Kevin Carroll: Play Is Serious Business!

Kevin Carroll‘s parents chose their addiction over raising three sons. The pinnacle moment of their neglect resulted in the three boys (ages eight, six, and three) being “rescued” by a stranger, shuttled to a bus station, placed on a bus alone, and sent on a 200-mile, one-way fare to their grandparents’ house in Philadelphia.

Without parents in his life, Kevin resorted to finding life lessons from many sources: businessmen and laborers, winos and alcoholics, drug dealers and users, sports coaches, peers and old-heads at the playground, merchants, war vets, schoolteachers, librarians, custodians, food service workers, and other kids’ moms and dads.

Kevin learned to be constantly on the lookout for any nugget of insight or wisdom that would assist him on his quest to rise above his suffering and circumstances. Turning ideas into reality became his focus, and “I’ll show YOU!” became his daily mantra.

Kevin spent endless hours at the neighborhood playground, school, and public library, which all became his sanctuaries. Finding a way to rise above his circumstances and not let them dictate his destiny was his constant motivation. Kevin found a way to transform his journey from abandonment, dysfunction, and uncertainty to success and a lifelong pursuit of significance.

After serving in the Air Force for ten years and earning a college degree, Kevin became an athletic trainer at the high school and collegiate levels in Philadelphia. His expertise in sports performance was recognized and led to a dream job as the head athletic trainer for the Philadelphia 76ers in 1995, making him the third African American athletic trainer in the history of the NBA.

While at the 76ers, an unexpected verbal altercation gained the attention of Nike and led to an opportunity to bring his unique and diverse experiences to the sneaker giant in 1997. Although no job “officially” existed at the time, Nike executives directed Kevin to create a position at the company that would add value to the overall mission of the brand. He stayed for seven years as the “Kat-alyst” (the K is for Kevin)-a creative change agent who helped the company develop a deeper understanding of athletic product performance, team dynamics and interpersonal communication.

Kevin left Nike in 2004 to create his own company, Kevin Carroll Katalyst, committed to elevating the power of sport and play around the world.

Kevin is the author of four highly successful books published by ESPN, Disney Press, McGraw-Hill, and A Kids Book About. He has helped turn creative ideas into reality for organizations such as Nike, Starbucks, Adidas, Walt Disney, Target, Proctor and Gamble, Google, Columbia Sportswear, Mattel, the National Basketball Association, and many others.

Kevin has dedicated his life to advancing education, sports, and play as a vehicle for social change and success. He addressed the United Nations as part of the UN Year of Sports for Development and Peace in 2005 and has remained an ongoing advisor and active supporter for many global social innovation organizations. Success magazine named Kevin one of 19 “SEERS: Changing the World!”

Interviewed by Winn Claybaugh, Kevin shares the story of his parents’ neglect and the life lessons he learned from a wide variety of other sources. Kevin’s topics include the power of sports, grit, resilience, belonging, community, curiosity, and so much more.



TEDxVancouver: Kevin Carroll, 11/21/09: