Kendall Reyes

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Kendall Reyes joins the Beautiful Game to share his insights into leadership, transforming society and the role of soccer. Kendall leads quietly, confidently and boldly. He champions a humble leadership style that is often referred to as servant leadership, putting the success of his organizations, teams, students and employees ahead of himself. From the pitch to the boardroom, his formula of inform, educate and inspire delivers results.

Kendall shares his experience as a native of Trinidad and Tobago coming to play and work in the United States. From his playing days at Francis Marion University to becoming the first black State Technical Director in US Soccer, his lived experience as a black player, coach and leader is an important and powerful story.

Kendall is the General Manager, Owner and Head Coach of Sparta 2020 competing in the United Premier Soccer League. He’s been a long serving college coach, primarily at the University of South Carolina Upstate where he built the women’s program. He’s been the chair of Regional All-American selection committees and on the all American selection committees. Kendall was a past Chair of the Black Soccer Coaches Advocacy Group. He’s director of coach education in South Carolina. He has a master’s degree in education. As a player, he led Francis Marion University Men’s Soccer team as the captain for four years.


Tony Nicalo: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to the Beautiful Game, a show dedicated to helping us face change with confidence and improve a little each day. Beautiful Game is produced by Weasels FC, a community of smart, tenacious, and sometimes underestimated people exploring resiliency in an uncertain world. I’m your host, Tony Nicalo. Join me as we learn to live, work and play better.

I’m here today with Kendall Reyes, who is the General Manager, Owner and Head Coach of Sparta 2020 competing in the United Premier Soccer League. He’s been a long serving college coach, primarily at the University of South Carolina Upstate where he built the women’s program. He’s been the chair of Regional All-American selection committees and on the all American selection committees. He’s director of coach education in South Carolina. He has a master’s degree in education. As a player, he led the Francis Marion University team as the captain for all four years that he was there. Welcome Kendall.

Kendall Reyes: [00:01:12] Thank you for having me.

Tony Nicalo: [00:01:14] So this podcast is produced by a community known as Weasels FC, and we start off by asking what you think of the animal, a weasel.

Kendall Reyes: [00:01:24] I listened to a podcast with Nicole and I knew that that came up. So it’s not an animal we’re familiar with, certainly not from where I’m from. I guess there’s a pesky sort of  attachment to them, be a little bit pesky, you know, digging up holes in people’s yards that they’re not wanted. Certainly they appear to be real fun animals. I know some people have them as pets and stuff like that. So if you’re one of those that are digging up, good stuff, then hey, that’s all good.

Tony Nicalo: [00:01:54] All right. So if you’ve listened to Nicole’s episode and other episodes, you know, that one thing that I try and do as a lot of research to try and get to know you a bit before we ever meet this way so that we can dive into a deeper conversation. And I have to say out of all of the people I’ve talked to, typically when they’ve had a career, as long as yours, there’s a lot more information in the world about them that they’ve done lots of interviews. You ran for the board of United Soccer Coaches. You’re the past chair of Black Soccer Coaches Advocacy group, but you don’t do a ton of interviews.

And even this interview, when I asked if you’d be on you sort of deferred to Nicole, because she’s the current chair. And I spoke with one of your former players, a hall of Famer at University of South Carolina Upstate,  Thea Moen who says hello from Norway, by the way. And she described you as a very patient coach and that you combine both mental and tactical sides of the game, but that you are really focused on building a strong team.

And that’s the impression that I get of your career. That you’re a quiet, steady leader who is not really the cheerleader type and not self aggrandizing. And in this age of social media, where it feels like every leader needs to be an influencer, a thought leader, I think that there is more than ever a need for your type of quiet, steady leadership that  embraces that character of a captain where you make those around you better, and aren’t too worried about self-promotion. So what advice do you have for people who want to lead in this day and age? To be able to, to lead comfortably, quietly, solidly in a way that endures without self aggrandizement.

Kendall Reyes: [00:03:53] That’s fantastic. I kind of got goosebumps when you mentioned Thea’s name. Well, she was a fantastic player for me and  a great person.

I think she was able to tell you really who I am, not as a coach, but as a person. Along my journey of coaching and leadership, I found out a couple of things. Most importantly, that humility would be a best friend as you go along. And so it’s part of my personality. The other piece about leadership. Is that it’s really not about you.

Leadership’s not about you the individual. It is about why you do what you do and what do you stand for and how are you going to empower other people to be the best that they can be. I know how to remove myself from the picture. I could be in the background and inspire and motivate and educate and let people grow and blossom into their full being.

So I think that’s an important part of the leader today. Everybody wants to be recognized. It’s sort of that, Hey, look at me type of thing. And that’s not my personality. I’ve always a background guy doing the hard work that very little people want to do. Very people want to do the hard work in the background and then empower the people that I’m working with to be able to go out and produce. The coach doesn’t play, coach coaches, the players play. So when I build the player to perform at their best levels, they have their highest levels of competency. My work is reflected in the performance of the player. My work speaks for me.

Tony Nicalo: [00:05:38] And what was the transition like for you as a captain? It’s obvious that you would have embraced that team over self role. You have your master’s degree in education. Did you always know you wanted to go into coaching and was that a natural transition for you?

Kendall Reyes: [00:05:56] They have the different age levels you play at. So U14, U16, and then the oldest senior teams. So there’s sort of a tradition that as you move from one age group to the next, you coach younger players. So by the time I moved to the second level of our play, I was coaching the younger players at my high school from then on, but I also played for Alvin Corneal Coaching school. And  he had that same system as well, too, where the older players were assigned to coach the younger players. So coaching has always been part of my development as a player.

