The Red Rubber Ball: Passion and Creativity
Kevin is the author of three highly successful books. He has helped turn creative ideas into reality for many organizations such as Starbucks, Walt Disney, Nike, and Mattel. Kevin has dedicated his life to advancing education, sports and play as a vehicle for social change and success.
Tell us about the red rubber ball: how did it inspire you and what has it come to represent?
My parents chose their addiction over raising three sons. We were “rescued” by a stranger, shuttled down to a Greyhound bus station in Bowling Green, Virginia, placed on a bus alone (ages eight, six, and three) and sent on a 200-plus mile, one-way fare to my grandparents’ house just outside Philadelphia. 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 oldheads at the playground, merchants, war vets, school teachers, librarians, custodians, food service workers, 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—my symbol for sports and play—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 + school + the public library (coupled with an unexpected + 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 sports and play, and how a “ball” can save/change someone’s life. I believe that the “red rubber ball” is an activity that inspires us, brings us joy and fuels our imagination to dream big! Discovering your “red rubber ball” sparks you to make a commitment to chase and pursue it for a lifetime. Take a moment and think back to your childhood and to the years dominated by playtime, exploration, curiosity and investigating anything and everything. There were endless hours to fill, and the only agenda was to be captivated in the moment, to have fun and thoroughly enjoy the day. Ask yourself: What brought me joy? What inspired me? What did I find irresistible and tickled my brain? When you participated in moments/activities that answered those questions, you were enjoying your red rubber ball. You found ways to be around that primal source of joy.
Your red rubber ball inspires you to tap into a seemingly endless supply of energy, cleverness, resourcefulness and creative agility. When that happens, your work is always your play! (“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play.” James Michener)
Jewish day schools are places that take study seriously, and the school day is typically filled with classes from a dual curriculum, half general studies and half Hebrew/Jewish studies. How can teachers and administrators keep their eyes on the importance of play and creativity while engaging in study?
A plethora of play research is available about why play and recess are catalysts for academic success. In my own life and in the many schools I’ve been involved with, I’ve witnessed how movement/play/recess serves as a catalyst for academic and professional success. Here are a few articles that discuss the research findings:
“The Secret to Saving American Education Is Something Kids Have Been Doing for Centuries,” Business Insider, April 26, 2016
“A Research-Based Case for Recess,” US Play Coalition, November 2013
“How Finland Keeps Kids Focused Through Free Play,” The Atlantic, June 30, 2014
“Sport for All, Play for Life,” The Aspen Institute Project Play
How can adults and teachers take steps to incorporate a mindset of play, and how does this help?
Nurture your neoteny. I heard the term neoteny used several years ago by Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play and author of the book entitled Play. He shared with me some of the research explaining that in most species there are “adult-aged” members who retain youthful traits and behavior. As Dr. Brown put it, “Neoteny is the state or attitude of perpetual immaturity and playfulness.”
In an article in The New York Times Magazine, Dr. Bruce Charlton shares his research on the value of a youthful state of mind for adults in the 21st century. He hypothesizes that the demands of the 21st century, such as embracing technological advances and dealing with the uncertainty of business and personal situations, especially change, require adults to take a much more teenlike approach (be more adaptable, malleable, open to new things, etc.), what he calls “psychological neotony.” I believe the concept of neoteny provides adults and teachers with scientific insight for the importance of play and fun. We should not to marginalize them to a weekend or holiday/vacation pursuit. The “kid within us all” needs to be given permission to have fun regularly—especially in the workplace—and celebrate play’s big purpose throughout our entire life.
What’s new in 2017?
I will continue to do my level best to assist in advancing the human condition in a positive manner via sport, play, education. I’m currently workshopping a theatrical production of a one-man show (inspired by Billy Crystal’s 700 Sundays and August Wilson’s How I Learned What I Learned). I’m continuing to work on my family and writing a children’s inspirational book, I Have A Wonder... 13 Bedtime Stories to Live By. Game on!