FFF Certification

FFF Casting Instructor Certification
What’s it about…What’s required, and Why?
By Jim Valle,    
The Federation of Fly Fishers has very high standard of excellence in its fly casting instructors. Our reputation is our strength and if a casting instructor candidate keeps that in mind it’s a little easier to understand our methods.
FFF casting instructors are first and foremost teachers. We enjoy sharing the knowledge we have been privileged to acquire, lots of it from our own teachers and mentors within the program. That’s what’s in it for each of us! The camaraderie and sharing about every facet of fly fishing.
From that point of view I would prefer to “Teach rather than Test” our candidates. After all, our goal is… to produce well informed fly casting instructors who are not only able to cast well but most importantly to Teach Well! That includes communication, one on one and one to a group …public speaking, insight from “Real Understanding”, empathy for the student(s), and what you may not understand at first but the ability and willingness to Learn from your students. A never ending quest to learn… each and every thought and question has the potential to lift your thinking to the next plateau, and it never stops. Actually an amazing process! However at some point there has to be a line which separates the “best from the rest”, measures ability against a fair standard …and thus the testing. The Federation simply can not issue the Instructor’s Badge to a candidate that has not yet achieved the casting and teaching skills necessary to maintain the standard. (Certification is also intended to be a learning process, keep that in your perspective) So let’s take a look at the test and begin to understand the requirements. Keep in mind this is about teaching ability.
Teaching is the ability to communicate concepts and skills to a student, in a way that particular student understands.. Let’s consider the student’s viewpoint. A new caster will look to you the FFF instructor as the authority, the one who has the experience and knowledge to answer all the basic casting or fly fishing questions… not some or a few… all the questions! (Even the ones they don’t know to ask yet.)  So first and foremost you must have real fly fishing experience, time spent at one end of the rod and a good understanding of all that happens between you and the end of the line, a solid foundation of how and why things work the way they do. Ever had a teacher that couldn’t answer your questions?       H…mm! Doesn’t work too well does it?
If you think about it the process of teaching a new caster the basic moves necessary to make a decent cast you start by showing…the demonstration, then add a little explanation…the telling and then what? Obviously it can’t end here. Even if everything you said or did was perfect… the student hasn’t really learned anything yet. It isn’t theirs until they have time to try it, experiment, get the “feel of it”. They need time to do it themselves… that’s the only way it becomes their cast and it’s “their cast” we are concerned about! Think about it! The best caster with the absolutely best explanation hasn’t really taught anything yet, because his student hasn’t learned it yet! “Teaching quality is not measured by the teacher; it’s measured by the student!”
So let’s move on and consider your first lesson with a New Caster… What’s it going to be, what are you going to cover and in what order? How many students can you handle effectively in one class? Have you planned your time? How long is the lesson? How much for demonstration and how much will be allocated to student casting? What are the most common casting errors you will anticipate? Suppose a more experienced caster asks for a double haul or distance lesson? What’s your approach?
Are you starting to see the point, a good instructor must have a plan, and it must be your plan, one that fits your teaching style. We want you to be well prepared for all of this. The certification process is our lesson plan to expose you to the various approaches of other great teachers. Our intention is to ensure you are prepared and will conduct a solid lesson no matter what the circumstance. So how do you develop your own lesson plans? Read, teach, observe and work at it! What are the bare bones essentials of a lesson plan? First understand communication methods…visual, auditory and kinesthetic. The first part would include something like:
State the Objective of the lesson
Explain Why this particular skill is necessary
Demonstrate (briefly)
Questions and Answers
Student Casting
Ok you have the beginning of a lesson plan and you have demonstrated…now your student starts casting. What do you do, close your eyes? No of course not, but where is your attention? Well you have a choice to make. You can watch their feet,…hand …wrist and forearm,… the rod, the target… or the line. You must have a basic understanding of the mechanics involved here. With that knowledge you will know where and what to look for. You now must adapt to each individual student’s needs. Make a note; all students learn differently, they each have their own style of learning just like a casting style. This will be your professional challenge.
Ok you have identified a problem, maybe even a few problems…where do you go from here? Going to correct everything at once? Where’s your priority? Why?
Now can you very slowly demonstrate the error? This is a key element of good instruction. The new caster must use all of his senses to learn. It is common for a student’s mind to be totally convinced they did exactly what you described when in reality is was quite different. Getting the muscles and mind synchronized sometimes requires a little adjustment. So you must demonstrate the problem… the wrong way, and then the correction. (Now, you are teaching!) So the rest of the lesson plan must include:
Analysis and Adjustment
Student Practice of the Adjustment
You’re starting to get the idea. It takes Knowledge and then Understanding of a subject to teach it well. You must be ready, willing and able to be comfortable with your students and their questions in order to be effective, thus the standards. From experience we know what you are going to be asked and in order to represent the Federation you must be well prepared. 
In general terms let’s take a look at the subject matter your students can reasonably expect from a Casting Instructor. Most of which is included in the first few minutes lesson scenario above. The general areas you must be comfortable with include:
The Essential Elements of any cast, including
Rod loading and unloading
Rod tip paths
Loop shapes and sizes
Line control
Fly line nomenclature, types, weights, density and sink rates,
Leaders, tippets and fly’s
Casts and/or mends and their uses
Slack Line,
Slow, Medium and Fast casting
Common Casting Problems and Cures
Casting techniques/applications
Sinking lines
Single and Double Hauls
Knots in the casting system and where each is appropriate.
Where do you find all this information? The answer is simple… The Recommended Reading and Video list on the Federation website. It is almost impossible to pass the certification process without understanding the recommended reading. You must know and understand this material! Your students will ask all the questions about all these topics, and they deserve a knowledgeable instructor. Good teachers don’t walk out of the wilderness and begin teaching; they themselves are continuing to study and learn from the experts. All of the above is just the beginning of your education. One thing is for sure, as your casting and knowledge increase so will your fishing success!
As far as the performance portion of the exam, this is really a field application of what you already know. Certainly it is about the ability to make the casts properly and when necessary to demonstrate the problem. More importantly it is about your teaching ability which should be as simple and straight forward as possible. Rehearse this until it is second nature, teachers that stumble don’t know their subject matter well enough.
I hope this will give each CI Candidate a good guideline as to the Federation Certification Process, Expectations and Why! If any candidate has questions I urge you to ask, seek out others that have been through the experience. The Federation is a teaching and sharing organization at every level. Seek out other Certified Instructors and Masters I guarantee you will find the dedication and willingness.  
Teach, Learn and Teach some more. Experience smoothes out the Understanding and Understanding is the Key to Teaching!
Then you will attend a Conclave!
FFF Conclaves … There is Nothing Like it, Anywhere!
  For more information on the Certification Process and the next Conclave please check out   www.fedflyfishers.org if you have any questions please email me I am always eager to help new instructors.