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From Kanye West to Currumbin Eagles: Coach takes out June's Ned Australian Whisky award

From leading director of fashion shows in New York to Currumbin Eagles junior coach on a mission to “develop better humans”.

It is quite a contrast in roles, but Kannon Rajah puts his whole heart and soul into everything he does. 

Rajah is a creative director and has produced fashion shows and special projects worldwide.

His clients have included Victoria’s Secret, Kanye West, Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Versace and Fendi.

Now, he is living on the Gold Coast and is the Currumbin Eagles under 8 coach, the coaching coordinator for the under 6s to 12s, and the under 15s co-coach.

It is this dedication that has seen Rajah take out the Queensland Rugby League's Ned Australian Whisky Community Coach for the month of June.

Currumbin Eagles coach Kannon Rajah with Kalyn Ponga.
Currumbin Eagles coach Kannon Rajah with Kalyn Ponga.

“I lived in New York for 15 years and directed fashion shows there. I have retired from that life now, but whatever I do I want it to be the best, and with junior footy there is a lot our clubs and coaches must do better,” Rajah said.

“Our aim at Currumbin is to provide kids with a fun, inclusive and positive environment and our focus is on development, not winning. 

“We want to build kids up, not break them down. We want to build better humans and better communities.”

Rajah created the ‘Captain Kevie Awesome Effort Award’ (formerly Kalyn’s Fair Play Award) for one player from the Currumbin side and one from the opposition, named in honour of Titans forward Kevin Proctor who is a Currumbin junior and former Titans captain.

Under 8s: Currumbin Red and Mudgeeraba Black after exchanging awards.
Under 8s: Currumbin Red and Mudgeeraba Black after exchanging awards.

The award, given to players from under 6s to under 10s, is designed to “promote and encourage a sense of community and kinship between both teams playing”.

Rajah said the award brought the players, coaches and parents together from both sides and reinforced that it is how you play the game, not winning or losing, that counts the most.

“I wanted to promote the sense that once the kids were out on the field, that they are all our kids and all united through our love of footy, not divided by the colour of our jersey,” Rajah said.

“At the conclusion of each match when the two teams come together to shake hands and give the ref three cheers, we head over to the parents and do a joint award presentation. 

“The coaches from each team will select and present one player from the opposition side who they believe embodies the true essence of the game: effort, fair play, improvement, involvement and respect for both the opposition and the referee.”

NRL player Tom Burgess meets the Currumbin Eagles under 7s team.
NRL player Tom Burgess meets the Currumbin Eagles under 7s team.

Rajah is close to a wide cross-section of NRL players and gets them to send out video messages to the club’s juniors in a What’s App group chat.

They include good luck messages and other personal messages congratulating individual players for good sportsmanship, improvement and outstanding achievement.

The juniors have received videos from NRL players across just about every club, including Maroons stars such as Rajah’s close friend Kalyn Ponga and Kurt Capewell.

Kalyn Ponga gives the Currumbin Eagles a shout out

Rajah started playing his junior footy at Burwood United and went to school with former international Craig Wing, who he played with in the South Sydney juniors.

Rajah played with Souths at Harold Matthews and SG Ball level.

“I am also a critical friend to a couple of NRL coaches, to Adam O’Brien and Anthony Seibold when he was coaching, and I do mentor a couple of NRL boys as well,” Rajah said.

“A few of the NRL boys and coaches would come over to New York and I would introduce them to a variety of elite teams like the Philadelphia Eagles, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks and Golden State Warriors for their personal development.

“A critical friend role is where you are not inside the organisation, but giving your point of view from an outside perspective.”

Kurt Capewell gives the Currumbin Eagles a shout out

Last year, the Currumbin under 15s came sixth and this year they are at the top of the ladder, with four of the players lining up in the national titles for Queensland.

Their progress is a result of a philosophy that puts the person first, while also developing skills.

“You can do so much with kids if you get the right mentors around them and give them confidence. That is our role as coaches,” Rajah said.

“I love developing better humans really, and with kids that is what we are trying to do first and foremost. The footy will come.

“It is important to give parents and kids clarity and confidence. Every week my parents will know what kids are playing in what positions, and I just rotate it.

“We know that an over-competitive, non-inclusive and win-at-all costs approach plays a significant role in kids leaving the game. Fun, enjoyment and fair game time are things us coaches directly influence, and play a major role in whether kids come back next season. This is the only metric that matters, not winning games.”

To nominate a volunteer or club for the QRL's 2022 community awards, click here.

Main image: Kannon Rajah and NRL player Tom Burgess talk to Currumbin Eagles players.

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