Allow people to learn motor skills

It has long been said that people learn best when they are in control of their own learning and are aware of the process and of themselves as learners. 

Now, there is research to back up this claim!

A recent study found that when people are allowed to learn in their own way and monitor their progress, they are more likely to perform better than those who are not given this opportunity.


So, if you’re looking to improve your teaching skills, be sure to focus on strategies that allow your students to take charge of their own learning!

Particularly when they’re learning a new motor skill.

A PADI Instructor should always involve their student divers with their own development. 

All along the way.

Briefings and De-briefings

There are other articles explaining how Students can get involved with Briefings and De-briefings,

This article concentrates on the actual moments when people are learning new skills.

And other articles that explain the importance of making the lessons Student Centred.

Learning a new skill

But for now, we’re going to look at the actual learning process.

The moments when your students either transform from:
Not being able to do the skill


Performing the skill.


Being able to do the skill poorly


Improving quality or with less cognitive involvement.

Allowing people to learn

The "Old" way of teaching scuba diving skills

The traditional way of teaching skills to new divers usually involves getting student divers to form a line while kneeling on the bottom in confined water. 

Following a demonstration, each student in turn attempts to perform the skill. 

If successful, the instructor usually congratulates the student and then moves on to the next. 

If unsuccessful, the instructor asks the student to repeat the skill, until they’ve met the performance requirement.

The problem with this method

It’s very time consuming. 
The larger the class, the more time each student has to wait, doing nothing while the instructor is dealing with other students.

When a student is learning a new skill, they have so much sub-concious information to process.

+ Every step of the skill
+ The sequence of the steps

+ The co-ordination involved

+ When to perform the skill

+ Interpreting signals of the Instructor 

Extra pressure is exerted because the skill has to be performed at the exact moment that the instructor tells them.

The student doesn’t have the choice to prepare and perform in their own time. 

Even more pressure is added by the student being watched closely by the instructor and often by the other students. 

Students often don’t get a chance to practice the skill once they’ve mastered it. 

For me the biggest problem is that the student isn’t learning what they have expeted to learn and that is:
How to scuba dive.

Why skills are still taught the old way

I fully understand why PADI Instructors teach this way. 

In fact for 20 years of my teaching career, I also taught this way. 

I didn’t know any better. 
Instructors follow this process because:

+ This is the way that they were taught when they were beginners

+ Their PADI IDC taught them to teach in this manner

+ PADI Examiners congratulated them on teaching this way during their IE

+ All of their fellow instructors in their dive centre teach this way

+ Why fix something if it’s not broken?

+ Students go on to become proficient divers eventually. 

+ Instructors are scared or unable to change

Allowing people to learn naturally

Remember when you first learnt to catch a ball, tie a shoelace, swim or ride a bike?

You learned naturally by trial and error. 

You were given space to gradually work out what works best, and what doesn’t.

You were allowed to experiment, with both the skill and your approach to the skill. 

Of course you had a mentor.
A family member who was there to coach, to give advice and encouragement. 

But that person could not learn for you.  
They thought that they “taught” you. 

But you “Taught” yourself.

It was you that learned. 
You learned how to time your movements in order to catch the ball. 
You felt the tension of the shoelace to get the knot right.

You wobbled around to get the feeling of balance on the bicycle.

People can’t “teach” you that. 
You can only learn by trial and error. 

We’re all different, so we all take a slightly different path on our journey to reach mastery.

Most people dislike being closely watched while trying to sort out complex stratagies.

As long as safety isn’t compromised, people generally learn much faster, and much more efficiently when they’re allowed to learn.

How to allow people to learn

It’s very simple. 

And not that much different to traditional methods. 

Using Natural Buoyancy

I prefer to allow people to practice a new skill several times while swimming around. 

I explain this more in the article about teaching skills to new divers.

It’s hard work for the Instructor and for Certified Assistants because you need to keep control without appearing to be overpowering.

But it does give students a wonderful sense of freedom while they improve their skills while improving their overall diving skills. 

It’s always important to remember: 
” Never ask a student to do something that you don’t already know they can do”

Teaching on knees

If you’re not yet ready to encourage divers to perform skills while swimming around, you can still allow people to learn by giving them space.

Following the Instructor’s demonstration, each student in turn performs the skill.
The same as before.

Also as before, if the student is successful the Instructor then moves onto the next student.

However, once the student has performed the skill, they can then be allowed to practice in their own way. 


The instructor

They should be encouraged to repeat the skill as often as they want until they are happy.

