BULL'S EYE! Hitting the TARGET as a Successful Scuba Instructor
It's a scene that plays out in dive centers across the country, around the world, every single day. A person enters a dive center, and is greeted by a dive professional. It must be something about the air of confidence, the friendly demeanor, the professional's curiosity about the person, their life, their goals and dreams that makes it all happen. Within the span of a relatively short conversation, another student -- or maybe a family of students -- is signed up for a scuba class.
And that's just the beginning. Within the span of several weeks, that new student and others -- all of whom are perhaps vastly different yet share a common dream -- are molded into something completely new: divers. But not just divers, diving consumers; confident, loyal, fun-loving divers who become ambassadors for a niche sport and help it -- and our business -- grow.
That dive professional isn't just any dive professional. He or she is a professional dive instructor. One who has studied his or her TARGET and has the skills and know-how to hit the bull's-eye. It's not just business, it's not just customer service, it's building a community in a special world where we all want to live, love and explore.
So what exactly is a TARGETed dive instructor, and how do we find one? The first thing we need to understand is that this caliber of dive instructor is not someone we just find with a "help wanted" ad, or through a casual conversation at the coffeeshop. It is someone we create and mold into the vision of what our dive center could be. This person is a product of intent, commitment and hard work. And creating this person is a primary goal in running our business.
The concept of the TARGETed dive instructor is one that was coined by the folks at Dive Training magazine, and it helps define the attributes, characteristics and central themes in the role of an outstanding instructor. Drawn from the pages of Dive Training's Instructor Tips column, the following sections map out the acronym TARGET, and provide tips on how instructors can hit the proverbial bull's-eye.
Trust and Teamwork
One of the very first things a TARGETed dive instructor does when a potential customer walks in the door is establish trust. Without trust, the relationship between the student and the diver center (and staff!) will never fully develop.
Right on the heels of trust comes teamwork. We all know that teamwork is the foundation of safe diving, and a team isn't really a team unless its members trust one another. So instructors must foster that characteristic in their students. Here are some ways instructors can help develop that trust (Dive Training Instructor Tips, February 2015).
Create a good first impression. The first step in establishing trust is to make a good first impression. To do that, instructors should present a sensible demeanor, and then focus their attention on the customer's needs and concerns. Eye contact, combined with a friendly smile and well-groomed appearance, will also help set the stage for that good first impression.
Display self-confidence. For a customer to have trust in a dive instructor, the instructor must display self-confidence. Self-confident instructors can accept criticism without becoming defensive, and can even joke about themselves. They can answer questions confidently, but aren't afraid to say so when they don't know an answer to a question. When an instructor doesn't know the answer, a proper response might be, "Let me check into that and I'll get back to you…."
One way instructors can help build good teamwork and buddy skills in students (Dive Training Instructor Tips, February 2014) is to focus on the seven C's. These are Common goals, Cooperation, Checklists, Communication, Coordination, Critical skills, and Coaching.
Common goals. When building team relationships between dive buddies, instructors should teach students to compromise and seek common ground. Different divers have different styles and preferences, and bridging those differences to find a common goal is critical to team safety.
Cooperation. Rather than having assistant instructors or divemasters assist students in the gearing-up process, instructors should encourage them to help each other. Not only does this help build buddy skills, it helps build trust in one another. Having buddy groups cooperate in sharing responsibilities on a dive (for example, one buddy tows the float while the other navigates) also builds confidence and trust.
Checklists. Here again, teaching students to work as a team is important. Instructors should emphasize that each diver is his buddy's backup, so working together to perform checklists helps ensure that each is ready to go. And if one diver forgets something, the other can catch that oversight.
Communication. Not all divers use the same hand signals, so instructors should teach their students to always review hand signals with their buddy before dives. Another aspect of communication is understanding the buddy's computer display, so instructors should encourage their students to include a quick review of each other's dive computer as part of the predive check as well. Good communication minimizes confusion.
Coordination. Buddies who drift apart on a dive aren't really buddies, and this can significantly compromise safety. Instructors should emphasize coordination between divers throughout a dive, dividing their attention between their surroundings, monitoring the dive parameters, and keeping an eye on their buddy from descent to final ascent and exit from the water.
Critical skill practice. Nothing builds a team better than facing adversity, so instructors should also teach their students to practice emergency skills on every dive, especially when diving with a new buddy. This requires familiarity with each other's equipment, and could include weight removal, emergency ascent procedures, and air-sharing drills.