After I graduated college, I had an opportunity to try to go play, but my then college coach, Tom Davidson, he gave me an opportunity to come back to the university, Francis Marion university. To be his assistant, but through my undergrad years, I spent most of my summers traveling and coaching, lots of places around the country, meeting lots of different coaches. I spent a lot of time at Duke university, with John Rennie, Hubert Vogelzinger, Ralph Lundy, you name it. I’ve been around a lot of the prominent college coaches out there. But I wasn’t thinking about becoming a coach until my college coach asked me to assist him. So the transition was not very difficult.

I already had those leadership skills and qualities, the, the next. Phase for me then was to learn how to really become a coach. Even though I had been coaching younger people, but there’s a difference in coaching, younger people and then really coaching as a profession. So it was not, my intent was not my plan, but, I think that was part of what God had planned for me. And so I just walked into that part of my destiny.

Tony Nicalo: [00:07:53] You mentioned a bunch of names of coaches. There are there as a player or when you began to. Coach as profession, some of those mentors along the way, did they also teach you mental skills? And if they did, what did they teach you and how?

Kendall Reyes: [00:08:11] Of course, some of them in some capacity,  did deal with my mental strength. I would say that the environment that I came from in Trinidad and Tobago innner city kid, learning from playing in the streets, I was very fortunate to have  an incredible role model who lived in the same apartment building that I lived in. His name was Russell Tesheira, he’s been deceased for several years now, but he was a captain of our Trinidad and Tobago national team. So I remember lots of times as a younger kid going into play pickup in the street, going to the school yard and playing with him. There’s a lot of things that he encouraged me to do that helped develop my mental toughness because we played against bigger guys. So you get kicked and you want to cry. And those guys will say, no, you can’t cry. You got to keep going on. And you know, so my environment that I grew up in sort of forged some of those mental toughness things, but as I went along working with my college coach, Coach Davidson, he oftentimes try to tap into me as a captain of the team when things weren’t going well, how did I address them?

And he helped me quite a bit as well to understand how to navigate. Some of the challenges that we were dealing with as a player, but certainly as a captain as well, too.

Tony Nicalo: [00:09:34] So you got that sort of development experience, naturally, the mythical street football that people are trying to recreate everywhere now and you’ve coached at every level. How do you balance development versus winning?

Kendall Reyes: [00:09:49] Great question. I think they go hand in hand. The better player becomes the more he’s going to be able to win, but winning is not always the priority. What I try to do is to educate players. I have a formula, if so, to speak that I use, which is information, education and inspiration. So I take the information that I have, and I share with my players, whether it’d be on a specific part of the game. But then I had to educate them on how those things were. What are the nuances, things to look for, things to understand, the different ways those things might show up in the game. They were in a particular setting.

And then I do it in a way that once I turn that light bulb on, then now that player must be inspired. They have to be inspired to say, you know what, coach show me how to do a rainbow, but can I do it in a game? Yeah, we’re not going to practice a rainbow just because you want to do a trick. Oh, we’re not going to learn to do a move, but it’s a scissors, a step over, what do you want to call it, in training, but not be inspired to do it in the game. Like you have to understand when, where, how, and the nuances and circumstances around that. So my process for player development then with all of that comes a level of confidence where now the player is willing to take risks. Willing to try new things and it builds on the ability to succeed and those successes come out and winning Winans, the end result anyway, and I want to player to not only be focused in the developmental process on what the result looks like, but what the entire process looks like.

And then so winning and development, I think goes hand in hand, it’s helping the players understand the process that’s involved in development and how that leads to the end result, which is winning. Winning doesn’t come until the end of the process. But so you have to show them a pathway through information, education, and inspiration.

I informed them of what we maybe focusing on, I educate them on how that specific thing works, all the nuances that are involved. And then I try to inspire them to execute those things, to the best of their ability. We could win games by making mistakes or the other team making mistakes. But for me, if the players are following process in development, you will get to winning and you’ll get to winning consistently through a process of how are you getting from point A to point B on a consistent basis.

Tony Nicalo: [00:12:36] Can we talk about how those things get balanced in the business world. You also work in a supervisory management role with Formel D, an auto services company that’s headquartered in Germany works with all the large global manufacturers. You’re hired to deliver results. You’ve you have to deliver a prototype that works. You have to improve production lines. Now the auto industry wher, the Japanese culture of Kaizen of continuous improvement. It really started in many ways in terms of the business world in auto manufacturing. So in that world, how do you balance the fact that you have to deliver results for your customers, with the development of your employees?

Kendall Reyes: [00:13:19] My daughter once told me. She said,  “Dad, you equate everything in life to soccer.”  And I said, yes, I do. So she started to quiz me on some examples of certain things. How do you relate this to soccer? And I’d give her an example. And she said, that’s just absolutely incredible. So can that industry that I’m in, I came into that industry with my soccer background and understanding how to build teams and how to develop people because performance and production, it’s the same thing.

It’s not as necessarily in a mechanical sense when you put it on the soccer field, but the objectives and the goals and objectives, they’re all the same thing. So people have to produce, you have to teach them a process, how to improve the process in order to get the production and the quality that you want. So the applicability is in the same frame of mind. And I’ll give you an example. So I work with a team of drivers who are required to move vehicles from the assembly line to different locations on the plant. Okay. But if the mindset of the person who is driving that van is all I do is just drive the van or I’m just a fullback or I’m just the goalkeeper and you don’t help them see the big picture.

My dad was to help them see the big picture that, and what you’re doing is not just driving the van. You’re a part of the entire  logistical operations. And so your role is very important. Cause if it, if the van doesn’t move at a certain time and gets to a certain place when it needs to it, it affects the entire productivity process.

So I use that same approach in that environment. It’s all about coating and coaching people again, informing them, educating them, and then inspiring them to be the best van mover they could be. Improves production.

Tony Nicalo: [00:15:13] I love that you tell that story about your daughter and that you relate everything to soccer. I mean, I spend a lot of my time doing these interviews with soccer coaches and for me it’s because I think there are so many lessons to be learned from the game. And that the game itself is, is a reflection of life, which we’ll dig into a bit later. You mentioned your daughter. And I’ve seen you give a talk at Parkland about the parents’ role in games and trying to do some parent development.

And you said that parents drive youth coaches to focus on winning.  as a followup to that balance between. And development, you know, you’ve been a soccer parent, yourself, both your son and daughter have played when they lost games. How do you react? How do you deal with them? And, and as a parent, what are the concrete things that you focus on instead of winning to sort of see that picture of development?

Kendall Reyes: [00:16:09] So my kids played at a young age and, for me, I didn’t coach my son. I coached my daughter. I’m not a big advocate of parents coaching their kids, but I know it has to happen. It has to happen in some environments because you ended up having to wear two hats, one being the parent or one being the coach.

And sometimes that could be a little bit difficult for the child

Tony Nicalo: [00:16:32] and for the parent.

Kendall Reyes: [00:16:33] Yeah. And for the parent. So what I found that’s important is the conversations after training or the conversations after a game are really critical. Without focusing on the result, talking to my child about how they felt they did and their performance. We’ve been working on taking players on one v one. So did we see any of that happen today? So you got to be very cautious in the way you have those conversations after the game. My focus and I recommend your focus be on the specific aspects of the child’s development as opposed to the result. Again, the result is only at the end, so we could misconstrue the development of process.

If we only focus on the result again, if it’s the, the flip side where we lost the game, but we were able to connect passes,  we didn’t score or the other teams goalkeeper was phenomenal and we didn’t score. And we lost one zero, you know, so you have to be able to compartmentalize what winning and losing the result is, and I think emphasize the different aspects of the developmental process and the things that your kids are supposed to be improving on as, as developing players.

Tony Nicalo: [00:17:58] Well, somewhat, ironically, you were a defender as a player, but you’re best known for your work on mastering the art and principles of attacking football. And to me, it’s sort of consistent with your team first focus, trying to convince American coaches  that Barcelona and the concepts of attacking pressure was a worthy style to emulate.  I think in America, they are still developing a culture of soccer. Traditionally, a lot of the black coaches and players within soccer have come from Caribbean nations, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Haiti.

And so  what I want you to talk about is thinking about attacking pressure and that style as a coach educator, have you made progress on helping build a culture of soccer in the US and if they had listened to you earlier, would the USA have won on October 10th, 2017?

Kendall Reyes: [00:19:02] Challenging me, huh? Which is fine, but it’s just great.

So, maybe you didn’t find out that my formative years as a player, I played as a forward. So a lot of goals, could strike the ball well. I have a nickname that I’m named after a guy who at one time had the most goals in a World Cup, Hans Krankl from Austria. A lot of people know me by that nickname.  They call me Krankl.

So goalscoring was part of what my early years. When I moved from Trinity College to Donaldson Technical, which was an extremely talented program that I moved to the high school program, the coach at the time coach Birgin Gonzalez and his assistant, Nat Simpson. They saw some other qualities in me and moved me to play in the back.

That’s when I actually started playing in the back and I sort of blossomed there. Now, I think where players play in their development, starting out good coaches are able to identify other qualities and then get them to fit in the space that allows them to blossom. And, we have tons of attacking personalities in the Caribbean, especially where I came from. I mean, there are guys could do things that. You know, when you, when we see Ronaldinho now, I said, I’ve been seeing that since I was a little baby. So that’s nothing new.

Tony Nicalo: [00:20:23] I played semi-professionally in Chicago for a primarily Jamaican team, the West Indies Jets and, and I was a goalkeeper. And I can tell you that players generally prefer to attacking over defending.

Kendall Reyes: [00:20:36] Yeah. Well, the truth is that’s where the fun in the game is. You know, at the end of the day, are you going to see Pele or are you  going to see Beckenbauer? Which one? I mean, they’re both greats, but you know which one you’re going to see. Right.

But that’s where the beauty of the game comes in, because beyond, let’s say from a coaching educational standpoint, we talk about attacking principals, right. Width and support and all of those things. There’s one element in the attacking side of the game that you cannot account for, which is individual creativity, and that’s where the beauty of the game comes in.  I think the essence of playing an attacking style of football, not only can cause you to put pressure on the other team defensively, that there’s that one element that you can’t answer for.

Is he actually going to pass it? Is he gonna dribble it? Is he gonna shoot it or is he going to pass it? Is he going to, what is he going to do? And with all your defending structures and principles, the one thing you still can’t address is what is this guy actually going to do and how is he going to do it? So that’s the beauty.

If we want to elevate the game in this country, We have to be able to embrace that part of the game, give the players a freedom to express and explore, and they’ll have more fun doing it. They’ll have more fun doing it. And while they have more fun doing it, guess what you’re going to make better defensive players as well. To plays at play on the other side of the ball, are going to get better because they’re gonna have to make some tough choices and decisions defensively to try to cope with this magic that they’re now facing. But we’ve got to be able to do it. If kids are having more fun, playing and exploring and not afraid to lose the ball and people screaming at them and telling them pass it when he could have easily dribbled and taken the shot.

