Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Dive Experience Through Deliberate Practice

Monday, November 5th, 2012

One of the pleasures of running this site is that I get to hear from a variety of divers all over the world. At times these divers disagree with me, and I certainly appreciate hearing the different point-of-views these fellow enthusiasts have—even when I think they are wrong! ;)

In my article on instructor certification, I said the following:

The level of experience you quickly achieve moving through the professional ranks comes along with a level of comfort in the water. This level comes much quicker than just through regular diving.

I have heard some disagreement with this statement and it has been misconstrued to mean that somehow advanced certification should serve as a replacement for dive experience.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

However, I will say that the experience obtained through focused training, like that received during certification (or at least should be), has far greater benefit than general diving experience, and when used in conjuction with regular diving, can greatly accelerate how quickly your diving skill progresses.

Just a number

One reader of the aforementioned article pointed out, supposedly as evidence of my lack of experience:
“I notice you do not include your dives logged thus far.”
This is true, and for good reason. Logged dives is just a number, and has little correlation with practical diving skill.

For example, I remember distinctly a boat dive in Bonaire. On board with our group was an older gentlemen who had been diving as long as diving was a public activity. And his gear looked like it. He was the complete opposite of the diving newbie with all new, shiny, top-of-the-line gear but ziltch logged dives. I expected to be impressed with his comfort level underwater.

This man might have been one of the most awkward divers I have ever seen. He was all over the reef. Constantly. His buoyancy control was non-existent. Any turn he made looked like a clumsy seal on land.

According to the logged dives=experience crowd, this man should have been one of the best divers in the world. What’s going on here?

Talent is overrated

The book Talent is Overrated by Geoffrey Colvin is a pretty well-known piece of popular non-fiction. The basis premise is that what we refer to as talent is not achieved through in-born ability nor general experience, but rather through deliberate practice. Colvin describes deliberate practice as

Hitting an eight-iron 300 times with a goal of leaving the ball within 20 feet of the pin 80 percent of the time, continually observing results and making appropriate adjustments, and doing that for hours every day.

I argue that the same can be said for diving experience. While there are some with a more natural affinity to the water, this mindset more than makes up for it on the medium- and long-term.

I don’t consider myself the best diver; maybe slightly above average. And I certainly don’t consider myself better than most divers with >5000 logged dives. However, I would put myself up against most any divers with 4x the number of logged dives that I have. The difference is that I have exercised deliberate practice as part of my dive training and continue to use it as part of my general diving experience.

Deliberate practice

How does deliberate practice work? This article gives a basis rundown in four steps:

  • Motivation. The task will require effort and you must have the motivation to do it.
  • Incremental. The task should build incrementally on what you already know, so that you can understand how to do it easily.
  • Feedback. You should receive immediate feedback about your performance.
  • Repetition. Either the same task, or a similar task should be repeated.

Sounds a little like well-designed scuba training, doesn’t it? I don’t think this is a coincidence, and is the reason I made the statement quoted at the beginning of this article.

The good news is that advanced training is not strictly necessary to engage deliberate practice, it is simply a convenient vehicle for providing the necessary environment. The idea is that while diving you should challenge yourself in a way that directly utilizes the dive skills you wish to develop. The main catch is you will need the internal motivation to get better: there is no external motivator like completing certification to push you to improve.

The number one skill certified divers usually need to develop is buoyancy control. If buoyancy control increases linearly with the number of dives, it does so at an incredibly slow pace, in my opinion. A more effective approach, and probably the one you employed (even if unintentionally) if you consider yourself an exception to the previous statement, is to consciously measure your skill in some way and take definite steps to improve it.

For example, instead of counting down the seconds in your next safety stop, what would happen if you picked a visual marker then focused on maintaining an even level with this marker? Or keeping an eye on your computer and maintaining 15ft / 5m plus or minus some small deviation? When this gets too easy you can try doing it completely upside-down. I’d wager a guess that most above-average divers practice these types of skills already, even if they don’t think of it as any special sort of training. They are unintentionally engaging deliberate practice, and reaping the benefits.

Exercises like this one fulfill the requirements, assuming you have the necessary motivation to actually attempt it. It is incremental, in other words, you have all the necessary knowledge to perform the exercise. You receive immediate feedback since it’s obvious when you fail. And lastly there is repetition, since you have at least 3 minutes at the end of every dive to practice.

The sad truth

I can understand how my statements have been misinterpreted. The fact is that much dive training in the world, through all agencies, is sub-par. This was driven home during my instructor examination, where I expected all divers to have fairy polished diving skills and good buoyancy control. I was disappointed with the level of awkwardness a noticeable percentage of participants had in the water, and expected much better from soon-to-be instructors.

