Why are Prerequisites Important in Technical Diver Training?

by Jon Kieren:

Prerequisite: Something that exists or happens before something else can exist or happen. 

Within the TDI course structure, prerequisites are requirements that must be met before the course starts.  This is an important distinction, as prerequisite can be misinterpreted as something that has to happen before the certification is issued.  At SDI/TDI/ERDI, we consider that type of requirement a “course completion requirement” which falls into a different section of the course standard.  This means that a course cannot start before all of the prerequisites are met.

But why is that important?  Why can’t the requisite experience be gained after the training takes place?  As long as it’s done before the certification is issued, the end result is the same, right?  It all comes down to basic skill performance, muscle memory, and decision making abilities.

TDI courses are structured in a way so each course progressively builds upon the skill set and limitations of the previous course.  In order to effectively move up in the course progression, the skills and knowledge from the previous level must be mastered and the diver has to have enough time to experience and overcome problems in a more forgiving environment prior to moving forward to more extreme conditions (depth, decompression obligations, overhead environments, etc.).

While a student diver is in training, it is difficult to create emergency scenarios in a realistic setting while maintaining control since the student knows the Instructor is always present and ultimately in control of the situation.  This sense of security may allow the diver to perform the skill flawlessly in training, but in reality, they may not react appropriately in a real setting.

It is often said that the WORST a diver performs a drill in training is the BEST you can expect them to perform in a real emergency.  Pushing too far too fast can create a false sense of confidence for the diver and leave gaps in their abilities that may be revealed in real life emergencies when it is too late.

In order to improve a diver’s ability to handle emergencies and stressful situations, they need experience diving outside of a training setting.  This way they can practice skills and handle problems in a real world setting where they do not have their instructor there as a crutch.  This experience has to come gradually, starting in benign environments where a wrong move results in a great learning experience instead of a fatality.

Dr. Anders Ericsson’s research on expertise found that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert at almost anything.  That’s A LOT of valve shut downs, but it certainly puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?  It takes a long time to build proper muscle memory. If a student has not built proficient muscle memory of their basic skills prior to adding more equipment, more challenging environments, etc., they are set up to fail and will not be in a position to learn new skills or retain new information.  They will simply be in “catch up” mode throughout the entire course, and the skills and information will never truly sink in.

Poor decision making leads to accidents and fatalities in technical diving.  Whether it’s in the pre-dive planning and preparation, gearing up and final equipment checks, or on the dive, technical divers make critical decisions that can mean the difference between life and death.  Whenever faced with making a decision, we rely on both what we have been trained and what our own experiences have taught us to guide us in the right direction.  Prerequisites help ensure the student has enough practical experience to fall back on in order to make the right decisions in a less forgiving environment than they were previously qualified for.

While time and dives between courses is essential for skill and comfort development, too much time in-between courses can also be detrimental.  Complacency is a large contributing factor in many diving accidents.  Maybe the diver or team knew better, but made a poor decision because they had gotten away with it in the past.  Unfortunately, we see this normalization of deviance result in diving accidents year after year.  This is why continuing education is so important for divers of ALL levels.  Make a point to take a diving course at least once a year if possible.  If not, find a group of divers to dive with who are willing to conduct skills dives where everyone has the opportunity to critique each other in a positive environment.  Continued training will both keep your skills fresh, and keep you from becoming complacent.

One final thing to consider is the prerequisites set by TDI are MINIMUM requirements.  Meaning, this is the best case scenario:  optimal conditions for training; and the student is prepared and ready to learn.  Even if the student meets or exceeds all of the course prerequisites, it is the TDI Instructor’s discretion to decide whether they are prepared for future training.  It is very common for an instructor to require additional experience or remedial training above the minimum requirements prior to starting the course.

Prerequisites can be found in the Standards and Procedures for any course you are interested in taking.  Standards and Procedures can be found in the Course Description page for any course you are interested in, simply select the course from the TDI course flow chart HERE.

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