I mean, just let the people play. I grew up in that environment. There was no coach to tell you how much to dribble or not to dribble. You knew when you over dribbled, because somebody’s gonna, somebody’s going to get on you. One of the players on the field is going to fix you, right. I think it’s important to give our players that piece of the game and that piece, it brings the passion and the enthusiasm and the excitement when we see players doing things and we’re aghast and say, Oh my gosh, did he really just do that?

That’s what we’re missing.

Tony Nicalo: [00:23:06] And sovwould the USA have one on October 10th or was the revenge for 1989, too much to overcome?

Kendall Reyes: [00:23:14] Gosh, I’ll be careful. I don’t know what I’ve turned out. What I, but I’ll say this, you can get arrogant and think that the person you’re going to play, you’re supposed to beat them, but the beauty of the game is on any day it could not go in your favor.  That’s one of the things I share with coaches as a coaching educator,  one day you are genius, on the next day you’re another J word, right? So, because the game itself can make some things happen, and if you miss a piece somewhere along the line, you could end up on the losing end.

So when it’s a game of revenge? Trinidad’s always going to want to vindicate themselves from that particular loss, it was a moment in history for both countries. A lot of people may not remember that the 1970 World Cup, we scored four goals against Haiti that were  disallowed. And we didn’t go to the World Cup we finished in second place. We beat Mexico. We were phenomenal that team. Okay. And we missed going to the World Cup because some officials, who eventually got banned for life. So Trinidad has been knocking on this World Cup door for forever and 1989 was the day that we thought we could make it happen. It was equally important for the US as well.

So it’s a huge game. And every time Trinidad plays the United States, it’s going to be one of those games for them. On that specific date, we could say the field was waterlogged,  it was this, it was that all those things come. Those are the uncontrollables that we talk about as coaches. Can’t make any excuses. On that day, I was ready and they did the job.

And the US was unfortunate not to get a goal here or there, but on that day, Trinidad & Tobago was ready for it. And the US was not quite as ready to make it happen.

Tony Nicalo: [00:25:12] Well, there are lots of theories why broadly speaking Americans don’t like soccer or that they prefer Gridiron football or baseball. That it’s low scoring or ends in ties. But I think what you talk about in terms of on, on any given day, you don’t know who’s going to win. Some of the things that you talk about from a development perspective where, you know, your team plays better. There they pass better. They make more tackles. They still might lose. And the game itself is not fair. And my theory is that Americans prefer sports that are escapist. Soccer, unfortunately doesn’t relieve us from the unpleasant realities of life. the world, isn’t really a fair place where the result always goes to the meritocracy. We’re living in a time where I would suggest that  that was the problem that Americans had with Kaepernick, because he was bringing something about real life into their escapist moment of throw ball. You know, even FIFA right now is saying that we shouldn’t punish Jaden Sancho for the shirt that he was wearing  said justice for George Floyd. So even FIFA is starting to get it.  I am wary of, of making every black person I talk to have to be a spokesman for race and culture in society. But I know that you have personally thought about these issues. And so I want to talk to you a little bit about the realities of systemic racism. There was a post called invisible equity written by a gentleman who’s very accomplished, but still regularly forced into fear whether that’s encountering police or encountering Karen’s who don’t like you birdwatching in Central Park. You’ve got a 31 year old son. You’re going to be a grandfather soon. And you use the words, “I pray that they both get a fair chance.” And I don’t think you use prayed lightly since you’re an ordained deacon. I want you to talk a little bit about how systemic racism has impacted you or players or people you know, in the game and what your thoughts are about steps forward.

Kendall Reyes: [00:27:33] Yeah, so it’s a touchy subject, but I’m okay with it. I didn’t use pray lightly. I am an ordained minister of the gospel as is my wife. We preach the good news of Jesus Christ and his last commandment was that you love yee one another, just as I have loved you.

My experiences, the game as there I’ve experienced much love from a lot of people, different cultures, different races, because I think that’s the platform that soccer provides for us. But there’s a bitter reality that unfortunately we have a system and you mentioned FIFA because it’s a global endemic, it’s not the United States. Balotelli and those guys have their own fair share of battles that they’re dealing with. But to me, it’s a lack of love of mankind and humanity as a whole. So as system that has been built and all they do is recreate it in some different formats. So you went from, from slavery to, you know, plantations that are now, they’re no longer plantations, but they’re plants.

Because you’d have the same sort of thing happening, what I’m concerned about because we have some wonderful people. Only a few days ago, we were reminiscing of some people, Caucasian people who have been influential in my family’s life, who have been phenomenal with my kids and raising them. And that I had the opportunity to be experienced parts and share parts of my life with.

But it doesn’t take away from what happens on a daily basis. Being followed in the store, being scrutinized, not because of anything other than something I had no control over is the skin that I was born in. You can’t  hate me for something that I have no control over. What you really doing is telling God  you are not good enough at what you, what you do, God, because you created something that I hate. How was that possible? So I think that’s the bigger message I want to get out first. I have had as a player, my freshman year in college, we go to play a Christian school and as the game starts, this guy hits me an elbow in my chest.

And I said, what’s your problem? And he says, why don’t you take your monkey ni&g*! self back to where you came from? And I dealt with him accordingly. Didn’t get a red card, but I dealt with him in the flow of play. So I’m not advocating certain things, I’m just saying I dealt with it. But as a coach, I’ve seen it. I’ve seen, well, yeah, it is the abused. I’ve seen coaches abused by officials. By opposing coaches. It’s just ingrained in a way that I don’t know if people are consciously thinking about what they’re doing and what they’re saying. Or if it’s so much of a norm to see a black person and have that response to them naturally. You know, so I’ve dealt with it.

My son, you know, got stopped in our neighborhood, coming to our house and the police has said, where are you going? He says, I’m going home. Wow. Do you live in this neighborhood? I mean, I’m not a rich person, so I don’t live in a wealthy neighborhood, but we live okay. I take care of my family. But he has to prove to them that he lives in the house he was about to go into.

So one might say, well, they were looking out that I wouldn’t be robbed, but why couldn’t it be that that guy was just going to his home. You see what I’m saying? This it’s an excuse for why we’re accosted. There’s always an excuse for why we’re racially profiled. There’s always a reason why, they had to stop, they had to ask, they had to arrest, they had to put a knee on your neck. They had to, they could never be except to say. This guy is credible you’re you’re driving. My son is an artist. He just put out a piece this morning that even when driving a status symbol, a Mercedes Benz could still stop me, accost me, and shoot me because I’m not supposed to drive a Benz.

Why is that? That’s that’s that’s systematic. That’s a guy waking up every day. And if I see a black person, that’s what I see. And, and we, I, I don’t know. I don’t have all the answers, but I that’s why I’m prayerful. That’s why I’m prayerful because I know if anybody could bring change, God can. And my prayer is a very, very real.

Tony Nicalo: [00:32:26] So it’s definitely systematic by some individuals.

But I think the reason why,

Kendall Reyes: [00:32:32] let me, I have an example. I have an example. I really want to give you. As a coach, I was in a program where I had one African American player in my team one year. And I asked that player, how do you feel being the only African American player in my team? And she said to me, very nonchalantly, Oh, it’s no problem, coach, I’ve always been the only African American player in teams. The following year I brought in five African American players to my team. So now I have six. And an administrator at that institution asked me, is there a new NCAA rule where you’re required to have a certain number of minority players on your team?

And I said, what do you mean? They said, well, I saw you have six black players in your team now. And I said, yeah, they’re all very good players. And they’re all going to start in my program. You should come watch the games. But how does a coach have to deal with that? And on the flip side, the men’s program has 10 black players from Africa and the Caribbean on all over player.

He’s a Caucasian coach and he’s not asked that question and I go to him and I say, has anybody ever asked you about all these black players you have? And he’s like, what, what are you talking about? And I just left the conversation there. See what I’m saying? So there’s, it’s unbelievable, but it’s, there

Tony Nicalo: [00:33:59] it is there.

I literally, at our breakfast table, we’re just having this conversation because my wife works for a company who, you know, their brand video has all white people in it and she’s half Chinese. And my kids asked her, well, why didn’t you say something about it? She wants to, but, and what I explained to my children is that, well, it’s not her responsibility.

We can’t put the responsibility on people who are already faced with systemic discrimination. Bring these things up and speak up out about them. It’s those of us with privilege who have the responsibility to recognize the issues and speak about them.  And, and I think your example there is, is a perfect one.

Kendall Reyes: [00:34:45] Here’s my challenge. Here’s my challenge. Even now there’s a lot of people that are supporting,  they’re voicing. But are you voicing because it’s now the right thing to do. Or are you voicing because you have a genuine concern that this thing is evident it’s consistently being done in every facet of our life, and you’re absolutely fed up with it and you’re ready to make a change. You can put a statement out, you know, your company could put a statement out only because, well, you’re expected and you don’t want backlash and you don’t want this. Or are you sitting there and saying, you know what enough is enough, man, we can’t function like this anymore and you don’t have to hire me. You don’t have to hire me, but if I’m a viable candidate. Give me a chance to have the interview. Give me a chance to be a part of the conversation. Please hear my voice. That’s all we asking you to do. Give us an opportunity to participate.

Tony Nicalo: [00:35:44] We’re going to dive into that a little bit more. I think that it’s important that we sort of stay in this space, even though it’s uncomfortable and yeah, there’s people who are starting to virtue signal. There are people who are starting to wake up to the issues, but it really is a systemic problem. And it’s okay if people haven’t thought of it until now. It’s not good, but it’s okay. You know, we’ve got to accept the past and move forward. I want to talk about how you reconcile a bit of the past, how you did it personally. You went to Francis Marion University. Francis Marion was a general in the American revolutionary war. He was also a slave owner. Francis Marion University has buildings on the national register of historic places, called Slave Houses Gregg Plantation. It appears to be a progressive place. If you look at their own materials and statements. How did you personally reconcile that history while you were playing there and coaching there?

Kendall Reyes: [00:36:51] So some of it obviously coming from the Caribbean at the time I had to learn, I had to be a student of certain things. The experiences are a little bit different. I was fascinated to see a slave house  and the burial ground, the burial ground has some headstones that, that have the name Brown on it. And my wife’s family is from that area and they have a number of Browns. So there may be, we don’t know some relationship there. But at the time I went to Francis Marion, I will be honest, it was difficult, initially, being a black player, there were four of us in the team. There were black players there prior to us getting there, but there were four of us there, all four from Trinidad & Tobago at the time. There was one from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And you could see a difference in the way the kid from Pennsylvania, was viewed compared to international black kid. There’s this misnomer that a black American is a different kind of black person than a black from the Caribbean or black from Africa or something.

So there’s all those things that I had to kind of try to understand and come to terms with. So for example, the black population at the school, looking at me and saying, man, why are you playing soccer? You must be from Africa or somewhere. You must be from somewhere up North because in the South, black, people don’t play soccer. Okay. And then you’ve got the white diaspora saying, well, these guys can play. They only see us as players because we’re excelling in the game. And you tried to find a balance. I tell you, interestingly enough, that my teammates embraced us. They embraced us and we became part of that family.

And again, we’re talking about a soccer environment that fosters those things . So I’m named the captain my freshman year. So that’s, that’s a pretty big deal. But what I could produce on the field,  the way I carry myself,  people respected me. They recognize that this guy has got a lot more to offer than just being a black guy or just being a good soccer player.

Tony Nicalo: [00:38:59] I want to pause and focus, emphasize that for a second, because I think we look at the game today and we still have the issue of black players are pacey wingers or powerful or athletic. They’re not recognized for what they bring beyond athleticism or their creativity or their leadership qualities and, and rarely get captaincy roles. So I want to emphasize that that’s unusual that you were given that responsibility, not only as a freshmen, but just within the culture of soccer, even as it exists 30 years later.

Kendall Reyes: [00:39:42] Yeah, I am. I was a mature player when I went there, very experienced. And  the assistant coach at the time, John Garvilla.

John knew some people from Trinidad. My head coach knew some people from Trinidad and when I stepped on the field, I brought all of that with me. It was very clear that not only I could play, but those qualities shown out. I had always been a captain. I was a captain in high school. I’ve always exuded or expressed my way in a way that people saw those qualities in me. I could play a role. I will work as hard as anyone else I would do all the things that will be required. The most significant, the experience I had,  that you might not find in your research was  that the spring after my senior year, the university decided to drop men’s soccer Francis Marion university. And I remember that meeting. We had my coach called us in and the whole team and the athletic director came in and made an announcement. He says, we’re no longer going to have men’s soccer. And so we were all upset. Of course, and asking him why. He simply said, well, there’s this new law, title nine gender equity. And we have to have less male athletes than female athletes.

And my players, my teammates staged a massive protest on campus, television crew, the newspaper, it was massive. And the athletic director called me to his office and say, I need you to put a stop to this. So he knew my players would listen to me. So I gathered my teammates and I said, look guys, and for them the only issue with the administration was it was bringing embarrassment to the institution. Okay. And he said to me, you guys don’t understand what this new law is and why we have to do what we’re doing. So I had a series of meetings with him and say, help me understand what this is about. And I went from meeting with him, meeting with President Stanton at the time I had to meet with faculty athletic rep.

They even made me meet with the school boards, legal counsel. And they were telling me, if you keep this up, you’re going to get the school in a lot of trouble. You’re going to get yourself in a lot of trouble. So I’ve done a lot of work on my own. I did a ton of research to understand what title IX and gender equity was about. I created a program, a proposal on how to start a women’s soccer program. I did research found 20 schools within a three hour proximity that already had existing programs. And I sent the proposal to each of the members of the board of trustees. This thing went on all the way to the board of trustees, had to have a vote on it.

And so the night before the meeting. I was at the library and I found a document that said within the parameters of this law, if they’re female students on an institution that are requesting or asking for certain things, then the institution needs to consider. So I got with the student body president and vice president who were both black females at the time. And we drafted a petition for women’s soccer program at Francis Marion university. And we went door to door to the dorms through the night, we got 125 signatures. And when I showed up the next morning to the meeting, to the board meeting, I gave it to the legal counsel. And I said, you might want to take a look at this.

And he shook his head and he said, you just won’t give up. I said, you have no idea what soccer means to me. So they had the board meeting, the athletic director was asked why they were dropping men’s soccer. And he talked about title IX and all of this. And then one of the female board members then asks, have you considered women’s soccer? And he says, no women don’t play soccer. And she said, well, of course they do. They just won the 1991 World Cup, the US did. And this is the fastest growing sport. So all of that was in the proposal that I sent the board members. Then they asked my head coach at the time who was actually the assistant baseball coach working for the athletic director, who’s a head baseball coach, they asked him if he had anything he wanted to say about the soccer program. And my coach, Tom Davidson said to them, it says, I don’t have the authority to speak on this game, but my captain Kendall Reyes, if you give him an opportunity, he could tell you what this means. And the board agreed to let me speak. And I said to them, our program represents eight different countries, 10 different States.

When I go to summer camps in the summer, I represent Francis Marion universities to over 2000 kids. We have the highest GPA as an athletic program, and I went on and on about our program. In addition to being very honest, we don’t have an experienced full time head coach. My head coach was a part time soccer coach, part-time baseball, coach rec. So in the spring, when he should be recruiting and working with us, he is actively involved in the baseball program. We’re the least funded program in our conference, and we haven’t been given them equal footing to compete. So our results are not as great as some of the other programs, these are some of the disadvantages.

However, women’s soccer is going to be the sport in the collegiate environment going forward. So there’s an opportunity for an institution to be a pioneer in adding women’s soccer rather than dropping men’s soccer. That’s Francis Marion women’s university soccer program. That’s how it came about. A fight for men’s soccer, that brought about women’s soccer. I’ve been in the trenches forever.

Tony Nicalo: [00:45:52] Which you then later used a bunch of that knowledge to start the women’s program at University of South Carolina Upstate. That leadership in the women’s game that you’ve displayed and leadership at Francis Marion university as captain. I want you to talk a little bit about, you mentioned Mario Balotelli. He’s in the news right now because he’s talking about the importance of growing the game in Africa and investing there. Some people say, you know, more Marcus Garvey style that all black players should go back to Africa and play there and build the league there and turn it into a, to a global power of the game.

