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The Barrier Breaker of the month of May is….

Kendol Decker, also known as coach Kendol, President and Technical Director of Aspen Hill Soccer Club. He is originally from Sierra Leone but currently resides in the USA.

Jois: Thank you for wanting to do this interview with me. Barrier Breakers Corner is basically about, encouraging people to step out in faith. Sometimes you see a lot of people relaxed and just tired, because they are waiting for the government to do something or waiting for family to do something for them, meanwhile if they will just take a step and fight, they can make it. 

So, one of the things I do is interview different people, just to encourage others to start something, whatever it may be. Is it going to school,  starting a business, traveling? Whatever it is that they want to do, they can always start.  

Tell us a little bit about you and why you started Coaching. 

Kendol: Well I am Kendol Decker, I have been living in the USA since 2002. Career-wise, I studied Accounting and then worked for about four years but in 2009 the financial market crashed and I lost my job. I was working at a law firm and after losing my job, I was pretty much at home looking for another job. To make use of my time, I wanted to exercise, be in shape. So I reached out to my coach from college and asked him if I could join them during their practice session and he accepted. While playing soccer with the boys at Montgomery College, I asked him how I could start coaching. He gave me the necessary information and where to register for my first coaching education class. That was 2010; I took the class and started coaching and in 2012 I started my own program. I ended up getting another job in 2010 so I did both until 2014/ 2015 then I went into full time coaching. When my coaching club started in 2012, I didn’t really have this idea of starting a club, I was just forming my own team; I just wanted to coach.  

 Jois: Okay. Did you ever think you’d be a coach when you were younger; did you ever have this idea of being a coach in the future or having a club?

Kendol: No, I never thought about being a football coach.

Jois: But you loved football.

Kendol: Yes. Yes. Football has been part of my life. I was always very, enthusiastic about football whether it’s playing or watching. But, interestingly, I never aspired to become a professional football player or a coach; maybe because of the culture I grew up in. For me it’s something that I really liked watching and enjoyed playing but I was never really interested in playing football as a career. A lot of people told me back then that if I actually pursued it, I had a chance based on my talent at that time but I never really paid attention to it and that’s kinda weird because, growing up, my dad and his younger brother played professional football. Maybe if the war in Sierra Leone did not occur, and I had finished high school there, I would have found myself playing professionally. Many people played professional football part time about  20/30/40 years ago. My dad worked at the bank and played professional football for Edwards part time in his twenties. So maybe I would have probably found myself playing professionally or going to Fourabay College and working at the same time. 

During the war, just like many Sierra Leoneans, I moved to The Gambia to transit and later moved to The USA. I thought we were just going to be in Gambia for a few months but I ended up staying there for three years and finished schooling there. At that point we were just looking forward to coming to the US, there was no interest but I had friends who played. I remember FC Kallon (a football club in The Gambia). There were quite a few times my buddies and I from high school and a few in the neighborhood played football against each other.  If I was really interested in playing professional football, I would have just gone ahead and played but I was never really interested.

Actually when I came to the US, in my early stages, I did have some thoughts about starting a football academy in Sierra Leone but at a later stage in my life when I retired. My idea was to start a school that will give kids an education and also kids that are talented to play football and other sports a chance to be educated too. I still have that idea but I was thinking I will retire probably between 50 and 65 depending on how comfortable I am financially then go to Sierra Leone and open a Football Academy. It was never about me coaching. It was more about me hiring professional coaches to do that. That’s the closest thought I had about being involved with football. 

Jois: I also actually thought that it was culture that did not make you want to go into football at that time because you know, back home then (I’m not sure if that’s still the mentality now), people want you to study and be a lawyer, a doctor, a business person, etc. They never want you to go into football or music etc. I don’t think they ever thought anything would come out of it and how much it would pay in the future. So I thought that’s why you didn’t really pursue professional football.

Kendol: Yes. I think so too. I think if I grew up in Africa, at this time, it would have been different. Maybe I would have trained harder to become a professional football player, because now you have a lot of Africans that have made it in football in the big European clubs that I grew up to know in the nineties and early two thousands. Around that time, there were a handful of African players that played for big European clubs. Football at that time was not really a money maker it was something we did for fun. Mostly the people that played football were mostly from less fortunate backgrounds in terms of income. It’s kind of weird, but it’s something I kinda understand, when I look at why I didn’t pursue playing football but I think I was very very talented. Whatever school I attended or environment I found myself in, I was always one of the top players in terms of sports talent and also very very fast. I participated in track and field, I ran 100/200 meters, I was captain for my house in Gambia etc. So I basically grew up in athletics and even back home in Sierra Leone, I represented my elementary school. I ran when I was in secondary school and in all of my schools, everyone knew me for sports. If you didn’t know me for playing football, you will know me for running. I was a sprinter, I did short distances. I was always into sports and it’s a gift I definitely have, but I was never really interested in pursuing football or athletics. Obviously, football was my first love but yeah, it’s kinda weird. I never saw this coming.

