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A ball can change a life

3 min read


Miri Zena McDonald attended the 2012 International Association of Business Communicators World Conference in Chicago and is providing coverage for SmartBrief’s SmartBlog on Leadership. She tweets @mirimcdonald.

Author Kevin Carroll stood before the audience with a big metal trunk behind him and a red rubber ball peeking out of it. “A red rubber ball changed my life.”

At 6 years old, Carroll and his brothers, ages 8 and 3, were left in a trailer by his addict mother (the dad, an addict, was no longer in the picture), with a promise of return in a few hours. Five days later, he told a stranger they were left alone. They were rescued by their grandparents, who ended up raising them.

That same day, Carroll asked to go to a playground. He found a red rubber ball and was kicking it around, only to realize he had an audience of neighborhood boys who wanted to join in the game. They said, “Hey, you want to play with us, kid?” For the first time, Carroll felt a sense of connection, identify and belonging.

This red rubber ball became Carroll’s calling. “The two most important days in a person’s life are the day they are born and the day they find their why. What’s your why?”

Carroll went on to create a career around the red rubber ball, becoming an athletic trainer at the high school and collegiate levels, head athletic trainer for the Philadelphia 76ers, a creative change agent at Nike and then creating his own company, Kevin Carroll Katalyst/LLC, to elevate the power of sport and play around the world.

Carroll cited scientists and innovators who pointed to play when asked what helped them with their breakthrough research. It is in these moments, when we provide the brain with a state of joy and flow, that we can be creative. Play is a universal language. It helps us connect with each other and collaborate towards a common goal. It helps us break down barriers across cultures and gives us joy.

Carroll challenged the audience to think about how they replenished their energy, urging them to find a muse — if not a ball, some other type of play that allows for a different way of thinking and seeing the world. A way to provide “sustenance for your creative soul.”

Carroll’s session came to a fitting end with this reminder about what it takes to achieve your dreams: “Achieving dreams takes Dedication, Responsibility, Education, Attitude and Motivation.”