Wrapping up the 2013 Centennial Celebration, Jurgen Klinsmann sat down with ussoccer.com to reflect on his role as head coach of the U.S. Soccer Men’s National Team and his expanded responsibilities after being named Technical Director. Klinsmann describes the challenges he faced when he first started, the qualities it takes to be successful at the highest level, and explains the importance of education for all coaches.
ussoccer.com: When you started as head coach for the U.S. Men’s National Team, what were the challenges you faced and how did you approach them?
Jurgen Klinsman: “When I had the honor in 2011 to become head coach of the senior team here, it was a new environment, and every new environment for a coach means new challenges. You have to build a new staff of people and you have to get familiar with your environment, meaning who you play against and under what conditions.
“I had to get familiar with CONCACAF. CONCACAF was a big challenge for me knowledge-wise, climate- wise, and culturally, meaning understanding the opponents and understanding what their motivations are to beat the U.S. team. Like every coach that comes in to a new role, I had to get my hands around the team. You look deeper into the pool, you look deeper into the talent that is there, and then you start to develop a plan.”
ussoccer.com: You have been very successful so far during your time with the Men’s National Team, winning the Gold Cup this year, qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and leading the team to the longest winning streak in U.S. MNT history. To what do you attribute this success?
JK: “Well, I think for every coach, it’s really important to build a strong chemistry within the team obviously, but also within the staff and the people you work with. I think we were able to build a really good feel for each other. We were able to build a chemistry that is more about givers than takers and we created a real focus on the willingness to improve day by day. It took a while though until the players got the sense for how we wanted to work.
“In the beginning when you come on board, there will always be a lot of question marks from players, but also from staff, or the Federation, and everyone involved, so you have to start to convince them about what you’re doing. It’s a lot of communication, and I think once people understand what your intentions are, the chemistry clicks. The respect for each other always has to be there and that’s what the players and the staff realized. The foundation for success is if everybody believes in what you’re doing. Then slowly you move in the right direction.”
ussoccer.com: Would you like to see a consistent style of play throughout the National Teams from the senior team on down? If so, describe what that is.
JK: “Yes, we would love to see a consistent style of play over time that is defined by being more proactive and more possession oriented. We want more confident players that have the technical abilities to play out of the back and to play out of difficult situations and really take the game to the opponent. We would like to improve the way we play against bigger nations by facing them eye to eye and having a 50/50 share of possession. We want to signal to them that we are here to play; we’re not just sitting back and hoping for a counter break. If that is the case here and there because we play Spain or Brazil then so be it, but over time we would like to see progress that all of our teams are really taking things in their own hands. That’s a lot of work obviously, and it also requires special talent. The key to all of this is the work that we do on the grass roots level through our Academies to develop our own players. To transition to a style of play that is more proactive and more dominant is a long term project.”
ussoccer.com: You’ve been a coach at the highest level in soccer; you’ve also been exposed to coaches at the highest level in other sports, Pete Carroll, Phil Jackson and others. In your opinion, what are the qualities that make a successful coach at the highest level?
JK: “I have had the opportunity to meet other big coaches from other big sports and in soccer. I was very privileged to work with Cesar Menotti, Giovanni Trapattoni, Franz Beckenbauer, and many others; people that have been in the game 30 or 40 years. I’m looking at their style of communication. How do they communicate with their players, with their environment? How do they handle certain elements in the professional world, meaning the media, the commercial side of it, the politics behind the scene? How do they build those bridges? What is their leadership like?
“You look at Phil Jackson or Pete Carroll and you sense the energy that they give to their environment, not only to their players but also the people around them. You get the sense that at the end of the day they must be successful because their energy is contagious. I admire Phil Jackson for how calm he is. I watched him on the side line at games years ago. Once he had his moment to talk to the players, he is decisive, he’s sharp, and he brings his points across. You can learn something from every coach, if it’s in youth development or in the professional world. At the end of the day though, you have to define your own way of doing it and hopefully it’s the right one. You always have to question yourself and have the people around you do so as well and hopefully they give you an honest judgment.”
ussoccer.com: U.S. Soccer recently hired Tab Ramos as the Youth Technical Director. How do you see Tab’s role and also his connection to the senior National Team?