Jois: Maybe Kenly (his daughter, my god-daughter) will take it up and we’ll be seeing her in the Olympics, lol. She’ll be doing track and field or football.

Kendol: She looks fast. She looks very very fast the way she talks and the way she moves.

Jois: Really? Oh, wow. Well, I can’t wait to be cheering her up.

Kendol: Well, I would like to think that I picked it up from my mom’s side. My grandmother,  I heard people say was very fast, and my mom too. I had cousins that participated in athletics as well, short distance too. So maybe Kenly has picked that up as well.  Who knows?

Jois: Lol. Yeah, who knows?

Kendol: For soccer I picked it up on my dad’s side. They made me understand and play soccer. People said my dad was very skillful and talented. Both him and my uncle were not really fast but they were not slow either, they were more known for their intelligence and understanding of the game. They had high soccer IQ and I think I have both. I have the soccer IQ and I have the speed. 

Jois: That’s good. It’s good when you have a bit of both from both sides instead of just one (which is not bad either) I’ll take a little step back. You talked about doing accounting and when you lost your job you found yourself in this area. What I wanted to ask is that, did you just throw away that part of accounting and go straight into the soccer or coaching field or did you work and coach at the same time?

Kendol: When I lost my job in December 2009, sometime in March 2010, I started training with the kids that were looking to enter Montgomery College. That summer, I started taking coaching classes and  started coaching for people. I think I found another job while I did a couple of temp jobs throughout 2010. I got a full-time job late summer of 2010. So I coached and worked. I was working for a Swiss company.

Jois: The Pastry Company. I remember that.

Kendol: Yes, I was in charge of the Accounts Receivables and later got promoted to Manager about a year of working with them. I did that and coached for about four years between 2010 to 2014. So Yes, I did both (Working and Coaching).

Jois: The reason why I was asking is because sometimes people have ideas whilst they are working to start a business and they just quit their jobs and suddenly start a business. But I like the fact that you were still working, whilst growing your personal business on the side because I think it’s wise that way. I mean if people have the funds or the ability to just go straight into their businesses, that’s fine too. But for starters, I think it’s important to be working, have your own income coming in while growing your business. Once you’re financially strong, you can fully transition to your personal business. I think that’s a better way of going about it. But if anyone feels they can, then go ahead. 

Another thing I wanted to ask is, now that you are fully into coaching because I know you’re no longer doing Accounting, were there any challenges you faced?

Kendol: Oh yeah. Lots of challenges along the way. When I transitioned into making the club and forming it into a business entity, I had financial responsibilities such as taxes and paying employees. You don’t just write a check for them anymore you have to give them a paycheck. Luckily with my accounting background, I was able to navigate all those but it’s a lot of paperwork and very expensive too. For example, if you hire five, six or seven people and you’re paying them let’s say $20 per hour, they actually cost you when you are to pay taxes for them. There is something called FICA Tax (The Federal Insurance Contributions Act is a United States federal payroll contribution directed towards both employees and employers to fund Social Security and Medicare—federal programs that provide benefits for retirees, people with disabilities, and children of deceased workers – Wikipedia)

Someone that you are paying $20 an hour may actually cost you $25 an hour when you add up the expenses. Every three months you are going to write that check to the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) of the State of Maryland or whatever State you are. That was my first reality check. Also starting a club, in an area that is well established in terms of soccer, there were other clubs in the area that have been around for a very long time with very good reputation; To compete against those clubs was really challenging and I lost players to them. A player that is really talented that I’d trained for a couple of years is hard to keep because these other clubs  will come and offer them something better that I could not offer them in terms of financial scholarship.

Just because they have better platforms in terms of the types of competition that they have access to participate in. So the first three to four years,  it was a challenge. I would really do well, get to a point and then I get stuck or brought a couple of steps backwards. Sometimes I lose important players. Two years ago I started thinking about ways to improve, creative ways to try to get as close to the level of those clubs. I had to re-brand and we are in that process right now and things are looking much better. I mean things were looking much better until Covid-19 actually. It’s not been a very smooth ride. There have been many many challenges. 

Jois: Right. How has Covid-19 affected you? 

Kendol: Well we had to stop training, meaning we had to stop collecting dues and registration fees because we were no longer playing. This meant I could no longer have coaches because I could not afford to pay them. I had to  furlough coaches. Most of them are still connected and still engage their teams, which is good and I am also doing the best I can right now to get back on track. They’re taking advantage of unemployment, and whatever is out there for them. I am also doing the best I can to get the funds that can put them back on payroll.

