“Simulation”: Cheating or Gamesmanship?

Webster defines simulation as “the act or process of pretending; feigning.”

For those not familiar with how the term applies to soccer, it can best be characterized as attempting to fool the referee into calling a foul in your team’s favor.  Commonly called flopping or diving, it can occur anywhere on the field, but is usually attempted inside the 18 yard box outside the opponent’s goal because a foul called inside this area is awarded a penalty-kick (essentially a free goal).

There has been a lot of controversy over the last couple weeks in English football as Manchester United star Ashley Young earned a penalty kick two successive weekends and was clearly shown on instant replay to be diving both times.  This has generated a lot of discussion on message boards and blogs across the Internet and lead to him being left out of the line-up last weekend.  It got me to thinking – always dangerous – about whether this should be considered cheating.  If so, should it be punishable by the governing body after the fact, i.e. even if the referee doesn’t spot it during the match, similar to the way the NFL hands out fines or suspensions for vicious hits.

Photograph by Alasdair Middleton (Creative Commons License)

Referees already have the ability to penalize divers by issuing them a yellow card, but unless the player in question is known as a “flopper”, and the referee is keeping a close eye on them, this infringement is rarely called.  I have seen countless penalty-kicks awarded, but only a handful of yellows given for simulation – the technical term for the act.  So, the risk-reward proposition would seem to favor attempting the dive.

Simulation is certainly not unique to the sport of soccer.  How often have you seen a receiver in American football jump up after clearly being tackled/touched down and attempt to gain more yardage?  Haven’t you seen an outfielder lift his glove after a “catch” that was short-hopped, showing the ball and implying he caught it cleanly?  A hockey player grab his face after being cross-checked in the chest?  A basketball player lifting both hands claiming no foul, as the other player scrapes himself off the floor?  “Play Acting” can be found in all sports by athletes trying to gain an advantage over their opponent.

But is all “play acting” created equally?  My son plays club soccer and his coach teaches the boys that every throw-in is theirs.  Meaning, if the ball goes out of play, grab it quickly and throw it in.  Let the referee call the play back if he did not actually grant them possession.  If done confidently, a referee may second guess himself and allow the play to stand.  This is also simulation, certainly to a lesser degree, but it could still lead directly to scoring – possibly unfairly.  His coach refers to this as “Gamesmanship” and regularly provides the team with guidance on how he’d like it executed.

So then, is gamesmanship cheating?  Is flopping just gamesmanship?  Does too much gamesmanship ruin the game?  Is there a grey area between clearly wrong, and by the book, that it’s OK to operate in?

In my opinion there is certainly room for some gamesmanship, i.e. the rushed throw in, the fielded short-hop, the run after being tackled, but feigning violence and inviting severe punishment against an opponent is where I draw the line.  Using simulation to earn penalty-kicks (points), or with the intent to get someone ejected (faking violent injury) – especially in the youth game – is too much and has no place in any sport.  It is teaching our children that winning is more important than having integrity and respecting the spirit of the game being played.  Let’s all take a deep, relaxing breath and enjoy watching our athletes compete for the sake of the competition.  Remind them to play hard, play fair, and enjoy their sports experience.

Let us know what you think — I’d love to hear your views and stories.



Your son’s coach is teaching your son to cheat; to steal something that isn’t his. His next coach might teach him fake an injury or dive for a foul to get an opponent removed from the game, which is cheating too and hurtful to the other player. If it’s not stopped at the youth level, the game does not stand a chance.

It’s one thing claiming a foul or throw-in when you’re not sure it’s yours, that’s done in the heat of the game by most everyone; but to actively try to cheat – if I were the ref I’d start carding players for ungentlemanly conduct, and it would soon stop.


Ann DeWitt  

I love your post!!! I play a lot of soccer and coach kids and I am discouraged by the lack of sportsmanship shown at the highest levels in soccer. From Maradona’s “Hand of God” to Suarez’s blatant goal line hand ball to all the flopping and faking you mention, I don’t see much honesty and integrity modeled at the sport’s top levels.

We want our children to learn values through their participation in sports–things like perseverance, resilience, teamwork and the value of practice. I think we also want them to learn respect for opponents, fair play and honesty. Why is it acceptable to teach them to cheat (or to seek advantage in the gray area of “gamesmanship”, with “confidence” no less)? When I see corporate fraud and corruption, I wonder how the executives can sleep at night, knowing the unethical, illegal and just plain rotten things they do during the day. Perhaps they are just used to it because, starting in childhood, they had role models who taught them that nothing is wrong if it gives you an advantage.

Winning at all costs…
I think the costs are too great.

Soccer Ref  

Colin is quite right. Gamesmanship is nothing more than unsporting behaviour. Gamesmanship is cheating and one of the reasons sports needs referees in the first place. Unfortunately we see gamesmanship used far too often in the “Professional” game where coaches and players become role models for youth players and coaches. Gamesmanship has no place in youth sports. Simply put, your son’s coach needs to review his ethics or perhaps take a course in respect and ethics in sport.
You may think coaching a kid to always assume the throw-in is his or hers is unimportant. But it breaks the spirit of the game and can quicly escalate. What if the other coach teaches the same thing. Then you have two opponents pulling the ball from each other as they fight over whose throw-in it is. This can lead to yellow or red cards for more serious infractions.
Without instant replay, simulation is difficult to spot with the speed of play in soccer. However, when spotted it must be punished for what it is. Unsporting behaviour. Other forms of unsporting behaviour is easier to spot, such as standing in front of the ball before an opponents free kick. It may be difficult to spot the gamesmanship your son’s coach is teaching. But, now that I know it’s being taught. I, as a referee, will be watching for it, and if I see it, it will be punished. Likely with a warning at first followed by a yellow card if it persists.
As a final comment, I hope you and the other parents from your son’s team are brave enough to question your coach on whether he is setting the right example for his team and if he does not change his coaching style, bring it up with the club.


Agree with Colin and Soccer ref. Stealing a throw-in is nothing less than cheating. At least a flop requires an official to make a judgment call. Ultimately, it’s the official’s fault if he/she doesn’t recognize it for what it is. If high-level sports would institute instant replay in flopping / diving cases, the problem would be solved immediately. And all those ESPN highlights our kids watch would be a thing of the past.


The mere fact this question was posed suggests what a poor state the understanding of the law is here in the US.

Post a response...

Please don't post support questions here. Contact support@teamsnap.com for all your support goodness and fastest service from our crack support team.