What Message is Jurgen Klinsmann Sending to Our Youth?

As many Americans who love soccer did on Thursday, I eagerly awaited the announcement of this year’s 23-player roster for this summer’s World Cup. And, along with so many others, I was surprised that arguably one of the most brilliant players the U.S. has ever produced, Landon Donovan, was left off the roster by Jurgen Klinsmann.

landon2Unfortunately, the message that Klinsmann is sending to our youth athletes – from the eager five-year-old just putting on his first pair of cleats to the college player who has been playing since she was five years old – is that you can never rest, you can never take a break, you can never put your family first, or you risk losing your spot on the team.

Even if you feel mentally exhausted, physically run-down, or maybe you want to go to your grandmother’s 90th birthday party instead of playing in a game, you’d better not do it, or you’ll get left off the roster. Left behind. Thrown out with the trash.

Seriously, if Landon Donovan – who has been playing soccer since the age of six, which puts his total years played at 26 as of today – cannot take a sabbatical or a break from the game without losing his spot on the team, well, then, clearly no one can.

And this is a dangerous message to be sending to our youth, especially with the growing number of experts warning against year-round play and single-sport specialization at earlier and earlier ages, which has led us to an overuse injury epidemic: ACL injuries in soccer and basketball, Tommy John surgery in baseball, serious head injuries in soccer and football, and blown-out shoulders in volleyball. Many of these injuries are occurring because kids are not taking a break — ever.

Listening to your body – and your mind – as Donovan did, should be commended, not punished. He felt emotionally worn out and physically exhausted after 26 years of playing. Wouldn’t you?!

I am extremely concerned, however, that with Donovan’s personal decision to take time off and Klinsmann’s clear disapproval of this decision, the efforts of so many youth sports experts and sports medicine professionals will also take a HUGE step backward. More youth athletes will push themselves to the brink of exhaustion, ignore their bodies’ signs of overuse, and put inconsequential games ahead of irreplaceable family lifecycle events because they are fearful of losing their starting position or their roster spot. And more hyper-competitive parents will say, “You don’t want to be like Landon, right?”

So, Donovan’s snub on the World Cup roster is not just a loss for the U.S. Men’s National Team, a team that could surely use an experienced playmaker like Donovan as it heads into a wickedly tough World Cup draw, it also sends the wrong message to our youth athletes.

Emily Cohen is the host of the TeamSnap Youth Sports Podcast, which can be found at www.teamsnap.com/podcast. An avid tennis player, Emily has a son who plays varsity high school baseball and a daughter who plays high school soccer and tennis. She has been a team manager for a number of her children’s sports teams. You can follow Emily on Twitter at @emilygcohen or email her at emily.cohen@teamsnap.com

 

Responses...

sergio saenz  

Landon Donovan is profession al soccer player who makes millions. He is not a child, a teen or even a parent with kids. He took time off to seeeee if he could possibly get his “passion” back for the game. Klinsman issue is not that Donovan took a break, its that the break was in the middle of the soccer season and world
cup qualifying. I believe the message that Kinsmann is sending is very valid. That you should always strive to be your best and continue to push yourself. The U.S. i s going off to compete against the top teams in the world, there is no room for passionless, out of shape individuals who believe they are entitled to a spot.

Anonymous  

What evidence do you have that the decision not to roster Donovan was partially or entirely due to some bias against him taking time off? Is it possible that he’s just lost a half a step after playing 26 years and the coaches honestly felt like there were better options at this point? Why would the coaches risk public and national scrutiny over what amounts to a personal vendetta? I think people are jumping to lots of conclusions on this…

Coach Bazz  

Landon Donovan knew the risk he was running by taking his sabbatical (if that is even the reason he was left off the roster). Congrats to the guy who filled his roster spot and now has the opportunity to play in the World Cup. I agree that players should live balanced lives and take a break whenever they see fit. They also have to be mature enough to deal with the consequences.

Anonymous  

Jurgen Klinsmann’s responsibility as the coach is to field the strongest team possible from the players available. To do otherwise, would be to fail his responsiblity to the TEAM.

Jim Johansson  

Emily, I appreciate your passion but your premise is pure speculation. Jurgen Klinsmann is a world class coach and a former world class striker, something Donovan never was. You’re way over-simplifying this decision, then trying to claim that leaving a 32 year old man off of a World Cup roster will harm the psyche of youth soccer players?! This column really was a reach and I’m surprised TeamSnap posted it.

Coach K  

^^ Like a wise veteran soccer player said this weekend, if there are 23 players better than Landon Donovan on the team, victory will most certainly be ours.
To imply that Landon is passionless and out of shape is a silly, uneducated reaction to an equally bad decision by Kinsmann.
I have coached, played an watched the sport for over 30 years. Landon’s coach should thank him for the message he sent to the team and the kids that look up to him.
It would be a true crime to our country and our team if Landon DIDN’T take a break. It’s not fair to the rest of the team to go out on the field without giving 110% of your passion and commitment to win.
Landon taking a break to make sure he could commit fully to the World Cup was brave and commendable.
Kinsmann’s response to it was a cowardly, short sided move of a coach more concerned with showing his own power than supporting his team.

