Jurgen Klinsmann, the head coach of the United States Men’s National soccer team, has taken an interesting approach to motivating his team during this World Cup. Before the Cup began, Klinsmann said it was not realistic to think the U.S. team could win the World Cup. The team responded by beating Ghana, arguably Africa’s best team, tying Portugal, one of the world’s best teams, and staying close with powerhouse Germany to advance to the second round of soccer’s most prestigious championship. Few people thought the U.S. could advance out of the “Group of Death” which featured two teams considered to be in the top five in the world. But the team is moving on.
I was critical of Klinsmann when he showed this doubt in his team. To put it bluntly, I think it was poor leadership. I believe it is our job as leaders to show our teams we believe in them. Believing is the first step to achieving. And if our teams feel that we don’t believe in them, it is likely they won’t believe in themselves. Klinsmann could have gotten the same point across by saying something like, “We realize no one in the world thinks we can win the World Cup, but we are going to Brazil to play our hardest and see what happens. I love this team and think they can have success if they play the way they are capable.” Klinsmann had a chance to take the “us vs. the world” approach. But instead he opted to place himself with the world, against his own team, by showing doubt in what they could accomplish.
It’s possible Klinsmann had a different, more private, conversation with his team. Perhaps he told his team he was going to doubt them to the media and that this was his public relations strategy. Perhaps he reassured the team privately, while doubting them in public. Regardless of what I think of Klinsmann’s strategy, the fact is the U.S. played well enough to advance. Klinsmann delivered the result that all of America wanted.
Interestingly, it was reported this week that Klinsmann checked with each of the players to make sure their flights home from the Cup were booked after July 13, the date of the World Cup final. It seems that Klinsmann is now a believer. All of a sudden, he thinks it’s possible the U.S. could be staying for the final. Perhaps he liked what he saw during the first round and now thinks the U.S. can go all the way. Perhaps, he always believed in his team and just didn’t want the media to know this. We’ll never know for sure what Klinsmann was thinking. His approach is certainly unique. But if his team delivers in this round, the way they did in the first, I don’t think too many soccer fans will care that he doubted his team at the start of the Cup.
Good luck Team USA on Tuesday against Belgium!
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