our 3 degree clear picture. This may also explain why judges' scores vary from one side of the pool to the other. It is a lot easier to see form breaks from a greater distance than it is up close.

Another related area is the ability to pay attention. In the frames described above, where is your attention focused? The best example for this would be the peripheral vision test for a driver's license. If we focus on the dot in the test device, we are taking our 3 by 15 degree picture frame and focusing right in the middle of it. That picture becomes somewhat obscured when our attention shifts to what is happening at the extreme ends of our peripheral vision (45 by 180 degree frame). This is why attention is so important to judges. You must be able to focus your 3 by 15 degree picture frame at a point around the diver's waist and be attentive to the edges of that frame if you don't want to be one of those whose score is way out of line. When you master the above visual technique, most deficiencies will seem to jump out at you.

Recognition (Understanding)

Seeing is a large part of judging but it is not the only part. Understanding what is seen is just as important and goes hand in hand with perception. This is called Recognition. When the diver completes a dive, is it the dive that was announced? Was it performed in the position announced? If it was a twisting dive, did it finish facing the correct direction? Did it have a form break? Was that break partial or complete? Are there any other deductions that must be considered?


Once you have seen and understood the nuances of the dive performed, a decision must be made. If you see a deficiency but don't understand that there is a penalty or know what the penalty is, your score will not reflect the appropriate deduction. There may be more than one deduction on the same dive. You must be fluent with the rules in order to carry out the appropriate decision. Problems here can be due to ignorance or inexperience. Ignorance can include not being aware of or totally ignoring the rules. I believe that most judging errors are due to a lack of experience or exposure to judging. The current NFHSA rule book has one page devote to judging diving that lists penalties and deductions. If there are problems with judging, they appear to be more in line with applying the rules to what is seen (practical application).

Reaction (Response)

After all of the above has occurred, the response amounts to flashing your score for the dive performed. This is the easiest part of judging. Make sure the score you show is the one you intended. Listen to the announced scores and make sure yours is correct. This is also that part of judging that demonstrates to everyone whether a judge may be deemed competent or incompetent. The score you flash should be reflective of the diver's performance. If it's not, then you have not achieved the "desired outcome".

As you can see, judging is not an easy thing to do. You can not sit on a judging panel in a comatose state. It is a constant struggle to maintain attention and keep it focused on the task you are asked to do. That task includes:

Listen to the dive as announced.

Judge the performance you see.

Apply all deductions and/or penalties.

Be fair an impartial.

Before accepting a position for judging during Championship meets, it would be wise to practice the above ideas. Dual meets are good for this purpose. Sitting behind an experienced judge adds to the experience. After a contest or during the breaks of a Championship meet ask questions of that person if you found yourself giving different scores. It is a learning experience that will improve your ability to judge.

Other related items

Coaches become irked when penalties or deductions are not made. That means you may score a 6 when every other judge has given a four. Most do not complain if your score falls in the appropriate range. If one judge scores a 2 1/2 and another scores 4, both would be correct scores for a partial break in form (High School Rules). One would score harsher than the other but both have recognized that there was a break in form and that doesn't appear to happen with much consistency.

Some judges always seem to score high while others always seem to score low. There are even some who give the same score all the time. Wherever you begin scoring, don't change to try to fit in. If you are high or low consistently, don't adjust your scale until the beginning of the next round. Keep the same range to be fair to the competitors.

During certain diving events, it seems that judges get into a scoring rut. This rut is defined as a relatively small range of scores used by the judges. A really good or bad dive should be the reason for breaking out of that rut. Sometimes the competition will force judges into that rut. The diving may be such that all kinds of mistakes occur even by the better divers. Just be consistent with your scores and be ready to score the dive that may get you out of that rut.

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