Soccer Passion  

First of I agree with alot of the responses in regards to the Coach Klinsmann decision. The problem with US Soccer and the fans is that we expect everything handed to us no matter what. Especially if we’ve been on the national team for years we feel it is a GIVEN right that WE WILL RETURN with out HARD HARD WORK. We traveled through Europe and watched these Futbol Athletes from very young, teens and young adults. The PASSION and DRIVE, and the HARD WORK you see them put in. Some stayed at the field on their own after. So what ever the Coach felt the reason for not rostering Donovan is his decision. Donovan as a man should take it and move on and stop crying. As fans we should understand the TRUE meaning of what FUTBOL means and what it takes to play at the highest level there is in this sport. Congrats to the US and all there hard work.

onthesideline  

This is the first time I’ve read a blog on teamsnap. I’m new to this app. My son plays recreation soccer. Basically I’m saying that I’m not an over-the-top soccer fan. But I do think that Emily’s blog is horrible. I don’t know anything about the situation, but your blog is TOTALLY one-sided and seemingly missing some facts. I, too, am very disappointed that teammsnap would post your blog.

Anonymous  

I’m frankly shocked at everyone’s attacks on ms Cohen. She is expressing an opinion, and that’s what blogs do. Besides, if you have followed her writing, you would know that this is in line with her other blogs on how coaches and parents push kids too far for the satisfaction of their own egos, not the kid’s wishes.

Anonymous  

Maybe it’s because I just listened to your podcast about how youth sports is emulating pro sports (the one with the gentleman from PCA) and all the ills and dysfunction that is causing out youth, but I think Emily hit the nail on the head. She’s not saying that Donovan is a youth athlete but rather that what happens at the pro levels trickles down. We already have kids playing all year round and never stopping because of coach and parental pressure, and this will just give those over-competitive people one more “fear-based reason” (aren’t they all based on fear…if you don’t do x, you’ll never be Y) to push kids to do something externally rather than having the fire come from within. Good job, Emily! Keep up the good work!

PassHat  

In the 2006 World Cup Jürgen Klinsmann relegated the great Oliver Kahn to the backup GK position. Although he did not play in any of the pool-play or subsequent rounds, he brought invaluable experience to the German squad. When Germany failed to make it to the finals, he was honored with the start and captaincy at the 3rd place game, which Germany won, 3-1, becoming Kahn’s 86th and final international appearance for Germany.

Why couldn’t Jürgen Klinsmann afford Landon Donovan a similar courtesy now?

Keith  

Landon Donovan?!?!? Seriously? Jurgen Klinsmann is doing what’s best for his team. Landon Donovan is not worthy of special consideration. Comparing him to Oliver Kahn is a stretch #hamandegger

Anonymous  

In response to Sergio Saenz, Landon Donovan took his sabbatical from September 2012 – March 2013, when MLS and his professional club team were on hiatus…I believe he missed LA’s preseason, but few if any regular season matches. As everyone knows, many of the U.S. pool players are used during World Cup Qualifying, so Donovan was hardly missed. Klinsmann did use Donovan during the Gold Cup tourney, and the U.S. won and Donovan claimed the Golden Boot. He’s performed whenever his country has asked it of him. There is some bad blood here, and Klinsmann had the last laugh. Unfortunately, if the U.S. is beating Ghana 1-0 with 20 minutes to go, we won’t have Landon Donovan’s experience off the bench to see the match out.

Anonymous  

Maybe we should also look at what caused Donovan to be exhausted and worn out to begin with. Overcommitment? Lack of “recharging” strategies? Lack of proper rest and care? All important lessons to teach youth athletes!

Russ  

I was disappointed when David Beckham wasn’t selected for the British Olympic Team .. after all he did to help secure the London Olympics. But the coach was charged with putting together the strongest possible team .. in his opinion. The lesson here for young people is that you don’t always agree with the coach/the boss, and sometimes it feels like their decisions defy all logic and fairness .. but that’s what sometimes happens, and you have to learn how to deal with that, figure out (and accept) whatever you may have done to contribute to the situation (no matter how minor) and then MOVE ON! I don’t care for much of Vince Lombardi’s coaching logic and principles, but during an ESPN documentary on the US World Cup team that aired earlier today, they flashed up a Lombardi quote that fits here .. “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” Let’s teach our youth that adversity, disappointment and failure are part of life .. it’s OK not to like it, but you need to learn how to deal with it .. and when you do, you will become a better human being, and if you are lucky maybe even a better soccer/football/softball/volleyball/etc player as well!?!

Kyle  

Greetings,

While I appreciate that you are clearly passionate about growing soccer in the United States, the obvious has been clearly overlooked in your critique of Klinsman’s decision: Landon Donovan has been outperformed in the USMNT camp. The very nature of the USMNT is based upon achieving whatever progress/results on the back of extremely limited preparation periods. While Donovan took time off, his time off is magnified considering the percentage of Brazil 2014 qualifiers/preparations that he was absent for. I’ve never met an elite coach/teacher who could not show consideration for personal needs of his/her top players in the event that such needs were medically based. If Donovan needed a break, he could’ve remained committed to the USMNT, but being the narcissist that he is, he sought it necessary to undermine Klinsman’s program expectations all together by declaring his international hiatus publicly. As far as I’m concerned, Donovan made the decision to be absent from Brazil, not Klinsman.

