How to skilfully demonstrate skills….

you love me

One question that regularly comes up on IDCs is to do with skills and how they should be done. As any good instructor knows, the key point to remember is the performance requirement, there is no standard ‘PADI way’ or signal for a given skill. It’s also very important to understand the difference between getting it wrong vs the way you like things done. As an example, you might prefer holding BCD straps to a ‘roman handshake’ during an out of gas drill but both are fine (in fact one may be better than the other and vice versa dependent on gear set up etc). There’s also no problem with a dive centre establishing a consistent way of performing skills through their DM and IDC programs but it’s also important to understand that doesn’t make their way, the right way either.

Because I work with candidates from multiple centres on the same IDC, my philosophy is that I don’t set out to attempt to mould candidates in my image. I’d much rather they got on with doing skills their way, with me occasionally pointing out some improvements or tweaks along the way.

One of the nice things about this way of working is that I get to learn different methods for skills too. Fortunately my ego is no longer as fragile as it was (seemingly directly proportionate to the greying of my hair) and I no longer panic when someone does a skill better than me. In fact I’m usually quite open about my intention to nick someone else’s method when I like it!

Having said all of this, I do have a preference for the general way skills are done (yes, my preference but also, obviously, the right way). Here’s my guide to all things skill related:

  1. Poncing About. Lots of instructors love poncing about. I do not. Poncing about involves loads of wind-milling arms, theatrical flourishes and invitations to everyone in the surrounding vicinity to ‘LOOK AT ME, ME, THE INSTRUCTOR, LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME NOW BECAUSE I AM ABOUT TO BRING THE SHIT WITH THIS SKILL’. I don’t mind a quick ‘look at me’ signal, I do it, it helps get me in the zone to do my demo but just get it over with and then do the skill. Just please, do the skill.
  2. Concentrate on the critical attributes: If you want to clear a mask, then basically you need to put some pressure on the top of the frame (any which way you like), look up and exhale through your nose. If you do that slowly and clearly, that’s pretty much a 5 as far as I’m concerned. Throwing in lots of stuff to show what you shouldn’t do doesn’t really add anything. Also don’t go through a slow and loving piece of theatre about everything that you are about to do and then fail to clear the mask in one go, or finish with one lens still with an inch of water in the bottom. Even Brando couldn’t save himself from a 4 with that.
  3. Be Quiet: Please, please don’t start every skill by doing that thing where you punch your palm with an open fist repeatedly. I realise that when people aren’t actually looking at you it’s a great way to get their attention, but when they are, it’s a bit like snapping your fingers in their face like a sassy drag queen from an 80s movie starring Andrew McCarthy.
  4. Dumping gas: Don’t start every skill by whirling your fingers at the top of the BC hose to show you have dumped all your gas. It’s not a performance requirement to do every skill whilst heavily negative. Whilst in real teaching scenarios kneeling on the bottom of the pool will help in some skills, it doesn’t require you to be negative during your demos.
  5. Lose the numbers: Some skills may benefit from a series of steps broken down by number as in step 1: Do this, step 2: Do this etc. But most don’t. Sometimes the sheer volume of hand signals being produced completely eclipses the skill and it all becomes a confused blur of sign language. Remember, just do it slowly and clearly.
  6. Be decisive. Often one of the big differences between a score of 4 or 5 is simply down to the confidence with which the hand signals are deployed. We’ve all been there, when your hand extends only to discover that it’s intent has been forgotten. Try to make sure your hand signals are confident and clear. Avoid the tentative hand slowly extending and producing a limp apology of a signal, it looks like an elderly vicar trying to break up an orgy. A good method is to practice your hand signals for skills in front of the mirror. I often video skills on the IDC too which allow you to see how you’re getting on so we can work on ways to improve.
  7. Don’t sweat it: When all’s said and done, you can do these skills. If you couldn’t you probably shouldn’t have got through your open water course! The best thing you can do is just slow down, relax and do the skill slowly. If you do that, you’re pretty much guaranteed at least a 4. If you then just throw in some clear signals that emphasise the critical steps, there’s your 5.

Of course, the next person you talk to will contradict everything I’ve just said but then that’s what makes it all so interesting. Obviously I’m right though. Obviously.