When the ads began popping up for season 1 of AppleTV’s Ted Lasso last year, I was certainly intrigued. The Sudeikis era of Saturday Night Live was the one of the few I paid attention to, besides that of the 90s when I was younger and had a cable subscription. The parallels between that era’s Ron Burgundy and today’s Ted Lasso characters came to mind as well. It also seemed like a fun, weird premise: a country-fried American football coach shipping off to the U.K. to coach a soccer team. But I didn’t have AppleTV. And as charming as Sudeikis can be he was probably not worth yet another subscription.
Then a new iPad came into our lives and, so, a free year of AppleTV. Now I really like Ted Lasso.
Sure, it’s got its issues. It’s not perfect television, but it’s also pretty close.
Even if he is over the top and downright saccharine, I find it hard to mount an attack against Ted Lasso in a day and age where there is so very much to be angry about. Sure, his optimism is superficial: “Do you believe in miracles?” he asks, unprompted, in one episode. His comedy is erratic: one scene he is Fred Rogers, the next he’s Jim Carrey after and number of several espressos, keeping more in common with Sudeikis’ SNL days than a heavily budgeted, flagship streaming show. But even where the titular character lacks the rest of the cast shines. They are bloody hilarious.
It’s not the writing or the performances that impacted me, though: it’s the team building. The coaching style of Ted Lasso, to say nothing of Coach Beard and Coach Nate (the great) is like some kind of fine hairsplitting between Mr. Rogers, who I mentioned before, and Bobby Knight. I don’t know who Bobby Knight is, but I remember Bobby Night Ranger from Parks & Recreation. And that’s kind of the point — I have never, in all my many years in education, felt a strong connexion between coaching and teaching (even if most high school teachers are, by choice or impressment, themselves coaches). I have heard comparisons made, especially when “pay for performance” discussions arise, between coaching and teaching but it has never been the same thing. It’s not the same thing because it’s not the same thing.
Rec league, amateur, school league, or pro, all athletes choose to be on their teams. Students have, essentially, no agency in their school careers: they are legally obliged to be there lest the social worker round them up and set them before a magistrate. Coaching happens in spurts of a few enthusiastic hours, building up to an exciting climax (a game); schooling happens in less than an hour in an exhausting day of less-than-an-hour classes leading to a boring finale (testing). So when folks would say things like, “We ought to pay teachers like coaches” I say, put coaches in our seat and see what happens. Take a starting lineup of hormonal persons with no interest in sport or teamsmanship and make a winning club out of them.
So I, generally, don’t do Sportball. I find little motivating about a speech from a great coach when I hear one and take no interest in hunting them out. Largely this is because I react badly to machismo whenever I detect it and have a hard time seeing the great coaches as anything but.
What bridged the gap for me is the fact that Ted Lasso cares more about his players than he does about winning. In one scene towards the end of the first season, Lasso is about to make a decision that will cost the entire team in order to spare the feelings of a single player. His counterpart confronts him, reminding him that these are not the college kids they are used to, but pro athletes, and that hard decisions must be made. Lasso is more about coming together to bring out the best in his players than he is about getting Ws and he does so with kindness, patience, and sincerity.
What a way to approach the classroom.
It is extremely easy to take on a pessimistic, deficit mindset with students. What is hard is truly believing the best about them, seeing their strengths, and taking the steps to bring those strengths out of them. It’s not about math or science or history, it’s not about high test scores, it’s about the kids as people. Even when ones attitude begins to shift old habits don’t want to die, especially three weeks in to another pandemic year. Authoritarianism remains appealing in parenting and teaching, because it’s simpler and more efficient to use consequences to get people under control. It’s a whole other ball game (pun intended) to seek out positive consequences and to coach up young souls in the throes of puberty, but it’s most certainly worth the effort.
So that’s my motto this year: more Lasso, less Truncbull. Or less Led Tasso.