Analysis and reflection as learning tools.

The ignoring by celebration of successes and the paralysis paradigm of failure

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same

Yours is the world and everything that’s in it…..

If – Kipling

In my time I’ve been head coach and assistant coach to pro, semi pro and national league rugby teams as well as the Irish Women’s team. I’ve been a sports psychologist and an advisor on performance and setting performance environments in Rugby, Goof, Motorcycle racing, rally driving and many other professional and Olympic sports. I’m now a technical diving instructor as well. Why the mini CV, well, I’ve seen a few things develop over that time and I want to try and get some balance back.

Technology, especially affordable, go anywhere, tiny camera digital video has made a fantastic difference to the work we can do as coaches, instructors and the development potential for athletes and students.

Skills development wise the quality and immediacy of feedback is astonishing. We can use programmes like Quintic and Dartfish for deeper movement analysis and to illustrate the points we as coaches or instructors want to make. Tactically or technically we can look at cue utilisation, pattern recognition, learning styles etc. It’s pretty incredible. The thing is, even with all these tools, we’re only really doing half a job!

The same is all too often true in analysing other sports I’ve been involved in. When something goes wrong we will spend hours on analysis, working out what the glitch or anomaly was, tackling the error chain, fixing the problem and then, in the training session, change the behaviours or the participants until the problem and failure is eradicated or controlled. But… When we succeed or win, we go celebrate, chalk it up to great preparation, amazing talent, luck… Whatever attribution we want to use, but sure as eggs are eggs, we don’t apply the same effort and detailed analysis to working out what went right, how did we succeed that time, what factors and behaviours should be repeated, practiced until second nature, or were we just lucky this time?

Success is not final
Failure is not fatal
It is the courage to continue that counts

Winston Churchill

The number of non divers or recreational divers I meet who tell me they couldn’t possibly consider deep Rebreather diving or cave diving, both of which I love, is amazing. They tell me I’m brave or sometimes they tell me I’m stupid, who knows, they are both probably right. But, what gives me the courage to do those dives is knowing that I’ve been meticulously trained by the best instructors I could find. That I’ve practiced and rehearsed the skills they imparted to me regularly. That I have analysed and reflected on every dive I have done, good or bad, I even have a custom made logbook with specific space on the page where I can record things about where I need to improve.

So, what do I reflect on? There’s the obvious, dive executed versus plan, but that’s really a success v failure measure. All team back fit and well. Again that’s the key success measure. No, there’s more meaningful things to reflect on. Schon who was a big researcher on reflective practice in coaching suggests we should reflect in action and on action. Kabat-Zinn proposes we would be enhanced as coaches and people by practicing mindfulness. Being aware of our thoughts and emotions here and now, in the present. So, reflection doesn’t start after the dive or the event, it starts in the dive by becoming aware and noting how we feel and are thinking in the dive. Only then can we get greater value on our post dive reflections or analysis. My preference is to use some simple cognitive behavioural techniques to enhance reflections in and on action, but it’s worth exploring others, CB approaches suit my own thinking style well.

Specifically then, reflect on the thoughts, feelings and actions from the moment you started preparing for the dive, until the kit was washed and put away. Be mindful of what triggered these thoughts and feelings. Were there distractions? Breathtaking scenery, amazing cave formations, slight kit issues, discomfort, needing to pee etc. Were there things you did that enhanced your connection to the dive, the sense of being aware and connected and fully in control. How did the behaviours and mood of others around you impact upon you. How was your preparation in the previous 24 hours, sleep, travel, diet, hydration, mental imagery of the dive, planning and review, mission clarity, research on the conditions.

Account for and be honest about luck. If you exceeded the limits of training or experience you were lucky. If you’ve not had the training to understand why, meaningful reflection will be hard. A few weeks ago I was chatting to a very good diver who’d just completed extended range with a 55m dive on air. The dive was done in the company of 4 other very experienced divers including two tech instructors to meet training standards and to provide the diver with the experience. They wanted to do another deep air dive for fun. I asked the usual questions, O2 tox, what about narcosis, especially if there was stress etc, the diver felt these were no issue to them. They wanted to save money on trimix. I asked about gas density issues. I was met with a blank look. Fair enough I suppose, that’s not really on the training agency curriculums until advanced trimix. The thing is, the diver didn’t know what they didn’t know about all the risks of deep air diving and pretty much based the risk assessment on O2 toxicity and narcosis. They might enjoy a long diving career doing deep air dives and saving helium costs for years, blissful in the ignorance. But for me, if they do
50 deep air dives without incident, they will have been very very lucky.

Think not just of the what, but also the how and why. But please, invest as much time in the great dives, where all went perfectly, as in the dives where the whirrly thing got hit by the soft and smelly.

A safe and awesome dive was never achieved in a day. Nor will 5000 dives be any guarantee unless they have been meaningful dives and you have reflected on and learnt from each one. Every dive has something to teach us and the positive lessons are more fun than the negative, more enjoyable to analyse and reflect on, and will reinforce great thoughts, habit and feelings that will make our diving more fun and much safer.