A big part of this comes down to instruction, both in the immediate training received as well as the mentality of the instructor. I would be willing to bet that a student of Duane over at Precision Diving, even with only 25 dives under their belt, are looking better in the water than most divers with >100 dives. This is because they have a) received quality instruction, and b) had the idea imparted that certification is only the beginning of their training, and that they should continually improve (the former can be surmised from reading his blog, the latter I am inferring).

As an example, he requires all of his students to perform the requisite skills at neutral buoyancy, not sitting on the bottom as is usually done. This is clearly above the minimum instruction standard of “how not to die underwater”.

Out of proportion?

Am I making a a big deal out of nothing? Does it really matter that Jane Diver with 100 dives looks like a “average” diver with 400?

It does matter, for the simple reason that advanced skill increases comfort level in the water. This has a myriad of benefits, beginning with an overall improved dive experience, allowing a diver to reduce air consumption as well as spend more time observing nature rather than awkwardly adjusting equipment. There are also environmental advantages, since comfortable divers also spend less time crashing into reefs.

As a diver, try to think about how to utilize deliberate practice as part of your general diving experience. If you’d like to hear about some specific methods, feel free to contact me and I can write about it in future articles. If you are an instructor, think about how you can incorporate principles of deliberate practice into your courses, as well as how to encourage your students to continue self-learning even after certification. The oceans and your fellow divers will thank you.

My Coolest Thing

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Have you entered the contest yet? If not, email me your submissions! I thought it only fair to tell you about one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen while diving. Here goes:

Sea Lion Cove

It had been a long day. After two dives near Los Coronados islands, off the coast of California, we were having boat trouble. Meanwhile, the passengers were getting restless and ready to just call it quits, forgetting our third dive. (more…)

Gifts for Scuba Divers

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

This is a little contradictory to my last post, but nevertheless, sometimes we want to buy gifts for the divers in our lives.

Back in February I posted a list of Valentine’s Day gifts for scuba divers. There’s nothing holiday-specific to that list, so check it out if you’re looking for quick ideas.

Certification is always a great gift, but if you’re looking for something a little less committal for a non-diver, consider gifting a Discover Scuba Diving session. Most shops will set you up with one, and it allows your loved one to try out scuba diving in a very controlled setting to get a feel for things with minimal training. I think it definitely qualifies as an Experience, rather than Stuff.

Experiences, not Stuff

Monday, December 6th, 2010


I’ve been seeing more articles discussing a shift in the public’s thinking this year. A shift of spending money on experiences, not stuff. I whole-heartedly agree, and as a scuba diver, I imagine you do as well.

We should take a step back this holiday season and take a look at what we value. Ask yourself a few questions:

What did you get for Christmas five years ago? Two years ago? Last year?

You probably don’t even remember. How about this one:

Where did you go on vacation five years ago? Two years ago? Last year?

Even if it takes a moment to recall, I imagine these memories are much more vivid in your mind. I’m not saying you have to go on an expensive vacation, but this holiday season, focus more on experiences, rather than stuff. The holidays are usually about tradition, but try doing some different. Go on a mini-adventure. Go somewhere you usually don’t go. Cook something you never cook. Instead of worrying about buying presents, think about simply being present and enjoying the here and now.

When thinking about gifts, think about maximizing their experiences, rather than stuffing their closest. Many already know what a great gift scuba certification is for this very reason. It’s like giving someone a passport to a whole other dimension.

Lastly, I leave you with this recent article from Zen Habits: The Case Against Buying Christmas Presents. Leo makes compelling arguments, that even if you don’t completely agree, should give us something to think about this time of year.

Is Diving a Sport?

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Articles often refer to scuba as a “recreational sport”. PADI’s magazine is called Sport Diver. People often question whether cheerleading is a sport1, but what about scuba diving?

Also, like cheerleading, I believe I know where the confusion stems from. And if I learned anything from former U.S. president Bill Clinton, it’s that when answering a question, it’s important to define all terms involved. So how do we define “sport”? Straight from my computer’s dictionary:

An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.

Well, it’s pretty clear from that, isn’t it? Unless you’re having search and rescue competitions, diving is not a sport. Does that mean all the articles and PADI are wrong? Not necessarily. Sport, like many words, has many definitions:

dated: entertainment, fun.

And yet one more

archaic: a source of amusement or entertainment.

So while you can’t consider diving a sport by the standard definition, it can be by another, albeit dated, definition. This basically makes it a personal call. Is it ok to call it a sport using the old world terminology, or would you rather stick with modern definitions?

I believe the answer most people take, especially in journalism, is dependent on the context, i.e., if they can’t come up with a synonym that works as well as sport, then they call it a sport. You’re free to do the same, but don’t be surprised if sticklers like me call you out on it.

1. It isn’t. :)

Can I Get Sued For Not Helping a Diver? (Redux)

Monday, September 27th, 2010

I am not a lawyer, and this is not official legal advice. In addition, laws vary between countries, so the situation can always be different for your country or the country you’re diving in.