Jois: Right. Some businesses have been really affected by Covid-19, but hopefully very soon we should all get back on track. It’s really sad that some people lost their jobs because companies could not really pay them but I pray that we’ll get over this soon and everyone will be able to go back to their normal lives or even better lives.

What encouragement would you give to people out there that sit and just relax waiting for somebody to help them get to their goal, whereas they could just take a step and do something? What piece of advice do you have for those people?

Kendol: Well, there has to be passion. They have to be passionate about something that will keep them going. As you said earlier, people don’t have to quit their jobs. For me before quitting my job in 2014, it took me three to four months to decide and I also had to speak to my wife about it. I didn’t believe that I’d ever make that decision in my life. Prior to that time I was never really interested or I never even thought about having a club and doing it full time. I never even had a two year plan or a one year plan to start a business and after a certain time quit my job. For me everything just happened naturally.

Basically the first two years into coaching especially after I got back to work between 2010 to 2012, I was just coaching and then started forming my own teams. Then in 2014 I registered my club as a business and later that year I went into soccer full time. I never had a plan to actually do what I’m doing right now. I was just doing it as a hobby and then it reached a point where I thought “oh wow, I actually like soccer,” it was stressful sometimes, going to work and coaching in the evenings. At that time too I had not completed my education. I had plans on studying to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), go to graduate school, get all of the credits required to take the CPA exam. It was literally impossible for me to have done it, while coaching soccer at night. In fact I had started taking the classes and then I weighed all the options and saw that it was too much but I really liked coaching. I couldn’t quit my job because I needed the revenue. I had also just gotten married, bought a house  and my wife was in school at the time too. So quitting my job was not an option. I had to stop coaching and go and focus on my education so I can actually be an Accountant. I was enjoying coaching so much, I realized that it was my calling and it came natural to me. I then decided to stop the CPA course.

I kind of battled between the two for about two years before deciding that this is a passion. This is something that I can do full time and make a very good contribution in my community and I liked it a lot. I’m very happy I made that decision and I have not regretted it. I have now decided to go back to school but my going to school has nothing to do with Accounting anymore. I am going to school to get a Masters in Sports Management. This is my path, it’s what I have been called to do.

Jois: Wow, Awesome. So what you’re saying is once you have the passion, go for it. Don’t be afraid. I was reading about a lady I follow on Instagram and she said she stumbled on a career. She is a Registered Nurse but when she saw her dad who was diagnosed with diabetes change his diet and make food his medicine, fully recover, she wanted to learn about food and how it affected every part of the body. Today she’s a certified  Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. My point is if you have the passion, start. You were once in the Accounting field and then you started coaching and now you’re going to do your Master’s in sports management. Start from wherever you are, you never know where it’s going to lead you, especially if this is your passion.

Should it always be about the money when people are going into anything?

Kendol: No, and this is just my opinion, I strongly believe that if you do something that you really like, you will do it to the best of your abilities and be happy. With that, you should be able to have enough to take care of your basic needs, I think that’s all that matters. When I arrived in the USA, a lot of friends that have been here longer or relatives advised me to go into Nursing, but I’m  not someone that likes to see blood.

Jois: Me too. That’s one of the reasons why I ran away from Nursing.

Kendol: I knew I was going to suffer a lot if I had done it, because again, that’s something you have to go into for the rest of your life. So I never considered it. I have a very strong opinion myself but there were a lot of people like 10 different people my first couple of years in the US that advised me to do Nursing; I was just not interested. People were saying you wouldn’t get a job, because of your accent etc, but I ignored them. When I started working, I worked for a law firm then worked for a financial company. I actually had some decent jobs in Corporate America and I think if I had continued that path, I would have been successful. I probably would have been more comfortable financially at this time because when you have your own business there are a lot of challenges, sometimes you even lose money but in the long run, you will be fine financially if you work really hard. I believe that you need to have passion and a purpose in life and make a difference in other people’s lives with whatever you are doing. For me that comes first before money.

Jois: Yeah. I think even if you were still in the Accounting field, you probably would be successful, but you would feel that something was missing, and until you do it, you wouldn’t feel fulfilled. I also believe if you have a passion about something go for it and do not listen to other people’s opinion. Yes they may have your best interest at heart, but if you do not like it, don’t do it. 

Thank you Kendol. That was very important. I know this will encourage someone to just get up and go start doing something. I really appreciate you taking time out for this interview.

Kendol: Thank you and thanks for all you do.

Jois: You’re welcome.

Jois Donkor