32013_klinsmannshea_isi_usmntbf02292012f124 Bernd Feil/isiphotos.com
Talking Things Out

The Failings of Communicator Klinsmann

The United States men's national team coach and some of his players are not on the same page tactically, but perhaps there's a simple answer. Yes, that solution involves a story about painting fences.
BY Noah Davis Posted
March 20, 2013
4:19 PM
One summer in high school, I worked as a construction assistant for a friend of my father's. I spent most of the time painting fence posts with my shirt off, hoping a sweet tan would distract from my skinny arms. It didn't, but that's another story. Occasionally, my boss would need my help with some more building-related business, be it framing or holding a board or cutting a post.

Inevitably, I would screw up whatever assignment I had been given because I didn't understand what I was supposed to be doing. For the first few weeks, I placed the blame squarely upon my own shoulders. I figured I should have been smarter. I should have taken my boss' instructions, applied them, and understood what I needed to do. And, if we're being honest, a lot of the issue was my fault.

But after awhile I started to realize that my boss left out crucial steps or simply didn't explain what he needed from me. He was, and remains, something of a mechanical genius, the type of person who sees a very real problem in the physical world and intuitively understands how to solve the situation. He saw things in a very different manner than I did. Once I realized this, I started to understand that I needed to ask more questions and get a little more explanation. I stopped screwing up quite so much.

I thought back to this experience Tuesday after reading Brian Straus' epic piece on the state of the United States men's national team. Plenty of people, both here and elsewhere, have offered intelligent takes on the issues at play.

One part that struck me, however, was the revelations about Klinsmann's reported inability to prepare the American team for the game at hand:

“(Klinsmann) didn’t really say how we were going to play. It was a quick turnaround,” one U.S. player recalled. “He just basically said, ‘Guys, we know the importance of the game. We know it’s going to be a tough game down here. They made it a national holiday. They’re going do everything they can. They’re going to bite, kick and scratch. They’re going to do everything to take you out of your game. But at the end of the day, it’s a game. The ball doesn’t change. The way we play doesn’t change. So just go out there and represent yourselves well.’"

While I agree with the coach's general opinion that the U.S. needs to push harder and be more self-sufficient, I suspect even the most hands-off coach would want to give his troops some semblance of a game plan. But then I started thinking about that summer job. Klinsmann is not unlike my old boss. As a player, he had a brilliant football mind that allowed him to make nearly impossible things look easy. The corollary of that, however, is that sometimes it's difficult to understand why people, whether they are players or glorified fence-painters, can't do the same. For all his talent, Geoff Cameron (picking him as an example, not picking on him specifically) doesn't see the field in that same intuitive way that Klinsmann does.

Perhaps the head coach doesn't realize this fact. Maybe he thinks he's communicating information when in fact the U.S. team isn't receiving any. Maybe what players see as him saying "good get 'em!" he thinks contains nuggets of how to play, whether those come on the training field or in the locker room before the match. Maybe this is all a misunderstanding.

Then again, that's a pretty optimistic reading. Klinsmann had similar tactical issues with Germany and Bayern Munich. Maybe he's just a big-picture coach who doesn't handle the details all that well. Besides, even after my personal epiphany, my boss didn't always have the right answer to my questions, sometimes I failed to ask them, and I still spent a lot of time failing to accomplish tasks, frequently in spectacular fashion.

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