How a Diving Competition is Judged

Diving in a meet is nerve-wracking enough—add in the element of subjectivity in scoring, and you may feel your stomach start to quiver. Although it is often difficult to trust a subjective evaluation, keep in mind that judging a diving competition is an art-form in itself that follows rules and regulations in order to establish fairness and maintain equal standards for all divers.

It is true that diving is a subjective sport and each judge may find a particular element of a dive more appealing than another. But in most cases, the scores reflect a fair assessment of the dive performed.

Five Elements of a Dive

On each dive, a judge is called to equally weigh five components of a dive: the starting position, approach, takeoff, flight, and entry.

In each element, the judge should assess the following:

1. Starting Position

From the moment the diver establishes his starting position on the diving board or platform, a judge will look for good body posture: The arms and legs should be tight and the head should be in-line with the body.

2. Approach

In diving there are two different approaches:

Forward approach:

For springboard, a judge will ensure that there are at least three steps in the approach and a hurdle. On platform, both a running approach with a small skip and a standing forward approach are acceptable. Form, body position and speed are evaluated in both springboard and platform diving.

Back approach:

For both springboard and platform, a judge will look to see that the diver is balanced on his toes, with his heels off the board or platform and his body straight with shoulders in line with the hips.

3. Takeoff

At the end of the board or platform, a judge will determine if the diver’s body is balanced, with two-feet initiating the takeoff from the tip of board. On platform, a one-foot takeoff is accepted.

4. Flight

While the diver is in flight, judges will determine the height of the dive (the higher the better), the rotation of the somersaults and twists (faster is better), and the position of the dive (either tuck, pike, straight or free).

Points will be taken from dives that veer to either side or are too close or far away from the board. If legs are bent in the pike or if knees are apart in a tuck (split-tuck), for example, points should be deducted.

5. Entry

Besides the obvious “rip” entry (little to no-splash), judges will use the position of the arms to determine if the dive is vertical: For head-first dives, judges look to see if the arms are above the head and in-line with the body; for feet-first entries, arms should be tight by the sides of the body. In both cases, judges want to see a clean, or low-splash, entry—the cleaner the entry the higher the score.

Diving Point Scale

Dives are awarded points on a scale of 0 to 10 in ½ point increments.

According to USA Diving, the standard to be considered when awarding points in a dive is as follows:

  • Failed Dive: 0 Points
  • Unsatisfactory: ½ to 2 points
  • Deficient: 2 ½ to 4 ½ points
  • Satisfactory: 5 to 6 ½ points
  • Good: 7 to 8 points
  • Very Good: 8 ½ to 9 ½ points
  • Excellent: 10 points

Deductions & Failed Dives

In many cases, there isn’t a pre-set deduction for certain “wrongs” performed in a dive—it is determined at the judge’s discretion. For example, a judge may not see a “split-tuck” due to where they are sitting, and not deduct for it as a result. A split-tuck does not equate to a specific point deduction, but if a judge sees it, it should reduce the original score.

The same goes for veering to the side of the board, casts on twists, and bent legs in a closed pike position. If some of these elements occur, scores may be all over the place, with one judge awarding a dive with a four and another with a seven.

But for certain elements, the rules are clear.

Here are three clearly defined rules:

  1. Balk: If a diver initiates a dive and then stops, it is considered a balk. A balk will result in the announcer deducting two points from the original score from each judge. If a balk occurs a second time on the same dive, the dive is considered failed and will result in a score of zero.
  2. Over/under rotate: If feet enter the water before the head on a head-first dive, the dive is considered failed and the diver will be awarded zero points. If the head or hands enter the water before the feet on feet-first entries, it is also considered a failed dive and given a score of zero.
  3. Incorrect position: If the dive is not performed in the position that was announced, the judges can only award a maximum of two points.

Fun Fact:

The maximum score possible if one or two hands are held above the head on a feet-first entry, or below the head on a head-first entry, is 4.5.

Consistency in Scores

To prevent bias from skewing the score, diving meets generally have five to seven judges. The top and the bottom scores are thrown out and the remaining scores are added together which reduces the chance for score inflation or deflation. (You can look at the “Diving Rules and Regulations” guide to get more information about how scores are compiled.)

In general, most scores are consistent and range between one and one-and-one-half points. They usually give an accurate depiction of the dive. If the score is way off—for example one judge awards a seven and another judge gives a two – more than likely one judge saw an error that the other didn’t.

Fair Assessment of Dives

If a diver feels he or she is being judged unfairly, they can approach the meet director who has the authority to dismiss a judge. That only happens very rarely, however, and in most cases judges provide a fair assessment of a dive, reflected in the consistency of the scores.

Remember, although diving is a subjective sport, there is some objectivity to the scoring. Most meets have knowledgeable judges who follow an established set of rules to help ensure a fair competition.

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