A primer for Scuba Diving International and Technical Diving International instructor candidates
Just as every dive should begin with a discussion about what’s planned, every dive should finish with all the team sitting together talking over how the dive went. A Dive Debrief is an important part of a systematic approach to building personal experience and strengthening bonds within a buddy team. For a dive leader whose job is to help students to get the most out of their training and experience dives, debriefings are an important, AND required part of the curriculum. But how do you run one?
In the simplest possible terms, a debriefing allows every participant to discuss openly what they expected from the dive, whether those expectations were met or exceeded, what they learned, and what they will do differently on their next dive.
It’s also a time for each diver to talk openly about how they felt during each segment of the dive, and if anything stressed them or made them uncomfortable. Lastly, it’s a forum to discuss both positives and negatives about the team dynamics.
As the instructor, your job is to make sure all these topics are brought up and talked about openly, and constructively. Most of the time, this is not a challenge. There are just a few cardinal rules to help keep debriefings on track.
This is a fun pastime. It carries real risks, and those always need to be addressed fully, but your students dive for fun. They are not being trained to swim into the middle of a war zone for a black ops mission, so keep it light. Never, never lose your temper with a student. Remember, they asked you to help with their education because they knew they lacked something. And in the final analysis, sometimes you have to put in a little extra effort to make a difference.
Almost without exception, do not air your opinions until everyone else has finished. Move the conversation along but give everyone an equal opportunity to express themselves. And when they are done, share your assessment of the dive and their performance with them in a professional manner working logically from the start of the dive – gearing up – until everyone was back on the surface, out of their gear and sitting around for the debriefing. It will help make your recall of the dive better and help with your debriefing if you break the dive up into bite-sized slices and mark each with a specific waypoint: doing bubble check, reaching target depth, etc, etc.
Start the debrief by asking each student to share their broad overview of the dive. What did they expect to happen and what did happen? This is extremely telling when the goal of a dive is to execute a list of drills that students are attempting for the first time. Regardless of how poorly they did or how negatively they feel about their performance, try to get them to end their overview with something positive. One student who had everything that could possibly go wrong on a skills dive go horribly wrong, looked gutted when we surfaced. He had gone through more than 70 minutes of misery with less than perfect coordination. I asked him to kickoff the debrief and at the end of his introduction, he said: “The good thing is that we made it back and nobody is lying prone breathing oxygen, so the team did OK didn’t we.” This broke the group up and defused what could have been a really tense situation. Humor is a good thing!
Once overviews are finished, pick one student to talk through the dive from pre-dive checks to surfacing. Prompt them to recall details of each phase of the dive and at each step, ask the rest of the group to comment. (This works best with no more than four students.) Ask if anyone has anything to add. Find out how they felt at each waypoint. Ask what they found challenging, and what was easy. If someone made a mistake and points it out themselves, immediately ask them what the fix is. Have other team members confirm the remedy is the right one… or at least one of the right ones. Encourage positive, constructive criticism. Suggest a better solution if one exists, suggest alternatives when they exist.
Finally, ask each person in turn what they learned from the dive. Have them focus in particular on any positive reinforcement for any core skills specific to the course: air sharing, valve drills, buoyancy control, etc. And have each team member suggest ways to make the team dynamic more solid. One thing that I notice often with technical teams (three divers) is that when one diver has a ‘simulated’ emergency, one buddy will help while the other “stands around with his hands in his pockets.” Encourage teams to work as a team.
When this is over, work through your debriefing. If someone made a mistake that was missed, now is the time to mention it. Be direct. Be unemotional. Be professional. When you mention a negative, follow it with a suggestion about how best to fix the situation. Take the time to explain why things need to be fixed and how to improve a skill or do it better next time.
Running a good debriefing does take a little extra effort, but following a simple plan (segmenting the dive in your own mind, letting students work through the debrief process first, keeping the mood light and focused, using positive reinforcement, and suggesting alternatives when they exist) will result in better results and happier students.
A good friend suggested adding a example checklist to this document. He said he likes, “to use a written checklist for briefings, and then use the same checklist for the debrief.”
The checklist may be simple or complex, depending on the dive, but the essential elements are –
Overall dive objectives:
Depth & deco schedule:
He explained that by using the same checklist for the debrief that was used for the dive brief, there’s a double benefit. You make sure every element that was briefed gets debriefed, and deficiencies in the brief can be used to modify future briefs/debriefs.