You’ve coached in Nigeria and Ghana a little bit. I want you to talk about the fact that in 2007, you were the first and only state director of coaching education who was black. I don’t know if you’re still the only, but you know, because of that systemic racism, we’re still seeing lots of firsts. I think it wasn’t until 2010 that a black player won the Herman trophy for being the best college soccer player. So we’re still seeing firsts in the game, how do we get more captains, more leaders, more executives, more people like yourself who are also owners of clubs. Because I think that that also helps us get to a point where we can eliminate the systemic problems if we have potentially more people in leadership roles who are black.

Kendall Reyes: [00:47:23] Yeah. I, you know, I have to credit Jeff Tipping at the time who was the director of coaching education with NSCA at the time. And being a mentor for me, mentorship’s really important. I had the great  fortune of becoming friends with Sam Okpodu, who at the time was a national instructor with the association. A phenomenal player who, if you dig his history, you’ll find he missed out on being college player of the year when they changed the rules, like a day before the vote. You got to go do some research, Mr. Weasel. Okay. But he had a phenomenal career at NC State, but he was one of my mentors, friend and mentor. He really had a big impact in my development as a coaching educator. But Jeff Tipping again, was one of those people who look beyond me just being a black guy that we want to add more. We don’t want to be just added.

You have to know that we have quality, but if you’re not looking for it, you won’t find it. You will always say, well, where are they? There’s not enough there. So there’s no black kid who can play central midfield. Are you kidding me in America? You got to be kidding me. They put us on the flank and they put us up front and they put us in the back to chase people down, but where’s the guy who’s creating the game. You don’t see us there. So as in conscious or unconscious, are you literally taking a kid and putting them in a space where they could explore their range of abilities? That’s what Jeff Tipping, when he saw me work invited me to come do a camp at a school in Pennsylvania, Sam recommended me and he came and watched me coach.

And when I was done, he said, wow, that was impressive. You’re really good at what you’re doing. And he sort of helped create a pathway for me, the first course, I went to take, Sam took me with him. And at that time the staff would go in two or three days before the course is actually started and they would go over their material and, you know, do sort of a test run. And I had a chance to see those guys in action, you know, and I was so inspired. And I was like, wow, this is awesome that people are really studying and investigating the game. And there, you know, they’re challenging each other on how they see and understand the game. It was really phenomenal and they gave me an opportunity to do that.

So yes, becoming the first state technical director cause there was none before. But there were some that followed. So my biggest challenge is when you see that there’s first, there shouldn’t be only that follows it. Anytime when you’re seeing first and only then we got a problem. If you only got one, and if you’ve only got two, you know, you got a problem. You’ve got to do more work because what you’re literally doing, this is what I want to say to administrators and leaders. What you’re literally doing is cheating yourself out of the best possible talent pool that may be available. And if you do that, you’re cheating your organization. You’re cheating, you’re institution. You’re cheating your clients out of getting the best of the best. That’s what you’re really doing with the system that you have in place, and you might not care, but that’s literally what you’re doing is cheating people out of getting a chance to get the best of the best.

Tony Nicalo: [00:50:51] In technology and venture capital, I think that you’re seeing leadership beginning to recognize those same things. There’s a woman who, who runs a firm named Backstage Capital and their thesis is if we invest in underrepresented groups, we’re going to make more money. Her name is Arlan and she’s, she’s an amazing woman. That’s the same message to leaders you’re missing out on opportunities if you’re not looking.

Kendall Reyes: [00:51:18] Let me contextualize that for you. When you take an underrepresented, an opressed group, what we do well is innovate. We find ways and solutions to improve and to survive. When we didn’t have shoes. We made shoes when we didn’t have certain things, we made them and you look at a history of invention in this country, you’ll see how much we invented  or innovated. That’s why I say you’re missing out because. When I have to survive, I’m going to, I’m going to take what I have and I’m going to do what I need to do to make it better, to make it longer, to make it last longer, to make it usable. Okay. To make it usable. If you gave the slaves the worst part of the pig, but you love pickled pig feet.

You’ve got, they took the worst and make the best out of it. You don’t understand what you’re missing when you don’t tap into the whole part. You’re not getting all the juices. If you don’t tap into their whole part, you’re missing out.

Tony Nicalo: [00:52:26] So, American president. I don’t know whether it was yesterday or the day before has, has mentioned the insurrection act, which came into being because of the fear in America, after the Haitian revolution, we’re talking about a game that is in many ways, the product of colonialism is how it got spread around the world, which then became slavery.

We’ve touched on some of the Caribbean history, you know, Caribbean was both a hub for slavery, but also the hub of resistance and the overthrow of slavery. In the game, we still see monkey chants in Italy. We still see lots of problems. I’m sort of heartened by the work of Dr. Richard. Lapchick at the university of central Florida who runs the Institute for diversity and ethics in sport.

And , he has a Trinidadian connection. He’s good friends with Kareem Abdul Jabbar. He was playing basketball with Kareem as a kid and defended Kareem against someone who was being racist and ended up getting beat up and, and sorta then spent his life working with the idea that sports was actually a vehicle for change.  Helped organize boycotts of South Africa- the Springboks because of apartheid was later invited to South Africa with Nelson Mandela. Given the history of the game, you’ve talked about how your own experience reconciling a past that wasn’t good at Francis Marion university, how you’ve been able to do it personally and in the game, do you think that given where society is in terms of systemic racism, can the game have a positive impact on society as a whole and how can it contribute?

Kendall Reyes: [00:54:23] I completely agree. The game, the beautiful game is what it is. And it’s beautiful because it embraces under that encompasses the broadest spectrum of humanity that you can imagine. FIFA has its own issues. There are economic issues tied with the game, a lot of them. And so I think part of the, the battle that we have, or part of the pathway forward is that you have to address the economic side of things.

