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U.S. Soccer’s Gregg Berhalter on Rebuilding Trust in the Wake of Controversy


Jan. 5, 2023 Harvard Business Review

Gregg Berhalter coached the U.S. men’s soccer team in the 2022 FIFA World Cup, where they achieved a memorable victory over Iran before losing to the Netherlands. Berhalter, who was a professional soccer player himself for 17 years, has coached in Europe and the U.S., and for the past four years, he’s been the head coach of the U.S. national team.

In the past couple of weeks, he’s been under another kind of spotlight. Berhalter’s decision to limit the playing time of one of his young players prompted the player’s parents to threaten to expose an incident from more than three decades ago in which Berhalter got into a physical fight with his girlfriend at the time, who later become his wife. Berhalter and his wife issued a statement in which he expressed his regret for his action at the time and his cooperation with a U.S. Soccer investigation into the matter.

Berhalter sat down with HBR editor in chief Adi Ignatius for our video series “The New World of Work.” In addition to the controversy, he discussed:

  • Leadership lessons he’s learned through coaching teams of highly competitive individuals who may not be used to working together and who are vying for limited starting positions.
  • How players can stay focused amidst the noise and distractions that come with playing sports at such a high level. (It starts by not looking for validation on social media.)
  • The differences between talent and character—and how to capitalize on both.

“The New World of Work” explores how top-tier executives see the future and how their companies are trying to set themselves up for success. Each week, Ignatius talks to a top leader on LinkedIn Live — previous interviews included Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi. He also shares an inside look at these conversations —and solicits questions for future discussions — in a newsletter just for HBR subscribers. If you’re a subscriber, you can sign up here.


ADI IGNATIUS:

I’m really glad you’re doing this. I want to start with the controversy. What are you feeling about this? What have you learned from all of this?

GREGG BERHALTER:

I think it’s sadness. Our entire family is saddened by these events. It’s something we want to move forward from. As we said in the statement, it was something that we didn’t hide from back then, and we weren’t prepared to hide from it now, and that’s why we issued this statement. Actually, the events of that night 31 years ago and the lessons learned from that basically set the foundation for our relationship moving forward. It’s a loving relationship, a devoted relationship, and we have four amazing kids to show for.

I think the worst part of it for me is my heart aches for my wife, because it was her story to tell, if she chose to or not. It just really, really saddens me. But it’s moving forward and that’s the way we have to look at it together as a family. The family’s been amazing and has taken it one day at a time and moving forward.

A big reason for doing this show is because I committed to doing it. We committed to doing this before all this stuff happened and I wasn’t going to back down from it, because I said I would do it.

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