Coaching. Being a good buddy team isn't something that just happens. It takes practice and experience. To help divers become better buddy teams, instructors must insist that buddies coach one another by performing a post-dive debrief to review what went right, what went wrong, and how to do it better next time.
Some people might lump scuba into the category of extreme sports. After all, it is one that takes place in a potentially dangerous setting -- one that requires specialized skills, knowledge and judgment. The key to making it a safe sport -- and separating it from the true extreme sports -- is the attitude of the individual who engages in it. Having the right attitude is no accident; it's one that the dive instructor, along with the team of professionals in the dive center, demonstrates and works hard to cultivate among its clients.
Individuals come into diving with some preconceived attitudes, and the role of the instructor is to avoid promoting risky ones, and help develop safe ones. There are numerous ways that dive instructors can promote safe attitudes in diving (Dive Training Instructor Tips, July 2014).
Sea stories. Storytelling is an integral part of human culture, and is a great way to teach lessons that inform our attitudes. By weaving a narrative about a situation that really occurred, instructors can drive home the types of attitudes and bad decision-making that lead to unsafe conditions and sorry results.
Show and tell. When teaching procedures such as equipment checks, instructors can gain more traction in developing attitudes by showing in addition to simply telling. With a little help from the maintenance department, instructors can show students what faulty equipment looks like to make the picture perfectly clear. Seeing the real thing rather than simply hearing about it helps cultivate a positive attitude toward safety and following procedures.
Leading by example. Perhaps the most powerful tool instructors have for promoting and developing the right attitude for diving is leading by example. When an instructor unvaryingly follows the procedures and abides by established limits, students follow suit. The instructor is the role model, and students instinctively emulate the actions and attitudes demonstrated by their instructors. "Do as I say, not as I do," simply doesn't work.
Relationships are key in learning, and in developing a strong diving community through the dive center. One of the more important roles of the instructor is establishing a positive relationship with students in the classroom that promotes learning, as well as that all-important positive attitude. There are several ways that instructors can do this (Dive Training Instructor Tips, July 2010).
Avoid disparaging remarks. While a bit of comedic relief in the classroom can be good, instructors should be mindful that poking fun at students can backfire if disparaging remarks are made about a student's abilities. Everyone makes mistakes, and these often lead to teachable moments, but we should avoid getting a laugh at a student's expense.
Don't downplay questions. Even when a student asks a question that seems obvious, silly or "dumb," (and there are no dumb questions!), instructors must remember to treat all students respectfully. Instead of making fun of the question (and thus the student), they should recognize it as a point that needs further explanation and clarification. Instead of making fun, an instructor should perhaps reply with, "You know that can be confusing," or "Thanks for asking that question."
Be prepared. Being well prepared for the class is a sign of respect. Instructors who aren't prepared are in effect saying, "You're not important." That's not the message we want our instructor's sending.
Avoid interruptions. Another way to tell students they aren't important is to allow interruptions in the classroom. While a true emergency is one thing, allowing a phone call or personal interruption in the classroom sends the wrong signal to the class. This is their time, and it should be respected as such.
Avoid irritation. Instructors are human, and sometimes they get frustrated when students don't learn at the desired pace. If a student doesn't learn to clear their mask in the first 100 tries, instructors should refrain from visible signs of frustration, and remember that it might just be the 101st time when the student finally gets it.
Avoid being rushed. Rushing through material in class can make students think the material isn't that important. The fact is, everything we teach is important. Instructors should take their time, and teach each subject thoroughly.
Require respect for all. Respect should always be a shared value in the scuba community, so instructors should not allow students to be disrespectful to one another. For the best results, setting respect for others as a rule of the classroom is a good bet. Instructors should spell that out clearly at the beginning of training. Still, situations might arise when the rule is violated. When that happens, instructors should consider chatting with the offender in private rather than embarrassing them publicly.
Let enthusiasm shine. Even if an instructor has given a presentation on a particular topic a hundred times, it is important to convey the enthusiasm of a first-time presenter. If an instructor seems bored or disinterested, the students will sense that, and the attitude will color their perspective on the subject.
Guidance and Goal Setting
Key to the role of dive instructor is providing guidance on topics to help divers make good decisions and set achievable goals.
