5 PADI Pro Tips: How to Deal with Nervous Students

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The first breaths underwater are always very exciting for first-time divers, and usually the fascination for this new underwater world is much bigger than any fears. Sometimes, however, there are some new divers who are very nervous about learning to dive, and need to be treated very carefully by their PADI Instructor.

Follow these 5 tips on working with nervous divers to help alleviate their fears and encourage them to succeed in the best possible way.

#1 – Talk to your students about their fears

If you notice that one of your students is very anxious, then you should talk to them about their fears and concerns. Ask them questions to help identify what and where the problem is, and explain to them objectively, using facts and reassurance, about why there is no need to be scared.

#2 – Explain all of the exercises in detail in your briefing

As a PADI Pro you’ve already learned to describe and explain all the skills, exercises and dives which you’re performing with other divers or students.

If you have one or more anxious divers in your group, you should extend your briefings and deal with the concerns of the divers. Prepare your group and let them know what could be the challenges during the exercises or dives you’ll do together – and tell them how to deal with them in the best way.

#3 – Position anxious students correctly

If you’re doing underwater skills with students, or guiding a dive for a group of divers, then make sure that any nervous members of the group are always very close to you.

While training for skills in larger groups, any nervous divers should never sit completely at the end of the row. If possible, they should always have another diver on either side.
Make sure you begin the practice of diving skills with a more confident diver – not with someone who is already anxious. This reduces the nervousness when one sees that another diver masters the skill without any problems.

If you’re guiding a group with an anxious diver, you should offer them to dive directly behind you. Form a buddy team, and give them the safety and attention they need to build confidence underwater.

#4 – Reduce the distance between nervous divers

As a PADI Pro you’ll already know that you need to stay close to your diving students to have complete control over them. However, if you have a very nervous student in your group you should pay special attention to stay as close as possible to them in particular. This makes it possible for you to intervene at any time, and gives them a feeling of safety and security.

#5 – Give anxious students frequent commendation

After each training session, you should highlight one thing in every debriefing that all diving students have done particularly well – that’s what we call positive reinforcement.
With anxious divers in your group you can expand this positive reinforcement even more and give them extra commendation for things they have mastered. With this additional positivity and praise, you’ll push the self-confidence of anxious divers, which in turn will help to relieve their nervousness and boost their confidence in the water.

Extra Tip: Work in small groups with more time – if possible!

Where possible, work in groups of max. two divers, and plan more time for your course from the beginning – this should be helpful for anxious divers who will feel less pressured by others’ progress. In a smaller group, you can respond even more effectively to the problems and concerns of each student.


christian_huboThis article was written by guest blogger, Christian Hubo. A PADI diving instructor, Christian has enjoyed over 4,000 dives whilst travelling around the world. Above the surface, he’s hiked thousands of kilometers across the natural world. Christian is a freelance web and media designer, underwater photographer, social media and marketing consultant and freelance author. His magazine articles and blog, Feel4Nature, inspires people to follow an independent, individual and eco-conscious lifestyle.

Skills Deconstructed: The “How-To” on Happy Hovering

Alexandra DimitriouAlexandra Dimitriou-Engeler is a PADI Dive Center owner in Agia Napa, Cyprus. She became a diver in 1992 and received her bachelor’s degree in Oceanography at Plymouth University in 2003. Her love of the ocean has always been her driving force, and this has led to the natural progression of becoming a diving instructor in 2005. She is currently a PADI staff instructor and owner of Scuba Monkey Ltd and is writing a series of guest blogs for PADI Europe, Middle East and Africa. Her next article shares advice on teaching the tricky skill of hovering to new students…


Good buoyancy control is one of the most important skills that a diver must master for two reasons: It keeps the diver in control throughout their dive and protects the marine environment at the same time.

Many students find hovering a tough skill to master. I know I did when I was an open water student, and that was over 20 years ago. I can still remember the frustration of not getting it right the first time. I can also remember the calm reassuring voice of my instructor.

So let’s see why students struggle sometimes.

Being overweighted: Take a lot of time with your guests when you first enter the water on day one. If a diver is overweighted, hovering is a nightmare. Take the extra time at the beginning and you will save time later.

Not thinking about how they are breathing: Try to emphasize that buoyancy should become a habit, and they should not just treat it as an isolated skill. Get them thinking about their breathing. Nothing more than that. Just make them aware from day one.

Getting Frustrated: Emphasize that hovering will take a little time, and because it is a skill that is controlled largely by the lungs, any changes to their rhythm of breathing will affect their success. If they get frustrated, their breathing will change, which will make it harder to control their buoyancy…. then they will get even more frustrated and the issue compounds itself.

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The Perfect Buddha Pose

So, what techniques can help you help your student?

#1 – Briefing

I like to tell my students the steps that I will go through before going into a hover. I ask them to kneel, stand or lie on the bottom, but I also emphasize the notion that, soon, contact with the floor will be eliminated altogether. I ask them to visualize their lungs once they get into the position that they would like to stay in for 30 seconds.

“Hovering requires control and it requires calmness” – This is my opening line when I start briefing them about this skill.

I keep this briefing for hovering only. I reassure them that they will be able to do it because they have already done multiple fin pivots and that hovering is almost the same – except this time ALL of their body will be off the bottom. I warn them that this is tricky because it is mostly about feeling the differences in their buoyancy as they inhale and exhale.

“As soon as you feel your body start to rise…. Exhale.

“As soon as you feel your body start to get deeper then inhale”

I repeat this several times. I show them how to signal this thought process underwater.

I find that keeping my voice to an almost yoga whisper keeps their nerves at bay. I keep repeating that they should stay calm, to have fun with this lesson and within a very short while they will never touch the bottom again if they don’t want to. I tell them that this is where the magic happens.

#2 Underwater

I find that this briefing is the key to success underwater. Students are prepared for the possibility that hovering will take time and therefore they give themselves the mental space to get their head around the physics of it.

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Success for Michelle Finlay, hovering like a Pro!

I demonstrate the exaggerated breathing hand gestures that we instructors have used since our IDC. I get my legs into position and inflate my BC in tiny bursts to get to that bouncy feeling, signifying that I am neutrally buoyant. I show them that I am inhaling, that I start to rise because of it and that I exhale just as I get to the mid-water position. I show them the signal for thinking. Thinking about how full my lungs are as I control my position in the water.

In my experience students get to the mid-water point quite easily, but they cannot help but try to balance themselves with their hands and fins. Let them do it for a few seconds before gently silencing the movement. You are looking for a calm face. Let them feel the movement of a slightly-too-deep inhalation – how they ascend a little too far as a result. Let them feel it – don’t correct them too early but also be ready to stop them if they go up too fast. It’s a fine line between trial and error. Keep them safe above all but give them some learning room.

It won’t be long before they’re hovering like a pro – and they will remember your methods long after they have completed their first logbook entry all the way to the day when they might be teaching their very own students to hover!


Don’t forget, once your students have completed their PADI Open Water Diver course, they can sign up to complete a PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy specialty course to further improve their diving skills. For more information on becoming a PADI Peak Performance Specialty Instructor, click here or contact the PADI Training department.