Okay. So again, if you go back to slavery and abolition of slavery, there is an economic argument, right? There’s a humanitarian argument, but as an even stronger argument for the economics of the loss of slavery, you see what I’m saying? So economics is not separate from anything that’s happening in the social environment, it’s intertwined.

So I think you have to take a look at how the game can address the economic impact. If you’re paying for tickets to see Inter Milan play or whatever team play. And you have fans that have paid tickets that are still booing the black player, and making monkey chants. You got an issue there. So are you okay with selling your season tickets or whatever, but you’re allowing that to take place one way or the other, right?

So if a club is fined, a certain amount of money, every time an incident happens. Not talking about putting a person out in the stadium because you don’t have control over that, but you could send a message. Say if this happens in your stadium by your fans, you will pay X amount of dollars. Or, you will lose the next four television broadcasts where the money is. Right. You understand what I’m saying? Then I think a club administrators have to say, you know, what we can’t afford to do that you cannot afford to do that. We can’t question that every person that’s coming into our stadium to find out if they’re going to monkey chant or not, or if they have bananas in their backpack or not, but, we can’t afford to do that and we’re going to have to draw some policies and some harder lines to make sure that our bottom lines not affected in the way that it’s affected. You see what I’m saying? If a player is making millions of dollars just to kick a ball. Like my wife say, they pay you all that money just to kick a ball.  but he’s willing to walk off the field and not play anymore, you know there’s a problem you gotta address.

Tony Nicalo: [00:57:12] And I think this is back to whose responsibility. Is it? And if you are a white season ticket holder who disagrees. It’s not the player’s job, who’s just been abused to take responsibility for it. It is your responsibility as a person of privilege within that environment, to threaten to boycott, to stop buying season tickets, to write to the sponsors of that team and tell them they need to stop the same way that businesses started to put pressure on the South African regime and impact them economically. The responsibility is not with the player who’s just been abused to solve the problem.

Kendall Reyes: [00:57:58] That’s right. That’s right. And I think oftentimes we get that narrative. They want to try to say, well, if he didn’t wear a hoodie or if he didn’t resist or if he didn’t do this, or if he didn’t do that. And most of the time, we’re not the ones that initiated and said, Hey, come arrest me guy. I’m a black guy. Don’t you want to get an arrest today? You know, we’re not the ones that are doing that. We’re not the agitate us . We’re the ones that are suffering at the hands of the system.  look, I think if this was happening in any other country in the world, we’d be the first one in the United Nations to be saying, these are crimes against humanity.

We’d be the first one to say that. So how come no one else is saying that how come we can’t look at it because your racism towards a person of color or whatever it might be. It’s only against my humanity. I didn’t have control over, over the skin I was born in that’s that’s part of my humanity.

That is what you’re judging me. And you’re oppressing me and you’re killing me for my humanity. This is a big problem. It’s a big problem. And if my company sponsors your soccer club and that behavior goes on, I’m going to go to you and say, you know what I can’t be one of your sponsors because we’re not going to support this. Until that economic part of the wheel starts turning.  that’s where the impact is because at the end of the day, people are rocking back and saying, well, I’m okay. As long as my cash is flowing. As long as my cash is flowing. I’m okay. It’s always okay. When it’s not, you. But I have a son. I am soon to have a grandson.  I have plenty of sons. I have plenty of sons and daughters, of all races and creeds.

Okay. And you mentioned this president when he gets up and he asks a sitting president to produce his birth certificate. What are you doing? What exactly are you saying? What exactly are you saying? And you have people who cheer for it. You have people who say I’m okay with that. I’m cool with that. Are you really okay with that? I don’t know. But addressing the economic part of the process is critically important.

Tony Nicalo: [01:00:13] Well, I just saw this morning, a tweet from, by all accounts, a successful entrepreneur who’s sold his technology company. It was just saying that he was reading his first book on racism. And I hope that while there may be some virtue signaling happening right now, both from individuals and companies that as people start to dive in a little bit more, they’ll also realize that the impact that systemic racism has on poor white people is not a positive one either. You know, we could continue for a long time, but I want to, to be respectful of your time. You’re a busy man making lots of contributions. I want to just say that I respect you. I appreciate the contributions that you have made to the game. you’re directly responsible for starting at least two women’s programs, mentoring and leading in a way that people don’t really realize because you’re right, it was hard to find out a lot about you in the research because you’re busy. Doing the work. And I appreciate the work that you’ve done and the opportunity to have you share a bit of your story and celebrate the work that you continue to do. So thank you, Kendall.

Kendall Reyes: [01:01:31] Thank you for having me. And, you know, I I’ve made a statement earlier, I would like to close in an end of the day, you know, God is love. God created all of us in love and he commanded us to love one another. And so I leave with the people, the love of Christ in your heart, get that in your heart man and we could make some moves. It doesn’t mean we’re going to sit by idly, but I think that’s the critical piece to make all of it come together. So thanks again for having me on it was my pleasure.

Tony Nicalo: [01:01:59] Thanks Kendall.

Thank you for joining us today on the Beautiful Game. We hope you are ready to live, work, and play better to be a weasel yourself, smart and tenacious. If still sometimes underestimated, join our community online at weaselsfc dot com and if you enjoyed the show, please share it with a friend.


At the United Soccer Coaches Convention

Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Team

Mastering the Art and Principles of Attacking

Tidi Sports

Spartans Media Guide

Invisible Equity

USC Upstate Spartans

Hired at USC

United Soccer Coaches Bio

Appointed a State Director

Francis Marion University
• Francis Marion

Parent Development in Soccer

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