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Mastery of CCR Diving is a Series of Baby Steps! Written By A Technical Diver/Instructor - Mr Randy Thornton (Sub Gravity)

First of all, let me start by saying that much of what I will be sharing over the next several weeks is not new or unique. You will have probably heard or read much of this before! Perhaps it will be organized in such a way that it hopefully resonates with you or maybe you just need a good reminder!

Please keep in mind, that CCR training is in a constant state of flux. New units, new techniques, new technology and a deeper understanding of the physiology and the science behind diving, contributes to a very fluid educational environment. This is exciting however, and means that as we strive to increase our knowledge base and equally important, work diligently to master the corresponding skills associated with these changes, we hopefully work towards a safer CCR diving experience.

One of the biggest hurdles for new CCR divers, instructors and ITs is that of impatience. Most new CCR divers come from an open circuit technical diving background where they many times have been performing advanced technical dives. The decision to pursue CCR training is often associated with a desire to take their diving to the next level. It is often quite difficult for new CCR divers to accept the fact that they will need to be starting over in their progression. Skills, procedures and responses to various emergency scenarios are many times NOT the same as OC diving. New CCR divers need to understand and ackowledge that in order to develop and internalize safe diving practices, they will need to move slowly and methodically through their mastery process.

Instructors and ITs need to understand and accept the fact that their students need a slow and methodical approach to mastery and internalization of skills. Instructors and ITs who simply demonstrate a skill once (or even worse, who just talk about a skill) have the student perform it once, check it off the list and then move on to the next skill, are not helping students truly learn and retain the ability to perform this skill when it really counts. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have had students show up for CCR Trimix, Advanced Trimix or CCR Cave courses who did not have a true understanding or mastery of rudimentary CCR skills and responses. It is often difficult to know whether the problem lies with the student or with the instructor or some combination of both, but as a community, WE HAVE A PROBLEM! To think that a diver will somehow rise to the occasion when a crisis hits is simply wishful thinking. Divers perform at the level of their training and mastery. Adding stress does not improve one’s ability to perform.

It is critical, that during training, skills are demonstrated by the instructor, using the same equipment as the student, and then have the student perform the skills multiple times throughout the training so that through repetition of correct procedures, the student starts to develop muscle memory. I like to tell my students that we are developing “thinking divers”, but it is very difficult for a diver to stop and calmly “think” about the appropriate response when they are uncomfortable performing the associated skills. We should not be looking to just put a check on a checklist, but should be focusing on allowing students to have the opportunity through repeated practice to demonstrate familiarity and mastery of life saving CCR skills. We may need to stop and think for a few seconds about the appropriate response, but we should never have to stop and think about how to perform the response once we’ve made a decision about which response is appropriate. Instructors, please make sure students understand why they are doing specific skills and then drill, drill, drill and then drill some more. As Vince Lombardi once said, “Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect”. As a student, if you are uncomfortable with a specific skill or response, please ask your instructor to spend more time with you on it! They probably already recognize that you are struggling with some particular skill, but don’t hesitate to speak up and request additional time working on those areas that you feel are lacking.

As CCR divers, we need to have the self-discipline to take things slow and easy once we are out of class. I will never forget the frustration I felt when a brand newly minted CCR diver had just finished my class and then went out and performed a 100 meter dive the next weekend. I had another student who finished up his CCR Cave class and the very next day got his DPV and rode it back to the Henkle in Ginnie Springs (3000 feet from the entrance). Somehow, I had failed to instill an appreciation in these students that baby steps are necessary as we slowly and consistently practice and internalize rudimentary skills to progress towards more advanced CCR diving. (Believe me, we had a very heated discussion in both instances afterwards!) This is part of the reason why I am so opposed to accelerated CCR diver and instructor level courses.

It sends the wrong message to students and does not help to instill an appreciation for regular, consistent practice over a long period. Just like learning a musical instrument, a foreign language, or mathematics requires TIME, and regular consistent practice, learning and progressing on CCR is most effective when practiced in the same manner. There really is no way to fast track this. This doesn’t mean that only old men can be proficient CCR divers and instructors. 

Far from it in fact! What it does mean is that it takes self-discipline and a commitment to slow progression. It’s not a race! Enjoy the journey!

More to come! Stay tuned!

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