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Teachable kids and kayaks

I recently interviewed a dear friend and remarkable Australian, Dan Collins, for my next book.


Dan is a four-time Olympian and an Olympic medalist in kayaking. He knows a little about exemplary performance and he has a passion for young people reaching their potential too. Dan threw a rather large gauntlet at my feet – to make the next generation of Australian kids the most teachable we’ve produced yet. Yeah, thanks Dan!


Dan’s theory is that this requires building kids who are more comfortable with discomfort. Essentially, he reckons that kids who become more comfortable with the discomfort of learning, progress, relationships and feedback can be taught anything.


Dan recalled a particular story about giving and receiving feedback with his kayaking team and coaches at training:


When I got back in the car to travel home, Dad seemed distant and reserved. When I asked him if everything was okay, he initially said nothing, and then when I pressed him, what he said to me was quite a shock. He said, “I’m disappointed that you are so mean and harsh with each other in the way you communicate.”


What Dad was witnessing was the blunt and forceful demands between three men searching for the very best in each other so that we could perform to the highest level.

But what sat underneath those blunt demands was deep trust and care for each other, which had been built through thousands of hours of toil and suffering together. Trust was high, emotional safety was high, so therefore, we communicated in a way that demanded what was required in the moment. There was a total focus on what needed to be done to improve performance. And because of the commitment to that, anything else became unneeded emotional baggage.


To me, Dan seems to be throwing a rock at the notion of ‘relationships before rigour. I think Dan wants ‘relationships for rigour’, and not as a prerequisite for effort and risk.


I also think Dan has a point about our students knowing that school is for the intoxicating thrill of getting better at stuff, no matter what.


Keep fighting that good fight,



PS. Want to experience that intoxicating thrill and get better at your stuff too? Join me and learn how to apply restorative practices for accelerated student growth and learning.

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