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Why do soccer players take so many dives?

Because the soccer players are trying to think like economists and are performing real-time cost-benefit analyses.

Initially, you would think that soccer players have the same motives/incentives to dive or not dive as say a basketball player driving the lane for a lay-up. So, why aren’t the Celtics rolling all over the  parquet at the same rate as the Ghana Black Stars on the pitch?

Most obvious, unlike basketball’s small court and five team squad, soccer is on a much larger field of play with many more players to cover for the fallen player on a dive that goes un-called.  And more importantly, the payoff is much higher in soccer where scoring is much less prevalent.

But does all the diving really hurt the team at large? I played competitive soccer for 15 years and, sure, on plays where I was fouled really hard, I took my time getting up (and maybe splashed down with an emphatic groan). But it always occurred to me that if the foul was that blatant the ref was going to call it.  When I saw opposing players repeatedly take dives, I often noticed the referees demeanor towards said player (and sometimes the whole team) would change.  A really sharp ref might even take the feigned dives as an affront to his or her intelligence and ability to do the job.  A hard-nosed ref might view the diving team as soft.  Either way, it generally angered them and often they would be inclined to make calls against the diving team in other areas (think close off-sides calls).

In other more impressive displays of economic theory in soccer, Jodi Beggs at Economists Do It With Models does some back of napkin calculations on whether it would be beneficial for FIFA to spend an extra $500 a game on goal referees, entitled “Fun With Math: I Need To Teach FIFA How To Perform A Cost-Benefit Analysis…Or Do I?”

The trade-off:


4 Responses

  1. It is true, you don’t want to piss off the ref.

    But you are leaving out a few other factors that would emphasize your first point.

    If a basketball player draws a foul on a talented opposing player, that is a good thing. If a soccer player draws a yellow card from a talented opposing player, that is a GREAT thing.

  2. I imagine taking dives can be strategically sound in some instances. A typical example seen in any single league and international tournament is doing it to “burn time” in the final minutes of a game with a one goal difference in the score. Another thing that comes to mind is to get still balls for free kicks near the box. If a defense is too closed and you’re bound to lose a tackle which will impede you from finishing a play…falling might just open the chance for the ref to call for a free kick close enough to the box to score a goal.

    • I believe you’ve described the “situational flop”. Used appropriately, a highly effective tool.

  3. […] Why do soccer players take so many dives? There is some economics in there–barely–I swear! […]

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