A while back, I attempted to answer this question about getting sued for not helping divers. Mainly this applies to professionals, who are trained to assist divers in distress.


The question was prompted by dive professionals (divemasters, instructors, etc.) who go on vacation, and when asked in a dive shop flash their advanced open water certification cards—not letting the shop know they have more training. The thinking is that when I am on vacation I don’t want to worry about other divers, and especially don’t want to get sued for not helping.

I asked around, and apparently there is no precedent for this. Unless you’re an employee of the dive operation, simply being there does not place a burden of responsibility on you.

Reader Steven pointed out an exception in some countries, like in the U.K. If you are a diver’s buddy, and they get into trouble, a “duty of care” kicks in and you are responsible to assist them to the limits of your training.

Even if you don’t reveal your true certification level, if an accident occurs with your dive buddy, the shop (or the family’s legal council) will look into it and discover whether you acted to the limits of your training.

As an open water or even an advanced open water diver, simply saying “the situation was too dangerous so I went for help” is a valid excuse, since your limits of training are not very high. However, as a rescue diver, divemaster, or instructor, you are explicitly trained for these situations, so you better be prepared to help.

Again, this only applies in certain countries, so check on your diving region. And it only applies to your buddy—you are not responsible for everyone in the water.

Thanks again to Steven for the additional information.


Photo by Let Ideas Compete

Dive Goals: Instructor Certification

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

I think for anything important in your life it’s crucial to have goals. Goals make sure you have thought things through and know exactly what you want to get out of life.

Sometime last year, scuba became more than a hobby to me. As such, I’ve been defining goals that describe what I want to get out of this experience. This blog is one such goal, a way for me to share what I learn with others on the internet, and as the sub-title says, a place for divers to spend their time above the water.


One other goal of mine is to become a certified scuba instructor. If you’ve followed the blog for long, you’d know that after finishing my Divemaster certification earlier this year, I am well on my way.

I’m currently on track to become a full-fledged PADI instructor sometime in spring of next year. Why the delay? Time and money, mostly. I have begun my Assistant Instructor certification, although that will allow me to do little more than what I can do with a Divemaster certification.

Why would one want to become an instructor?

  • Career. Certainly a possibility to teach scuba for a living. The pay isn’t great, but you get to dive regularly and share your passion with others. This one does not describe me, though.
  • Friends & family. As an instructor, you are free to certify your friends and family. Want to go on a scuba trip but don’t have any certified buddy’s to go with? Make your own buddy. As I mentioned, instructor certification is expensive and time-consuming, so this reason alone probably isn’t sufficient, but is more of a perk.
  • Knowledge. Going the pro path teaches you more about diving than you thought you’d ever know. You still don’t know everything, but as an instructor you will have fairly in-depth knowledge of most things scuba. I definitely enjoy this part of things, especially learning teaching theory and how people learn.
  • That type of person. Some people are just that way. When you get into something, you want to go all the way. Whether you call them Type A or something else, being like this is a strong motivator.
  • Comfort. The level of experience you quickly achieve moving through the professional ranks comes along with a level of comfort in the water. This level comes much quicker than just through regular diving. The dissemination of dive skills lets you master each one, increasing your overall comfort in the water. As with certifying your buddies, this one probably isn’t a prime reason to become an instructor, but rather is a side bonus.

These are just a few reasons to become an instructor. I’ll keep you up-to-date on my progress and anything of interest that happens all the way. In the future, I’ll also write about some other scuba goals that I have or am in the process of making.

What do you think about instructor certification? Is it for you? If you already are an instructor, what made you want to do it?

To leave a comment, go to the bottom of the post page. If you are on the homepage, click on the title of this post to go to the post page.


Photo by Martin Burns

The Attraction of the Unknown

Monday, August 16th, 2010

The Toronto Sun recently reported that actor Ving Rhames (Mission: Impossible, Pulp Fiction) has done some underwater work for a recent film, Piranha 3D. During one trip the actor spotted a “prehistoric” looking creature that he couldn’t identify.1 This freaked him out so much that he “hasn’t done any scuba diving since.”

That’s a little bit silly, but he relates some truth:

I really feel that there are things in the ocean that we have no idea about. I think there’s so much we don’t know and the unknown in the ocean; every 10 years or so we find some fossil that’s been there before mankind.

I find it funny that we can have the same exactly feelings about something, yet reach opposite conclusions. What keeps him out of the water is what draws me to it. If you’ve gleaned anything from The Diving Blog’s fish identification series, it’s that I enjoy learning new species of sea critters, as I imagine many divers do.

Mr. Rhames has my sympathy. He is disturbed significantly by one of the very reasons why I dive.

Is the draw of the unknown one of the reasons you keep getting in the water? Let us know in the comments.

1 – From his description, “a combination of a catfish and something with a large oblongish-type head”, what do you think he saw? Maybe a humphead wrasse?