03/14/2013 12:10 EDT | Updated 05/14/2013 05:12 EDT

Seattle Seahawks' Coach Pete Carroll Has a Game Plan for LA's Kids

In a unique take on daily news hits, Free The Children co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger go behind the headlines to explore how the stories you read are connected to the causes you care about. You'll never read the news in the same way again.

Americans take their football pretty seriously. Sports rivalries are extreme, rituals followed with devotion, even at the college level. Don't confuse USC with UCLA. We learned that the hard way.

When we started to expand south of the border, we began to understand America's pastime. Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has shown us that his football philosophy changes lives.

Carroll, who has graciously agreed to co-chair the very first U.S. We Day in Seattle on March 27, believes it's not enough to win, you have to compete.

There are two kinds of competitors, he told us. "The guy on the field running with his neck craned to see who's gaining on him, and the guy running at full tilt, straight ahead, focused, thinking 'Is this the best I can do?'"

"You want to be the one not looking back," he says.

"Always compete," is his philosophy for maximizing potential and pursuing your best self, on and off the field.


Which is why, earlier in his career coaching for the University of Southern California (USC), Carroll couldn't sit back and watch as kids in L.A.'s inner-city schools succumbed to pressure to join gangs. He spent late nights walking the streets, meeting with gang members to hear their stories first hand. In the city's notorious South Central district, he asked a 12-year-old boy what he wanted to be when he grew up. The boy shrugged, "I'll probably be in jail or dead."

These kinds of conversations spurred Carroll to create A Better LA in 2003, an organization that works to reduce gang violence by offering skills training and resources for people looking to get off the streets. The organization then employs these men and women as community outreach workers.

Recently, the LA Times reported crime in the city has dropped for the 10th year in a row. A Better LA can take some of the credit for that. He's since expanded the program.

When we first met Coach Carroll, he'd just launched A Better Seattle and reasoned, "If we're going to get kids out of gangs, we've got to give them something else to turn to."

Not only did he start an organization to get kids off the streets, he used that organization to build employment opportunities and found an alternative outlet for kids who lacked purpose. We Day is a celebration for young volunteers, who promise to perform one local and one global service action throughout the school year. It's a long-term commitment, and it speaks to his philosophy and his genuine concern for the community that Coach Carroll was willing to compete for kids that had largely been written off; some had written off their own futures.

He agreed to co-chair We Day. Coach Carroll believes that if you are going to ask young people to step away from gangs, you have to give them something to go to. We Day is that something.

He is also the driving force behind We Day Seattle -- just one of the ways in which he's competing for his community. At the end of the month, he'll share the We Day stage with Magic Johnson, Steve Ballmer, Nelly Furtado, Martin Luther King III, Jennifer Hudson and many more.

At CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks play, the words "I'm IN" are stencilled above the locker room door. Players reach up and tap the slogan as they leave the locker room -- a sign they're giving it their all, regardless of whether it's a practice, regular season or championship game.

As a team they talk about respect, teamwork, and, "turning 'I' into 'We.'"

Craig and Marc Kielburger are founders of international charity and educational partner, Free The Children. Its youth empowerment event, We Day, is in eight cities across Canada this year, inspiring more than 100,000 attendees. For more information, visit