Carl's Tips

How to Reduce Stress in Your Students

Dive One Blues – How to reduce stress in your students

Dive one of the Open Water Course is without a doubt the most critical in the development of new divers. Even though there are minimal ‘formal’ skills on this dive, this is where your student’s opinions and subliminal attitudes towards the sport are being developed. We are going to be discussing several tips that will help you offer magical, unforgettable experiences to your students and reduce the negative outcomes that could arise from ‘Dive One blues’…

For new divers, the first open water dive is stressful. It is just the extent of stress that differs between students. Following these basic guidelines to help reduce stress in your student divers and increase their enjoyment. Doing so will help you plant the seed of success for your courses and keep you divers diving!!!

Site selection

Descend into shallow water of down a descent lineAs instructors we need to remember this and select the site of the first dive accordingly. For me the major aspect I look at when selecting a site for dive one of the course is surface conditions. Wind chop and current greatly increases your students stress prior to the dive. Starting the dive with already elevated stress levels is a true recipe for disaster. Choose a site with easy access and minimal water movement for dive one.

Building their confidence slowly in small confident steps will set a solid foundation for you to build them on later. This will help reduce risk, increase your success and keep your divers diving!

Baptisms of fire have no place in any entry level course!


Informing your students of what to expect when at the surface will dramatically reduce your students stress. If they know what is coming up, they can better prepare themselves prior to entering. If it is going to be a little choppy at the surface or a current will be present, explain to your students what to do during the briefing. Obviously let them know to keep their snorkel in and follow your directions. See Site Selection for more info on this.

Reduce surface swimming

Long surface swimming prior to or after a dive can greatly increase stress. Surface swimming will tier your divers out and adjust their breathing rates. Adjusted breathing rates can affect the CO2 levels in the body which in turn increase stress. Choose sites with close descent points for the first dive!


Eye contact

We want to keep our divers signalling OKEven though we do everything right leading up to the descent on the first dive, some students will have increase anxiety while beginning the descent and just not want to go down. If possible (best if you are lucky enough to have a DM), take a few moments, one on one to calm the diver, positioning yourself directly in front of them securing them with both of your hands on their shoulder straps. Once they are calm and relaxed, explain that you are both going to descent together and you want them to look into directly into your eyes! Begin your descent using a descent line or very shallow water, looking directly into their eyes making them watch you as you both descend. If they look away you know they have increased stress and you should halt the descent, while signalling to them to look at your eyes. If they continually look away, you know they are not ready to descend and should return to the surface. This technique really makes the student feel protected and cared for. Once on the bottom you can slowly separate yourselves and build their confidence in small gradual stages in shallow water prior to going on the tour. (I could write an entire book on this topic, so stay tuned for more info. I will post a blog soon…)

Keep them moving

During the first ten minutes of dive one, keep your divers moving. If you attempt to stop, start, stop, start during the first ten minutes of the dive you will have lots of buoyancy issues which ultimately will lead to equalising issues. (Particularly if your students float to the surface)

Here’s a quick hypothetical for you:

An instructor leading a group of dive one students swims up to an amazing soft coral. Truly one of a kind. And the instructor thinks that they all should take a close look. So he attempts to stop the group of 8 new students and points it out. WHAT DO YOU THINK HAPPENS NEXT? Well, the instructor quickly remembers that they are all on dive one and signals to the group to keep on swimming past it while looking.

Keep a close eye on the students and always watch for signs of stressKeeping your students swimming on dive one, when at environmentally sensitive areas will also stop unnecessary damage to the aquatic life. It is great to show you students amazing things, but choose your subjects and your timing carefully.
Watch for stress

Stress is the underling element of all these suggestions so far. We need to, and have to reduce stress in our divers. Dive one is ever so important because this is where stress is at its highest! Continually observe your students and watch for signs of increased stress. Once you are aware that your student is experiencing elevated stress levels, the easy job is to pin point the stressor. The hard bit is to remove and reduce the effects of the stressor. This will come with experience, but the best advice is to try different things until your actions work. Students are all different and respond differently to different stressors and different actions. So try your best and good luck!

Remember the magic!

In previous blogs I have mentioned keeping the magic alive. This is a very important aspect of teaching entry level courses. As instructors it is our duty to the students to make them amazed. Show them the magic of diving and they will be long-term customers and even friends for life!
See my previous blog called The Ocean is the minds elixir of youth… Show your students the magic! For more information on this topic

Keep smiles on all your students faces!

The most rewarding thing about being an Open Water Scuba Instructor is helping people through challenges and allowing them to fall in love with scuba. Enjoy teaching everyone, and make sure you do the best for your students. Following these basic guidelines will keep them coming back again and again.


Learn these and more Techniques from Carl Fallon (Platinum Course Director) during you PADI Instructor Development Course (IDC)



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