Positive Coaching: The PADI Instructor's secret weapon

Numerous studies show that positive coaching has a profound impact when it comes to learning new skills.

When instructors take time to focus on their divers’ strengths and praise their successes, both large and small, it can boost  confidence and encourage them to keep striving for excellence. 

Be a Positive Scuba Instructor

You’ve met many PADI Professionals in the past. 

Have you ever noticed their teaching styles? 

Which catagory do you think that you fit in? 

The Military Instructor

Barks orders at people

Gets angry if students are a bit slow

Teaches every course the same way

The Happy Instructor

Always smiling

Constantly says “Good job” or “Well done” 

Giggles a lot

The Negative Instructor

Always looking to correct things

Never acknowledges success

Says “That was OK – BUT…”

The Complex Instructor

Always over complicates instructions

Uses 20 words when 5 will do

Spends ages on briefings and demonstrations

The Power of Positive Coaching

The benefits of positive coaching are well-documented, yet its impact goes beyond the numbers.

Positive coaching creates a positive feedback loop that not only benefits the diving student, but also the instructor and the whole teaching team.

When divers feel appreciated and supported, they naturally invest more in their training and performance.

This in turn leads to better results, which reinforces the positive coaching approach.

The cycle then repeats itself, creating an upward spiral of success. 

On the other hand, negative coaching can create a downward spiral of frustration and failure. 

This is why positive coaching is such an important part of any successful scuba training program. 

What is Positive Coaching?

Positive coaching is a form of coaching that builds on people’s strengths, rather than focusing on their weaknesses. 

The theory behind this technique is that by emphasizing positive qualities, every diver has the potential to improve and succeed.

They will be more likely reach their full potential quicker, easier and with more enjoyment. 

Positive coaching also recognizes the importance of emotional support during the training process.

Positive scuba instructors take time to connect with their students and understand what motivates them.

This allows them to provide the specific type of support that each and every student needs in order to succeed.

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. 

Positive Coaching in training

When teaching in confined water, instructors can focus on particular strengths when giving confined water briefings and confined water debriefings. 

Students gain valuable development traits, like ownership, confidence, and self esteem.

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