Fitness. One area where providing guidance comes into play is in the realm of diver fitness (Dive Training Instructor Tips, December 2013). It doesn't take a star athlete to be a safe diver, but we all recognize the importance of fitness in a diver's ability to deal with abnormal situations. An unfit diver can easily become winded and exhausted, which can lead to panic. Dive instructors should emphasize fitness and help weave physical training into the core of a diver's training and lifestyle. Instructors can help divers understand the three fundamental aspects of fitness -- cardio conditioning, muscle strength and flexibility -- and help them choose training methods and set goals that fit their lifestyles and preferences.
Decision-making is another area where divers need guidance and, here again, instructors can provide divers with tools to make good decisions (Dive Training Instructor Tips, September 2014). One such tool is the FACETS analysis, which divers can use to avoid some of the more common traps in decision-making. The FACETS to consider in diver decision-making include:
Familiarity. Divers are much more likely to lower their perception of risks when diving in a familiar environment, such as a dive site they've visited frequently. In a "friendly" environment, poor weather and sea conditions or minor equipment issues seem somehow less hazardous.
Acceptance. When diving with larger groups, divers are more likely to accept conditions that are less than optimal. Divers are less likely to reject an idea when facing the "herd mentality" of a larger group.
Commitment. Once divers have committed to a goal, they can be difficult to deter. An attitude of, "We're here; we might as well do this," prevails over objective evaluation and sound decision making.
Expertise. Experienced divers may filter out the risks based on their experience, and come to more optimistic conclusions. Such "it's not that bad" attitudes can be dangerous, and can help inform the herd mentality that leads to acceptance.
Tolls. Divers are more likely to overlook risks when they think they will miss a unique opportunity -- or pay a toll -- with regard to a dive. When "the chance of a lifetime" bumps up against "a minor inconvenience," divers may tend to adopt riskier behavior. Whether it's the first dive of the year, an opportunity to visit a new wreck, or a chance to witness an unusual event or species, chasing the challenge leads to riskier behaviors.
Social proof. Observing another diver who appears to manage without difficulty serves as proof that the risks are not as great, and so divers will let down their guard once another diver splashes into what might in reality be a hazardous situation.
Education, Environment and Equipment
To truly be TARGETed, our instructors need to have not only the scuba-specific knowledge and ability to perform skills, they need to have full command of the entire instructional domain. That means having the ability to apply a multitude of techniques to reach a dizzying array of students with varying backgrounds, interests and physical capabilities.
While good presentation skills are important in a lecture, a well-trained instructor will know how to read body language to know when a break is due. He or she knows how to use guided discussion techniques to engage students, get them thinking, and drive home those important points.
One of the techniques instructors can use for guided discussions is the APPLE technique (Dive Training Instructor Tips, January 2013). Here the instructor Asks an open-ended question, and then Pauses to give the students time to formulate their responses. Next, as the students begin to provide their responses, the instructor continues to Probe the topic more thoroughly, forcing the students to take a deep dive into the subject. As the students continue to explore the material and bring up more points and questions, the instructor Leads them in the right direction. Finally, the instructor, through both answers and further questions, helps the students Expand their awareness and understanding of the subject.
Experts tell us that most learning is obtained visually, but a good instructor knows to use as many of the senses as possible to reach and connect with their students (Dive Training Instructor Tips, June 2012). That means integrating hands-on and tactile connections with the verbal and visual training materials. Our TARGETed instructor uses the resources of the showroom as well as those of the traditional classroom. Instead of just talking about items like exposure suits, BCs and regulators, the instructor brings them into the show room and shows them the hardware, lets them touch it and examine it. Through this process, students not only make mental connections, they build excitement too. This obviously will help influence the desire for ownership.
As pointed out earlier, this show-and-tell approach to teaching can incorporate the resources of our service department. Here the instructor can use hardware to show the student what "wrong" looks like, and what to be aware of when checking out their equipment. Teaching divers the importance of equipment care (Dive Training Instructor Tips, May 2013) will not only help improve the life of equipment we rent or sell to them, but more importantly, it makes them better and safer divers. Instructors should emphasize that equipment care means not only rinsing and cleaning their equipment after each use, but also inspecting the condition of that equipment to detect and resolve any issues or concerns.
Regulators. This equipment represents the true lifeline of diving, providing a reliable source of breathing gas. Instructors should emphasize to students the importance of rinsing/soaking their regulator to remove salt, silt and sand that can cause damage or interfere with proper operation.
