Flop, Platoon or Finish Line? The 3 kinds of soccer dive, according to a UVic prof

A University of Victoria neuroscience professor has tips for refs on how to figure out when a soccer player is faking an injury.

Neuroscientist has tips for World Cup referees on how to spot a phony fall on the field

Did Brazil's Fred demonstrate a "Platoon" against Croatia in the 2014 World Cup? The referee awarded Brazil a penalty. (Paulo Whitaker/Reuters)

The 2018 FIFA Men's World Cup begins in Russia on Thursday and soccer fans are bracing themselves for the notorious tradition of diving: the way players often fall over, writhe and scream in fake pain to score an advantage. 

Now one B.C. expert has stepped forward to help referees spot a real phony on the pitch.

E. Paul Zehr, a soccer fan and professor of neuroscience at the University of Victoria, studies how people coordinate arm and leg movements. One area of his research looks at how the body reacts during falls, trips, or stumbles.

"Your nervous system is evolutionarily optimized to prevent everything possible to prevent falling to the ground because that's the worst possible outcome for any animal, including humans," Zehr said.

Typically, the key thing you do to protect your body in a fall is to put your arms out in front  — but players faking injuries often do the complete opposite.

"The arms are being pulled over the head, or out to the side, which are not protective at all but great for drawing attention to something just happened which is then hoping to be a foul," he said.

​Zehr shared his top three ways to spot a fake, giving names to each kind of dive.

1) The Platoon

This move is named after the 1986 Vietnam War movie and the way Sgt. Elias, played by Willem Dafoe, reacts to being shot. 

"Dafoe is shot in the back and his arms come up over his back. It looks like some of these players have been assaulted somehow and they're just falling, face first, arms over their head to the ground.

"Not a protective reaction whatsoever. If you really were falling like that, you'd injure yourself more than if you were just being tripped."

2) The Finish Line

A move named for the way some players fling their arms behind them and distinctively thrust their chests out like they're about to cross a finish line.

3) The Belly Flop

In this move, players land like a "pratfall" onto the pitch.

"This is what would happen to you if your nervous system wasn't doing its job," Zehr said.

"In fact, we should be giving a lot of credit to athletes who can do this, because in so doing, they're actually suppressing all these corrections that are working so hard to keep them safe."

Time for a game change?

Although diving — or "simulation," as it's called by FIFA — has become part of the sport, Zehr said both players and referees can work together to move away from the theatrics.

"A lot of times you see the referees are risk averse, they don't want someone to later say to them, that wasn't a penalty, he was still running or she was still moving," Zehr said.

"But ... they are sort of setting up a situation where they're making the players do this."

If referees can make accurate calls as per the rules and players can stop the exaggerated agony, he said, it would give the beautiful game a much-needed facelift.

The first game of the World Cup, between Russia vs. Saudi Arabia, takes place Thursday at 8 a.m. PT.

With files from All Points West

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