The Art of Deception: Why Do Soccer Players Flop So Much?

  • Soccer players flop to deceive, gain an advantage or waste time.
  • Some believe flopping in soccer is bad; arguing that it breaks the rules and is unsportsmanlike.
  • Others argue that flopping is a learned skill that is part of the game.

   Your Guide

Alex Waite   Alex Waite

Soccer players flop to deceive the referee, to Gain an Advantage or to Waste Time.

The act of flopping, sometimes referred to as diving, has become a regular feature of modern soccer.

Why Do Soccer Players Flop So Much?

Its impact is the subject of much debate among players, pundits, fans and coaches. 

Flopping is when a player overreacts to a slight tackle or contact.

This can result in rolling around on the floor and acting like a tackle has caused serious harm, when, in fact, the player is absolutely fine.

Below is a compilation from Sky Sports, showcasing some of the most extreme dives in the Premier League.

When I was learning the ropes as a soccer player in growing up in South East London, flopping or diving was CONSIDERED CHEATING and was discouraged by teammates, coaches and even the opposition.

My teammates and I were encouraged to stay on our feet whenever possible.

At times, we were even coached on how to ‘ride’ a tackle, where you could lessen the brunt of a full-blooded tackle from an opposition player and keep possession of the ball. 

If a player went down too easily from a tackle and flopped, there would be NO SYMPATHY.

Growing up playing soccer in a working-class environment there were certain connotations of being tough and competitive, but also by playing by the rules and calling out any cheating. 

However, as I grew up and started playing and discussing soccer with people from different backgrounds and cultures, such as people from South America and continental Europe when studying at university, I understood that there were different perceptions towards flopping.

Some now see it as a LEARNED SKILL and learning to flop to give your team the upper hand in some situations can be advantageous. 

This has led to many arguments about whether flopping in soccer is right or wrong.

In this article, we outline some of the reasons why soccer players flop, but also delve into the discussion of whether the act is acceptable in soccer. 

Why Do Players Flop?

There are many reasons why soccer players flop when playing the game.

Soccer is a competitive sport and many players will do anything in their power to gain a slight advantage, even if that involves making a meal out of a BIT OF CONTACT.

Below are some of the top reasons why soccer players flop:

1) To Deceive

In general, the act of flopping is aimed at deceiving the referee or other officials.

Over-reaction to a seemingly tame slide tackle or challenge can make it seem worse in the eyes of the referee.

As a result, match officials may brandish yellow or red cards for tackles that weren’t worthy of any action.

In 2011, a group of five Australian biologists published research on flopping in soccer for a peer-reviewed scientific journal, PLOS One.

Their research highlighted how players dive when they are in closer proximity to the referee, rather than in the mid or far range of the official’s sight.

Furthermore, they found that the diving player is sending a ‘cost free’ signal to the referee to gain an advantage against their opposition. 

2) Gain Advantage

In certain situations in soccer, gaining even the slightest advantage over the opposition can pay off.

Concerning flopping, this can apply to tricking the referee into giving a penalty or a free kick in a dangerous area of the pitch, even though there was little contact on a player in the first place. 

Another advantage a player can gain by flopping is getting an opposition player sent off by making a meal out of minimal contact.

Sometimes, this occurs when the game has been stopped for a foul, throw-in, penalty etc.

Certain soccer players are known to throw themselves to the floor at a slightly raised hand from an opposition. Their intention is clear, to try and get their opposition SENT OFF. 

One of the most notorious examples of flopping to get an opposition player sent off happened during the 2002 World Cup.

Brazilian great Rivaldo was waiting for the ball so he could take a corner in a semi-final match against Turkey.

Turkey trailed 2-1 and, in an attempt to speed up Brazil’s corner-taking process, Hakan Unsal kicked the ball towards Rivaldo and it struck him in the midriff.

Rivaldo rolled around, feigned injury and Unsal was sent off for appearing to kick the ball intentionally towards Rivaldo’s head.

Ultimately, the Brazilian’s dramatics earned Unsal an undeserved red card.

3) Waste Time

Wasting time in soccer is a COMMON TACTIC.

Many teams and players use delay tactics in certain situations.

As I became a more experienced soccer player, and then when I was developing as a coach, I learnt more and more about game management.

This can involve slowing the pace of a match down when your team has a slender 1-0 lead, for example, by trying to keep possession or kicking the ball towards the opposition’s defensive corner to avoid a dangerous attack. 

However, some players and coaches use flopping to waste time too.

By STAYING DOWN and feigning injury, a player can slow the pace of the game down, especially if the physio has to come on and provide ‘treatment’ for the seemingly injured player.

This allows coaches to get instructions to players and bide time when a team needs to run down the clock. 

Is Flopping Good or Bad?

Ultimately, flopping in soccer is a rule-breaking offence. According to the FA Laws of the Game, flopping, also referred to as “attempts to deceive the referee…

..e.g. by feigning injury or pretending to have been fouled” is classed as simulation under Law 12, Fouls and Misconduct.

The punishment for simulation is a yellow card.

However, while flopping is technically a bookable offense in soccer, and therefore against the rules, some see it as a skill and even several of the best-ever soccer players are remembered for their theatrics as much as their world-class ability. 

In 2016, sportswriter, Alejandro Chacoff, explained how, when growing up playing football in Brazil, flopping was part of the fabric of the game.

He explains that flopping was ingrained in his family generations before he started playing and the act was admired when professional players like Romanian Gheorghe Hagi flopped in international matches. 

Chacoff’s experience of flopping is in complete opposition to my own, which is that going down easily from a challenge was, and still is, completely unacceptable in any form of soccer.

However, the contrasting views highlight how the act is perceived in world football.

Although it is against the rules, flopping is considered either a skill or something that tarnishes the nature of the game.

Depending on CULTURAL DIFFERENCES and EXPERIENCES of soccer from a young age, flopping is perceived differently. 

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