BCs. Many divers don't recognize that a BC has more moving parts than a regulator, and requires attention after each use as well. Instructors should emphasize that proper rinsing, inspecting for damage, and verifying the security of its integral components is key to reliable operation of a BC.
Computers. Divers rely heavily on their dive computers (and good practices!) to keep them out of the decompression danger zone, but they might not consider the importance of maintaining that expensive piece of electronics. Instructors should emphasize not only the importance of cleaning and rinsing, but of periodic maintenance to ensure reliable operation of dive computers.
Basics and accessories. Even the most basic equipment and accessories should be rinsed and cleaned after each use, and inspected for wear or damage before storing. Failure to recognize worn or failing equipment can trigger unnecessarily challenging situations underwater, and erode safety margins on a dive. Instructors set the tone by demonstrating basic maintenance practices and guiding students with the details.
Nurturing environmental consciousness is an important aspect when it comes to a sustainable business model, and here again instructors must answer the call (Dive Training Instructor Tips, October 2014). One way to accomplish that is to get divers involved in volunteer service projects. Such projects range from local beach clean-ups to fish counting, sea turtle rescue, lionfish rallies, and environmental education classes for kids. Whether it's a local activity or one associated with dive travel, such experiences help build a sense of community, and also help build skills and provide opportunities for further learning and exploration.
One of the most exciting aspects of diving for many of our customers is the prospect of travel to faraway and exotic locales. Offering and encouraging dive vacations is often core to our business. But making sure the adventure goes smoothly and safely (Dive Training Instructor Tips, July 2012) is essential to repeat business, and that makes it an important goal for our dive instructors. To that end, the following considerations are a must:
Paperwork. The most tedious aspect of planning dive travel is attention to the paperwork, but smooth travels rely heavily on these details. This includes making sure divers have their passports, visas, certification cards and logbooks. But it also means instructing customers to leave behind those items they don't need, and really don't want to lose on the way. This includes things such as job-related IDs, consumer and membership cards, Social Security cards and extra credit cards. Stashing the needed items in various bags also helps prevent the loss of everything through the loss of a single piece of luggage.
Health concerns. From sunburn to mosquito bites to dreaded infections and disease, health concerns can put divers off or spoil their adventure. So part of the instructor's role is to provide the right guidance and advice. By directing divers to the proper resources (e.g., the Centers for Disease Control website at cdc.gov/travel), instructors can get divers the guidance they need to address their concerns. Instructors can also help travelers who carry prescription medications avoid unnecessary customs snafus by directing them to the Food and Drug Administration's website.
Cultural connections. Local knowledge of the country or region being visited is often essential to safety, so instructors should be diligent in their research and then communicate the information effectively to our clients. Included in the research should be not only travel guides and articles, but a visit to the State Department site for detailed travel warnings.
Attire. Appearances do matter, and when it comes to travel, it can be important for travelers to not draw undue attention. Instructors should guide our clients in such matters as what may be considered appropriate attire in the local culture, and how not to appear as a target for those with nefarious intent.
Insurance. Many times travelers will feel more at ease if they know someone has their back, or at least will be compensated if the situation goes awry. Instructors can guide our clients to such resources as Divers Alert Network travel insurance.
The right stuff. Making certain divers know what equipment to bring and what to leave behind can help the trip go more smoothly. This should also include information on TSA restrictions (tsa.gov/travel) regarding carry-on items and FAA regulations (faa.gov/about/initiatives/hazmat_safety/) regarding hazardous materials restrictions. Many items we consider safe as divers are considered hazardous for air travel, including aerosol sprays, lighters, emergency signals, and even batteries for dive lights and photographic equipment.
The last dive. Divers often want to get the most out of their dive vacation, and will be tempted to dive right up to the last possible minute. Our instructors should ensure that divers follow the guidance on flying after diving to avoid the complications of decompression illness that can occur at the conclusion of an otherwise safe dive trip.
The personal connection to our customers is critically important, especially at the outset with their first introductions to diving. The personal connection is important to the success of each dive center and by extension to the health of the entire industry. Especially today. When a new or potential customer walks in the door of our dive center, more often than not it's a dive instructor that plays a pivotal role in establishing and continuing our relationship with that individual. By arming our instructors with the right training, tools and techniques, they will be able to TARGET their efforts and hit that bull's-eye every time.