I suggest you revisit your post from the perspective of accountability rather than that of pity.

kevin  

What message is Donovan sending to our youth?

Myles McCarron  

I believe the reason Klinsmann cut Donovan was to shake up the hapless US World Cup Program. By cutting him, he makes it clear that youth players developed in the US are not entitled to compete on the world stage based their popularity in the US. It is clear that US will not be able to advance out of the group stage. The quality of MLS play is inferior to that of the rest of the world. Donovan represents the achievement of the best player in America ‘s mediocre league. It has been proven the US system cannot provide competent players to compete at the world class level.

By not allowing him to play on the team sets Klinsmann up for the future. He is trying to create a superior team for 2018 comprised of American’s playing in higher quality foreign leagues. The final roster for the 2014 squad has 13 players who play abroad. Donovan is being made example for players in US who feel entitled to make the team because of their US track record. The entire US system is at fault for the continuous failure in the sport. Something new needs to happen. America has a magnificent international sports history, except in the world’s most popular game, soccer. Klinsmann wants to improve the team, and had to do something to stimulate the US soccer community.

Having been involved with youth soccer since 1971, I agree that something has to be done. Our youth leagues do not know how to teach the game. Players mainly advance to college, and the MLS based on ball handling skills, number goals and assists, raw athletic skills, not their soccer knowledge. Soccer is much more cerebral game than the primary America sports of baseball, basketball, and football. It is like a giant chess board. The best players understand how to maneuver with and without the ball, to score or defend a goal. It is more game of wit than it is brawn. Donovan for all his success in MLS championships and solid performances in international appearances represent the US’s continuous failure in the world greatest sport. The United States team did not make the cut to play in the 2012 Olympics. This seriously hurt the player pool for the World Cup Roster. We need players who have international experience to be able to compete. Hopefully, this unpopular decision will stimulate change in America’s lack luster performance in soccer.

Rick  

This article is ridiculous.. The writer has no idea what she is talking about. Klinsmanns message is I am the coach and I have been hired to field a team the best possible team with the best chance to win. Sorry but Donovan is past his prime. We are not playing a friendly here. This is the World Cup. The message is if you want to succeed you must be a hundred percent dedicated and give it everything you have. That is a great message for anything in life. I think the writer of this article probably thinks every kid needs a metal too.. Not everyone wins that’s also part of life. Donovan was one of the best US soccer players of all time but it is time to step down and let the youth take over.

Rick  

Keep up the great work Jurgen

Anonymous  

The coach is tasked to build the team for the future. It comes a time that all “greats” have to make room for others. It is not by accident that he picked the young kids that had the option to play for other national teams — he did so to lock them in. A very common practice, by the way, for those with long term vision of the game and a national team. The writer, as most commentators that try to address this issue, has a narrow view of the game. Only goals scored and assists matter to them. The game is much more complex than that. BTW, Donovan’s ability has always been way overblown — I will Clint Dempsey any time over him.
GO USMNT!!!!!!!!!!!

Dean  

This is a terrible article. He is a professional soccer players. Not a young kid. Playing soccer is his job. He decided to step away for awhile. Can we just decide to step away from our jobs and expect to get them back. I understand the point she was trying make. She just used a really bad example.

Anonymous  

That is a stretch. If playing on the world cup is important to him, make sure you prepare in a way that makes it impossible for the coach to leave you off. I had to have the same discussion with some parents this year who’s daughter missed half the practices and some of the games so that they could play other sports. It wasn’t fair to those putting in the work to keep them on the team for the next year.

Landy Cakes  

Myles, If you have been following soccer since 1971 then you would know that Landon is America’s best field player – ever. No one has scored more goals in international competition or had as many assists as him. I find it crazy that so many people are throwing Landon under the bus. To think that there were 23 other guys better than him is ludicrous. You don’t think it would have been good to have Landon out there when Altidore went down? What are we left with? Aron Johanson and Wondowlowski who was simply overwhelmed on the big stage. Landon excels in that environment and has proven himself. If we are going with a youth movement, then why not start Julian Green in game 1? Landon has proved himself over time. It’s like saying to Tom Brady, sorry, we are having an open competition for your position. We don’t know all the facts behind Klinsman’s decision, and while I agree one must abide by the coach – and Landon did and was classy — it is clear that it was political. To think that it was physical just boggles my mind. Brad DAvis? He played and was invisible. What I am most upset about are the guys who have played with Landon all those years and did not stand up for him. Anyway, I agree with Emily Cohen. Great job on this article. You make a great point. It is too bad that many people posting here are missing it altogether.

Soccer Parent  

The topic is excellent – kids are often encouraged to do more than their minds and bodies are ready for. The example is poor – elite professional athletes tend to be poor role models for children – basically selling off their bodies. Great to watch and chat about, but poor to emulate. Most young athletes would do better to learn about long term physical and mental fitness as part of a balanced life, something often unrelated to pro sports.

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