At the diving preliminaries of the Harvard Invitational yesterday afternoon, it was hard to miss the parade of divers taking their leaps off the board. But if you looked carefully enough, you would have seen five men sitting calmly by the side of the pool flashing numbers after each dive.
They were, of course, the judges. Specifically, they were the coaches five of the six competing teams (Harvard, Yale, Syracuse, Colgate, and Penn State; Villanova's coach was not there).
Unlike the divers, who nervously approached each dive, the coaches seemed relaxed. They also judged incredibly quickly; the divers had hardly completed their dive when the scores were read. Watching all this, one couldn't help but wonder how one goes about judging a dive. Conversations with the coaches revealed clear differences in their judging philosophies.
"There are rules that govern the sport and that specify the things to judge," Harvard men's and women's diving Coach Keith Miller said. Miller's philosophy relies heavily on the rulebook as a means of assessing a dive's point total.
He said you look for such things as the approach to the dive, the height in the air, the gracefulness of the dive and the entry into the water.
Other philosophies differed. "You throw up what you see," Syracuse men's and women's diving Coach Jeff Keck said. "It's hard to get zeroed in on a score."
Instantaneous scoring is also important, Keck believes. "The differences in the scoring is what makes it a contest," he said.
Keck also tries to judge the divers relative to each other rather than to some gold standard.
"You compare the kids to each other, and get a feel for the competition," Keck said.
Colgate men's and women's diving Coach Matthew Leone also proposed a different way to judge a dive.
"The dive is a communicative gesture you just respond to like you would to a comment made in a conversation," he said. "It's a dialogue between the diver and the coach."
He disavowed what he said is a "retrograde movement in U.S. diving to judge punitively and be definitive about what to take off for".
Instead, he believes judges' awards should be based on a visceral response to the dive. "It's a hot, emotional response," Leone said.
Leone, who is also a professor of literature at Colgate, said he tries to treat each dive individually rather than compare it to a standard of perfection.
"I try to practice creative forgetting," he said. "Expertise is baggage in responding to a poem or a dive."
All three agreed that a judge should not be afraid to make a mistake, especially since the highest and lowest scores for each dive are omitted and only the middle three are counted. "You don't need to pay too much attention to whether or not you're score is too high or too low," Keck said.