Power play

Author, speaker and agent for social change, Kevin Carroll offers a plethora of pithy and playful prose to ponder.

Story by Kevin Carroll

If I’ve learned one thing, it is this: Circumstances don’t have to dictate one’s destiny.

Here’s how I know. My parents chose their addiction over raising their three sons. The pinnacle moment of my parents’ neglect resulted in the three of us being “rescued” by a stranger, shuttled down to a Greyhound bus station in Bowling Green, Virginia, placed on a bus alone (ages 8, 6 and 3) and sent on a 200-plus mile, one-way fare to my grandparents’ house just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Without parents in my life, I resorted to finding my life lessons from many sources: businessmen and laborers, winos and alcoholics, drug dealers and users, sport coaches, my peers and old-heads at the playground, merchants, war vets, school teachers, librarians, custodians, food service workers and other kids’ moms and dads. I learned to be constantly on the lookout for any nugget of insight that would assist me on my quest to rise above my suffering and circumstances. I spent endless hours at the neighborhood playground, where I found my calling: a red rubber ball. That red rubber ball (you know: play and sports) and Preston Playground proved to be a catalyst in my journey from a hardscrabble upbringing filled with dysfunction, upheaval and uncertainty to becoming an author, a speaker and a global change agent. Preston Playground plus school plus the public library (coupled with an unexpected and uplifting community of encouragers) were all instrumental in my effort to rise above my circumstances. I know firsthand about the transformative power and value of play and sports and how it can save and change someone’s life.

In their words: Read and heed

Consider some of my favorite quotes about the power of play and how you can incorporate play into not only the lives of children, but also into your own life.
Think about it.

  • “You can discover more about a person in one hour of play than in a year of conversation.” — Plato
  • “Play isn’t the enemy of learning, it’s learning’s partner.” — Stuart Brown, The (US) National Institute for Play
  • “Fresh air, nature and regular physical activity breaks are considered engines of learning.” — Finnish Education Philosophy
  • “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing!” — George Bernard Shaw
But then again. …  We all speak BALL

Playground Ball Red

Sport and play are common human denominators and equalizers. No matter where you go in the world — regardless of socioeconomic, political or religious system — sport and play are present. Stories abound about the use of sport and play as social innovation tools versus foes of the human condition — health, gender equity, social inclusion, homelessness, literacy, natural disaster, conflict and many others — and there are human catalysts who utilize it to inspire change and action. I support human catalysts all over the world who are using sport and play as social innovation tools. I participate with global organizations and support their efforts to advance the human condition via sport and play. I’m honored to have a platform to raise my voice and share their remarkable stories about the power of sport and play as a game changer.

So, as my grandfather used to tell me …

“Don’t talk about it. … BE about it!”

In addition to the play-related programs you already support, I suggest you explore these game-changing play and sport organizations and events to spark action:

Nickelodeon’s Worldwide Day of Play

Get Up, Get Out and Go Play! This message has resulted in thousands of events and millions of kids being active and pursuing healthy lifestyles. (Nickelodeon is a Kiwanis partner.)

Beyond Sport

This global organization promotes, supports and celebrates the use of sport to address social issues in communities around the world.

Homeless World Cup

The Homeless World Cup Foundation supports grassroots soccer/football projects around the world with the Homeless World Cup annual tournament aimed to support and develop grassroots projects that utilize the sport as a tool for social change.

One World Play Project

The unpoppable One World Futbol originally was created as a solution for kids living in harsh conditions where standard soccer balls don’t last long. Now its offshoot, One World Play Project, focuses on the transformative power of play for all.

love fútbol

love.fútbol mobilizes and engages communities to plan, build, manage, activate and redefine their own soccer/football pitches as sustainable platforms for social change.

Sports Outreach Chess Program

This Uganda-based chess and mentoring program inspired the “Queen of Katwe” book and a Disney movie.

Imagination Playground

This equipment system builds communities united by a belief in the importance of creative free play.


Playworks helps schools and districts make the most of recess through on-site staffing, consultative support, professional development and free resources. Playworks helps schools figure out what works well on their playgrounds.

So what is play? Some simple truths

I have been asking all sorts of people around the world for a while now: What is play? These answers are from friends, strangers, neighbors, celebrities, family, kids and men and women on the street I’ve met. Read them and then answer the question for yourself.

Play is …

necessary. play is tactile. play is active.

play is experiential. play is collaborative. 

play is community. play is unpredictable.

play is inventive. play is creative. 

play is hardwired. play is nimble. play is loud.

play is emotional. play is a ball. 

play is spontaneous. play is serious business. 

play is physical. play is fun. play is revealing. 

play is cultural. play is energy. play is curious. 

play is personal. play is knowledge. 

play is skill building. play is imagination. 

play is social. play is healing. play is instinctual. 

play is art. play is marvelous. play is messy. 

play is innovation. play is endless possibilities. 

play is encouraging. play is terrifying.

play is joyful. play is discovery. play is digital. play is rural.  

play is challenging. play is relaxing. play is a movement. 

play is recess for the soul. play is purposeful. 

play is the unknown. play is serious in business.

play is mistakes.  play is games.  play is freedom. 

play is resourceful.  play is wise.  play is chaos.

play is a big box.  play is untapped. play is laughter. 

play is boundless.  play is “aha!”  play is multi-sensory. 

play is primal.  play is ingenuity. play is urban. 

play is clever. play is movement. play is timeless. 

play is life-changing. play is forgotten. 

play is serious. play is global. play is soulful.

play is permissive. play is energizing. 

play is empowerment. play is strategic.  

play is a living lab.  play is problem-solving. 

play is visual.  play is genius.  

play is … 


Kevin Carroll: author, play/sport advocate and living proof of the power of play!

This story originally appeared in the April/May 2019 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

6 thoughts on “Power play

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  1. I have been a member of Kiwanis for 35 years, and recently move to the UK. I served in every position in my club in Georgia, USA, and would like to continue to serve the Children of the world through Kiwanis.
    How can I find a club near me? I live in Lynton, North Devon.

    1. I do not believe there is a club near you – Addiscombe Surrey, Brixton, Central London, Croydon, Bromley. London Southeast, Rockingham Forest, & Stamford. You can check at Kiwanis International or UK Kiwanis websites. I am not sure if they have a virtual club (on-line meetings and you provide community service you do). You could start a club in your area and Kiwanis has all of the info/tools and you may get some members of current clubs to assist. Good luck.

    2. Hi Mary, happy to hear you have been a part of the movement for so many years. I’m sure you have many great stories memories and fun. As Richard replied there aren’t any clubs in your area, let me introduce you to the Kiwanis Club of Friends Across Borders. We are an online club with our members serving in different areas over the world. Feel free to hop into our meetings to see and get a taste of how we serve and how you might just join our club. You can reach us at kcfriendsacrossborders@gmail.com.

  2. Hello I am interested in kwanis. I have read these pages. i’d like to know more about it esp. about play and kids.

  3. Jugar es un derecho universal para los niños y Kiwanis lo hace en las diferentes comunidades del mundo. Me siento orgullosa de ser parte de esta Organización Global, integrada por personas voluntarias, generosas y que trabajan en equipo para lograr el éxito de los programas y proyectos, uno de ellos fomentando el juego en sus diferentes expresiones.

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