How to be a WINner in Your Technical Diving Course

By Jessy Thompson

While reading a post on valve drill techniques, I remembered my path to technical diving. I thought about the great instructors I met and worked with along the way. I learned, and continue to learn, — so much from not only them but from the other technical divers that I have the privilege of diving with.

I also thought about the one thing my TDI Instructor Trainer told me that I really took to heart. Upon completion of my Decompression Procedures Instructor course, he gave me some final insight. He said, “I really liked working with you. It was nice to have a student that didn’t come in with a chip on his shoulder. A student who just went through the motions. I hope you find ways to help your students develop the attitude that the best divers are the ones who still have a lot to learn.”

I know the above quote seems fairly cliché’, but it seemed odd that it was worth pointing out to me that I was “willing to learn.” Aren’t all students willing to learn? Unfortunately, not always.

More often than I would like, I come across students who know just enough about technical diving to be dangerous. Now to be clear, this post is in no way intended to disparage students. Instead, it’s to point out the way we approach technical dive training has a direct impact on the quality of the course and training outcomes.
Here is a list of three steps I use to ensure that I get the most from my training. I’ve developed the acronym WIN. It stands for:

  • Willingness
  • Investigate
  • Never stop learning

Willingness

Be willing to approach technical diver training with humbleness and humility. Most divers who venture into the world of tech diving typically have a significant (although relative) amount of diving experience. Sometimes they overestimate their knowledge and skills. Doing so can prevent them from having an open mind to better ways of doing things.

For example, one of the first questions I ask students is, “What do you not know about technical diving?” The obvious response, “I don’t know.” We cannot possibly know what we don’t know.

When I approach a class with this in mind, I am more willing to pay attention to the instructor’s knowledge, advice and methods. Doing so helps prevent me from just “putting in the time” to get the certification, without making any real changes, adaptations or modifications for the better of my own practices.

Perhaps the most important personal example I can give you of this is the way in which my twin setup hoses are routed now compared to how they were first configured. I’m sure many of you can relate.
As another example, I built a reasonably impressive save-a-dive kit after applying some very wise minimalist techniques from my TDI Advanced Nitrox Instructor.

This post isn’t about which methods I think are best. It’s rather to make the argument that when we, as technical diving students, approach training with a willingness to learn something new or something we didn’t even know we didn’t know:

  • Your diving methods become better.
  • Your attitudes become contagious.
  • Your approach becomes safer.

Investigate

I have been a high school teacher for thirteen years and a diving instructor for four. During this time, the quality I have found to be the most valuable characteristic of a student is the natural ability and inclination to investigate.

The best students are those willing to ask questions and engage in classroom and field discussions. They also possess the ability to approach scenarios with an “investigator’s attitude.” They look for evidence that supports the claims. They then seek to understand the how and why of what happened.

In technical diving, this means spending time after each dive to investigate what went well and what did not. It also means looking at what techniques (in all stages of the dive) need to be improved, modified, tweaked or similarly executed.

I understand that every dive is a training dive and an opportunity to improve. Before a dive, my team and I investigate the nuances and details of the site, conditions, equipment, configurations, and objectives. This is not an all-inclusive list, but rather an idea of some of the considerations that we account for.

During the dive, we investigate:

  • What is happening on site.
  • How equipment and team members are functioning.
  • What part of the plan is being executed and to what degree of success.

After the dive, we investigate how each team member executed the objective. We explore how we can be more uniform, more streamlined and ultimately safer on the next dive.

I encourage students to approach class in the same way. They should investigate at each stage of the process. This way, students are more likely to understand everyone, even the best dive instructors, has more to learn. That’s where a growth mindset is more likely to be developed and ingrained.

Never Stop Learning

Finally, in order to make the most out of any technical diver training, we must understand that as students, instructors, divers, and people, life is better when we never stop learning. Even as an instructor, I approach my classes as not just a chance to welcome divers into the technical community but also the opportunity to learn myself.

My students are always teaching me something. Whether it be breaking down a dive experience and walking through what we now know as a result. It can also be observing techniques used by other instructors. I always want students to know, “Yes. I am your instructor, but I’m also excited to see what you will teach me, too!”
When my students see this type of enthusiasm for learning, they are more likely to buy into my approach. Likewise, when I work with instructors with a perfect balance of knowledge, confidence, and humility, I am much more likely to *hang on to their every word and action. *Deco pun intended.

So, if you are:

  • Someone contemplating entering the field of technical diving
  • A student who is reading this and eagerly awaiting the start of their first technical diving course
  • A seasoned diver preparing for the next level of training

Recognize the best divers — and I would argue the best anything — are people who are lifelong learners and students of the subject. Your training experience will be infinitely more meaningful, beneficial and enjoyable if you enter the water with the attitude that you are prepared to never stop learning.

Doing so may seem like either common sense or talking points that many of us already know or have heard. Unfortunately, it is too easy to start a class or training session feeling like you know what we are going to learn, so what’s the point? “I have over 500 dives and my instructor wants to talk about buoyancy?” “I’ve been diving doubles for years. Why are we going over configurations?”

The most significant hazard facing divers is complacency. If you avoid “Yeah, I know,” and approach training with:

  • A willingness to improve
  • An investigative attitude
  • A dedication to never stop learning

You will become a better diver, a better teammate, and a better person. This way divers, instructors, and students all WIN!

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