JK: “The responsibility we gave Tab Ramos now as Youth Technical Director is really important because he’s the connector to all topics in the youth sector. He’s the connector to our youth coaches, Javier Perez with the U18s, Richie Williams with the U17s, Hugo Perez with the U15s, and Tony Lepore with the U14s. It’s important that he becomes like a think tank of topics where we need improvement. We need to get more messages out there. He’s becoming a very important messenger of many different things that we need to get out to the players, to the parents, to the coaches. Hopefully we can intensify this relationship and use it in a very productive way. I think today we have more possibilities than ever with social media, email, and the internet available to get those important messages out there to the base because the base, at the end of the day, will produce your next generation of good players.”
ussoccer.com: Dave Chesler is the Director of Coaching Development, and someone you’ve also worked with the last two years. How important is that relationship and the continuing education for coaches?
JK: “I think the topic of Coaching Education unfortunately is often not recognized enough. Dave Chesler and his team of instructors are really building the foundation for the future of knowledge in our coaching education. That foundation will benefit everyone involved in the game based on the knowledge they spread to coaches in the licensing courses. His role is priceless. It’s so important and it’s something that we have to build on more and more. We have to have regular get-togethers with Dave and his team in order to always question if we are giving out the right information to coaches. What is the best way to communicate with kids? What are the main issues coaches have to think about? What additional information can we give coaches to pass on to the kids, to the parents, and to other coaches? This is really crucial. I think that over time, and I’m talking over 10-12 years, this can make a huge difference in developing talent. Therefore, coaching education is one of our highest priorities going forward.”
ussoccer.com: In your opinion, how important is it for coaches, particularly at the youth level, to obtain their coaching license?
JK: “I think it’s the highest priority for every coach to get his licenses upgraded, one step at a time but as quickly as possible, because it’s the highest sign of credibility. If you do not have your coaching license you do not have credibility. If parents send their boy or their girl to school, and the teacher doesn’t have the highest teaching license, they would question the school. They would probably change schools and take action right away. It’s the same with soccer. You don’t want your kid being coached by a coach that doesn’t have the highest credibility and doesn’t have the knowledge because he never went to those licensing courses and got his degree. We want to upgrade that as soon as possible. We want to send out a timeline for every coach involved in our programs to get his or her license to the highest level because then you have the knowledge and the capability to educate our players at the highest level.
“It’s also important because information flow changes. Today’s information is different than a license course held ten years ago. It’s a completely different ball game today than ten years ago. It’s a global game. We have to know what they do in Germany and Spain and Brazil in youth development. I want to encourage every coach to sign up for a licensing course for your next level. This is something that we badly need and if we don’t do it, we don’t have credibility. Therefore please coaches, get started.”
ussoccer.com: You just signed a contract extension, four more years as the head coach of the National Team and in the role of Technical Director. From a coaching perspective, why is it so valuable that you have this established for the next four years?
JK: “I think it’s very valuable because it's similar to coaches getting the next license done: it’s about credibility. It also offers the possibility to connect all the pieces in player development. It’s easier for me to talk to all the coaches out there, and my own coaches as well, if they know I care about those topics. The first two years of my work were very focused on the senior National Team because we needed to get the Gold Cup done, we needed to get World Cup qualifying done, and we needed to get our hands around the group. That was a lot of work. It always has the highest priority, especially now going to Brazil, but we also want to connect the dots. We want to speak to a lot of people outside there, whether it’s MLS, college soccer, our youth teams, or Coaching Education. When you do work outside of your senior National Team role, it definitely helps you in terms of credibility to have the title of Technical Director.”
ussoccer.com: It’s now six months before the World Cup starts in 2014. How will you organize your staff in the next six months and how will you assign responsibilities amongst the staff to help the team get ready for Brazil?
JK: “I think it’s going to be a World Cup where you have to be very well prepared because the circumstances in Brazil won’t be perfect. They will do everything possible to make it a great World Cup. The stadiums and the training facilities will be great, but it will be a World Cup of patience. Certain things will happen that you don’t calculate beforehand so you have to be really well prepared. That means our staff starts now to work to be prepared. I sent my assistant coaches out to watch our players all over the place on a regular basis. They have also started to watch our opponents, specifically the key players for all three opponents in the group stage. If it’s in Europe, our scouts there, Andi Herzog, Matthias Hamann, and others, go to games. In the U.S., Martin Vasquez, Carlos Juarez, and other scouts throughout the MLS and throughout Mexico are watching.
“The other staff needs to think through the entire two month process of the World Cup. There are so many things that we need to lay out now like fitness and nutrition. I think it’s great that we have the opportunity to go to Brazil in January with our traditional January camp. We’re going to meet the people there; we’re going to build connections and relationships so we are well prepared to go there then in June. From now on, the countdown is on, and we have to really intensify the work.”