A Lost Art – Divemaster and Instructor Candidate Mentoring

A Lost Art – Divemaster and Instructor Candidate Mentoring

Divemaster & Instructor Candidate Mentoring Thought of the Night…
By Ryan Custureri

When a student fails, their instructor fails. When the instructor fails, their instructor trainer also has failed. Unfortunately, mentorship is too often considered a checklist; not a way of development. Anybody can do skills, but fewer than most can actually Educate.

Grow and Train Divers, not statistics.


Mentoring is a true art form of itself, that dates back to who the hell knows when far before we were a thought in our great grandparents heads. A common misconception is that formal mentoring begins the day the mentee starts working under you. Effective mentoring must instead begin during the initial interview process, and by fostering skill sets that are valuable not only to their present work but also to their future careers. In our industry, I feel this is all too lost and it simply shows.

An dive instructor mentorship is not running through a list of skills over a 5-day period and saying “hey killer! great job!” Being a mentor is not always easy. At times, it may require much effort on the mentor’s part, but the benefits of a successful mentorship far exceeds these small inconveniences. This relationship becomes an investment.

A dive mentorship is having a dive master (DM) or instructor candidate (IC) WATCHING AND OBSERVING a qualified (not just certified) instructor teach actual classes (yes plural). Taking Notes, listening to the subtle nuances, and gaining knowledge. I don’t care if they have been a DM for 5 minutes, 5 years, or if they are new to a region, a dive shop, a boat operator, an independent instructor group, etc. A proper program should still be followed. Order of progression for any new student and instructor candidate (IC) for quality will typically be WATCHING, OBSERVING, LEARNING, ASKING QUESTIONS, and PROGRESSING forward to the next step.

Then we have Co-teaching. The the DM / IC begins to qualify their skillsets and fundamental understanding on new minds. Following a proper critique is necessary. Then co-Teach again. Receive feedback. Refine Technique. More Critique. EVOLVE! REPEAT! EVOLVE!

Most Instructor Development Courses teach a series skills (albeit more questionable than not) and not how to EDUCATE. Being able to educate is far different than saying DO THIS and DO THAT. Telling (lying) “Hey, Great job now go out and practice [unsupervised];” Or, “you did good now I suggest you immediately take a follow up course.” Educating takes a solid understanding and being able to explain the “WHY” of: Why are we ‘teaching’ this; WHY, we are doing; WHY something is critical vs minor; etc. This level of dedication allows the student to ask questions and build confidence.

Finally, and when ready, the Instructor Candidate teaches full classes while still being OBSERVED and supervised. In my opinion, unsupervised new instructors are being set up for pure failure. If there is an issue, what do they do? Who do they, or the student, turn to? How can the issue be resolved? The most anxious time of a new diver or professional is always the first time.

This is one of the BIGGEST issues I have with mainstream programs and dive shops when it comes to actual quality instructor training and student development. While already working with a PADI shop in 2011, I found two dive instructors (Jonathan Edwardsen and Tanya Kuck @Submerged, Inc.) that believed in the same philosophy and principles I did. They lead by demonstration, not by their ability to talk a good ‘game’ about what they ‘could’ do. They showed me the path I was currently on, and the path I envisioned myself taking. I proposed these changes as a way to remain loyal, but the existing business only saw dollars $$$ and cents $.XX; not the dangers (and stupidity) behind 2 day classes.  Alas, I hit the crossroad my mentors expressed.

Two months later, I became an instructor for Unified Team Diving (UTD) after passing a rigorous evaluation board consisting of five top instructor trainers worldwide. This was only possible under the guidance of my local instructor trainers devoting hours of helping me perfect skills. Submitting hours of videos (as required) to the board of me learning to educate. Teaching classroom materials until I felt like I could author my own book. Tackling difficult Q&A sessions knowing there will always be an overly inquisitive (wise-ass or engineer type) student. Lastly, we invested time together in the mentorship cycle… PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT, WATCH, OBSERVE, LEARN, CO-TEACH, CRITIQUES, CO-TEACH MORE, CRITIQUES, INSTRUCTORSHIP, OBSERVED, INSTRUCTOR.

I take pride in knowing that even after 9 years of diving at that point, over 1800 dives (now 5000+ though stopped counting 2 years ago) that I was being groomed for success in this industry. I now run a PROFITABLE dive business in the heart of South Florida where we have doubled revenues each year. We compete in a saturated market; however, our target market is unique and we offer a product I feel is unmatched. Most importantly, my mentors and I continue to build a community of safe divers, thinking divers, and friends. Despite the personal and professional successes, I am in a position to invest in others as was done for me.

Though there are always people that will never agree this path works for them, that is okay. Striving to be the best diver, divemaster, or instructor isn’t for everyone. Those that choose this path, will always EVOLVE from the crowd. Never apologize for the difficult path you take to achieve success. Never apologize for the thousands of hours spent in a pool perfecting even the most basic of skills. Never apologize for knowing that the level of quality and mentoring provided to new divers are among the highest standards in this industry. Last…and most importantly, as an instructor, you should ALWAYS accept the challenge to be the best.

Why? Why not, I ask?

We all know it takes $$$ to run a business, but seriously what is your time worth? What is the minimum quality of student training you are willing to accept?

Best of luck to all new Dive Masters and Instructor Candidates!

Ryan Custureri
Founder, UTD Watersports Fort Lauderdale
UTD Instructor #115

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