How to Deal with Divers Who Have a Bad Attitude
by Jon Kieren:
My student can do all of the skills but something just doesn’t seem right.
There is more to diving than simply being comfortable doing a skill in the water. As dive instructors, evaluating and remediating our student’s decision-making abilities is a critical, yet often overlooked, component of the courses we conduct. Many times we hear instructors say, “The student can do the skills fine, but it just doesn’t feel right”. When questioned about what does not feel right, it usually comes down to the instructor not trusting the student’s ability to make mature and safe decisions regarding dive planning and execution after certification when the instructor is not present.
So what are you supposed to do?
The SDI/TDI/ERDI Code of Ethics (found in Part 1 of each Standards & Procedures Manual) includes what is commonly referred to as “the loved one” clause. This clause states that as an SDI/TDI/ERDI professional, you should not issue a certification to a diver if you would not trust that person to dive at that level with your loved ones.
That’s a strong statement, and one that should be taken seriously. After all, they will be buddied up with someone’s wife, husband, daughter, father, etc. If you wouldn’t trust that person to dive with your loved one, how could you feel comfortable with them diving with someone else’s? The “loved ones” clause in the Code of Ethics is clear about what instructors are expected to do: they are expected to not certify the student. How the instructor proceeds from there is what separates an instructor who just follows the standards, from an instructor who is a true educator.
A true educator will always clearly define the objectives and give concise feedback on any objectives not being met, offer opportunities for remediation, and will always have an appropriate exit strategy for a student who just is not ready yet. These are all easy to achieve for diving skills as we can point out clearly where the student is lacking, but decision-making abilities may be more difficult to pinpoint. Here are a few tips for assessing and addressing a student’s maturity and decision-making abilities.
Make your expectations of decision-making skills well known. This is something that should be discussed at the beginning of class, and references should be made to the SDI/TDI/ERDI Standards and Procedures where applicable. Clearly define the criteria that the students will be evaluated on and give examples such as:
- Skill Performance – Having a realistic view of your own abilities and level of comfort is critical for a diver to be able to make sound decisions throughout a dive. Dive debriefings will include an opportunity for self-assessment where you will be expected to evaluate your own performance and comfort level. Your evaluation will be compared with the instructor’s and any discrepancies will be explained. By the end of the course your self-evaluations should be in line with the instructor’s evaluations.
- Dive Planning and Execution – You will be evaluated on your ability to plan dives within the scope of your training and abilities, based on the evaluations described above. At some point in the course you may be tempted or it may be suggested that you exceed these limitations due to an exceptional circumstance. It is your responsibility to demonstrate mature and sound judgment in these instances and insist on not exceeding these limits.
Once objectives are clearly defined it is much easier to explain the deficiencies to the student. Have specific examples from the course to show where they made poor decisions, where you attempted to remediate the issue, and where the behavior continued. Being able to detail exactly where the student has not met the expectations that had been defined will give you credibility when explaining that you will not be able to issue their certification. Make sure to follow this up with a path to move forward. Either continued remedial training until the behavior has been corrected, or perhaps pursuing another facet of diving that is more realistic for their abilities.
At the end of the day, you need to be confident that every student you certify meets the expectations of the “loved ones” clause. As an agency, SDI/TDI/ERDI supports you wholeheartedly in your decision to withhold a certification if the student is not ready; whether that reason is due to a lack of in-water skills or sound and mature decision-making abilities for that level of diving. Following the suggestions outlined here can make communicating that decision to the student much easier.