In the meantime, the Instructor is working with each student in turn making sure that they have the basics right.

Why focus on strengths?

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.

It’s part of what makes us human. 

However, too often instructors only focus on weaknesses and try to fix them, rather than building on strengths.

This often can lead to frustration and a feeling of inadequacy.

Positive coaching focuses on harnessing a diver’s strengths and uses them to improve performance.

This approach can be beneficial for both student divers and instructors. 

For divers, positive coaching can help to build confidence and motivation.

For coaches, positive coaching can lead to better results.

Studies have shown that focusing on pepole’s strengths is more likely to result in improved performance than focusing on their weaknesses.

As a result, positive coaching is an effective way to help learners reach their full potential.

Traditional scuba training often involves correcting mistakes and working to eliminate weaknesses.

However, when divers feel good about their abilities, everything improves.  They are more likely to work hard and stay committed to the sport. 

How to implement Positive Coaching

It’s not as easy as it looks! It needs practice!

At first glance it seems as if every PADI instructor simply says:
“Well done!” 


“You were terrific!” 

every time a student accomplishes a skill. 

But that doesn’t work. 

Most people over the age of 12, either interperate comments like that as patronising, or at best an attempt at encouragement. 

But not necessarily praise. 

And those recurring “pats on the back” are very soon forgotten. 

We are looking for words that will make a long lasting positive change.

We are all influenced by words

Both good and bad. 

I bet that you can remember something that was said to you in the past.
A comment that made you feel good (or bad) about yourself.

It could have been a teacher at school, your driving instructor or your first scuba instructor.

If it was something good, then almost certainly it was a well meaning compliment.

Something specific, something that made you feel that you’re doing well.

It felt nice that you were singled out for something specific that you achieved.

Once we realise how powerful genuine acknowledgement is, we can improve our teaching methods and improve our students. 

Use positive words to create change

So instead of saying:
“Well done”  or “You were amazing”

a positive scuba instructor would choose words that might improve performance.


Be specific, concentrate on one thing, and make it special.

For example:

Give special praise to a diver for the way that they were checking on their buddy the whole session. 

Words like:

“Wow! I’d love to dive with you sometime in the future.  The way that you were looking out for your buddy the whole time was wonderful!
I’d feel very safe diving with you!” 

We can probably see that this could make an impression on the student.

Not only would it make them feel good, but it’s very likely that they would focus even more on being attentive underwater.

positive coaching

Student Centred

Using positive coaching methods really helps your students learn quickly. 

It’s very student centred.

How to use Positive Coaching to correct problems

You’ve already probably guessed that there isn’t much point in giving positive coaching statements each and every time your student does anything at all! 

You need to be careful and use the techniques to your student’s best advantage.

However, you can use Positive Coaching techniques to help correct some mistakes. 

Improving weaknesses

For a moment let’s take the example above where we gave praise to a diver for being watchful of their buddy.  

What if that particular diver was NOT being overly attentive to their buddy?

What if that is a weakness that the positive instructor identified and decided to correct?

The diver was probably oblivious to the fact that they were not showing enough care to their buddy.

When a student diver is under instruction, there is so much going on in their minds.

They need to remember so many aspects, including the steps of skills, the order they are completed and interpreting visual signs from the members of the instructional team.

Positive Coaching

The instructor has a couple of options:

  1. Give the statement directly to the diver (even though it’s not true!)
  2. Give the statement to the buddy within earshot of the diver.

Either way, there is a good chance that the positive statement will have an effect on performance. 

Why being negative doesn't work

Have you ever noticed that it’s easier to remember the bad things that happen to us than the good?

Or that we tend to dwell on our mistakes more than our successes?

The negativity bias

This tendency is known as the negativity bias, and it’s a very real phenomenon.

The negativity bias is the idea that we’re wired to pay more attention to negative stimuli than positive stimuli.

In other words, our brains are programmed to pay more attention to bad news than good news.

 The downside of the negativity bias is that it can lead us to focus too much on the negative aspects of our lives. 

Negative stuff "sticks"

When an instructor concentrates only on negative statements, it can cause frustration and affect self esteem. 

Confidence is eroded and enthusiasm can be destroyed.

It’s been said that it takes 10 positive coaching comments to counter-act the effect that one negative comment has caused. 

How can you be a better PADI Professional?

Sign up now for my online PADI IDC Preparation Course. 
It’s full of new ideas about how to TEACH both theory and skills. 
Lots more information here: 

Last modified: 10th January 2023
Author: Steve Prior