Art Imitating Life, and Life Imitating Art…

A few months ago, I wrote a post about my new favorite TV show, Ted Lasso, giving some background on the show and my enthusiasm for it.

Apparently, I am not alone in my opinion about the show.

Jason Sudeikis, who plays Ted Lasso, has already won a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award and was just nominated for an Emmy for Best Lead Actor in a Comedy Series.

Well, now the Wall Street Journal has a wonderful story about how coaches are incorporating some of Ted Lasso’s techniques into their strategy.

Tyranny is out. Empathy is in. Coaches are getting the most of players by relating to them, not dictating to them, while keeping them accountable without coddling them. They are behaving more like Ted Lasso.

  • Utah Jazz basketball coach Quin Snyder needed some help dealing with a tricky situation at work not long ago. He decided to invoke the folksy wisdom of the fictional American football coach managing an English soccer club. “I don’t know if you watch ‘Ted Lasso,’ ” he said. “But sometimes your favorite animal is a goldfish because it has a memory of 10 seconds. That’s where we need to be.”

It doesn’t matter that Lasso doesn’t know anything about the sport. What happens on the pitch is the least demanding part of his job. He soothes the neuroses of his star players. He injects his role players with confidence. He uses his superpower of emotional intelligence to balance competing personalities, foster an environment where everyone is capable of good work and build the culture of a team initially resistant to his charms.

  • Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr was an early fan of the show, tweeting his praise for the series when most people were ready to dismiss it. “If there is a lesson on the show, it is that culture beats scheme,” Kerr said in an email. “The guy knows nothing about soccer but he has created a great atmosphere with the club that leads to winning. The most famous example of Kerr going full Lasso was the time the Warriors went small in the 2015 NBA Finals and he deflected credit for the schematic tweak that helped win a championship to Nick U’Ren, a previously anonymous special assistant to the head coach. Lasso also takes suggestions for set pieces from his players and promoted Nate the kit man to assistant coach since he was already crafting strategy in addition to cleaning laundry. (in reality, given the timing, it may have been Lasso going full Kerr.)
  • Chris Paul was binging the show between film sessions as the overachieving Phoenix Suns made the NBA Finals. Meanwhile, his coach sounded like he was interviewing for Lasso’s staff as he discussed the bond he’s developed with his players. “When they make fun of me,” Monty Williams said, “that’s a sign that we’re tight.”

It isn’t a coincidence that NBA players and coaches are studying this TV series. Lasso is a realistic portrayal of an effective leader in 2021 partly because his character was inspired by real people. And they don’t work in soccer.

Basketball seems to be the source of much of Lasso’s wisdom.

When he started playing Ted Lasso, Sudeikis hung John Wooden’s pyramid of success in his office. The set design was not a surprise to his friends: They know him well enough to know that Sudeikis’s go-to gift is a book of Wooden quotes. Sudeikis and Brendan Hunt, one of the show’s creators and writers who also plays Coach Beard, Lasso’s sidekick, met in Chicago and consider former Bulls coach Phil Jackson a sacred being. Gregg Popovich was another source for the writers as they brainstormed unorthodox ways for a coach to establish trust with his team. Lasso stages an exorcism to lift a curse on AFC Richmond. Popovich takes the San Antonio Spurs to long, wine-soaked dinners. “We thought of that as very Lassosesque,” Hunt said. 

As Ben Cohen, the reporter for the story, concludes:

Art imitates life; life is now imitating art. But the funny thing about this show becoming reality and Ted Lasso turning into a guru is that if a sports team asked the character’s writers for advice, their first response might very well be laughing him out of the room. 

“I’d be somewhat disinclined to be responsible for the fortunes of a franchise that uses a sitcom as their philosophical north star,” Hunt said. “Trying to demonstrate good leadership was not our raison d’être. We’re still just trying to make a comedy.”

Call it an unintended consequence, but I think there are a lot of leadership lessons in Ted Lasso for both sports coaches and business executives.

And even if you don’t find any, it’s still a great comedy…

P.S. I’ll also put a plug in for one of my all-time favorite comedy movies – We Are the Millers, since it stars Jason Sudeikis.

51 thoughts on “Art Imitating Life, and Life Imitating Art…

  1. I’ve never heard of the show before, but I’ll keep my eyes peeled for it, and perhaps lasso it with my Tivo. Although this Lasso guy is inspiring coaches, if I were them I wouldn’t stray too far from UCLA Bruins football coach, “Red” Sanders advice, who said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. it’s on Apple TV, which many people don’t have. we only have it becuase of a free trial.

      and thanks for that tidbit about Red Sanders – I always thought that was a quote from Vince Lombardi!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, Apple TV. I wondered why I had never heard of it. By the way, I remember watching Steve Kerr let Draymond Green draw up plays during a timeout once. The players were automatically engaged, possibly because it was a different voice. I wonder if that would work in the classroom.🤣 Hey Jimmy, take over for a while, will ya?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Now I am all excited about a TV program that I can’t watch, as I am an orange in an Apple world. But Sudeikis is a wonderfully comedic actor. “We Are the Millers” was hilarious and who couldn’t appreciate some of Anniston’s scenes in that movie. “Horrible Bosses”, both one and two, were also classic good laughs.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. i’ve wanted to see this one for along time, and have heard nothing but good about it, but alas no apple tv. i’ll hav to wait until i can find it somewhere else in the future. sounds wonderful thought, and i love that his style is being incorporated into the real world, you can never have too much empathy.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I guess I’m in the same position as many here without a subscription to Apple TV (I already take Sky Sports, Netflix, Amazon Prime plus a mandatory tax for BBC!). But it sounds like a good show and right up my street. We have some good “real” examples over here of World Cup rugby and cricket winning coaches and captains who were very “off the wall” so to speak. Great post👍👍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thanks, Dr. B! We already pay for so many services as well; we got Apple TV free for a year, and tried to take full advantage of it.

      I’m hoping to teach myself how cricket works before some championships later this year…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Unlike just about everyone else who has commented I do have Apple TV+ and absolutely love the show. Can’t wait for season 2 which I think is due next week. A couple of points that those you have quoted seem to have missed, though: firstly, whilst Ted became universally popular and created a great environment around the club, he did actually get them relegated! Secondly, they have all failed to mention the little box of biscuits he baked and gave the club owner every morning. It’s all about the biscuits…

    For other readers I should perhaps point out that here we call the game football: something to do with every team member actually kicking the ball. And biscuits to us are what you call cookies, which to us are just one type of biscuit – or those mysterious things on your computer…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wonder how many people knowwhat relegated means!

      The Wall Street Journal article did mention the freshly baked cookies, I mean biscuits, that Ted brings to his boss. Ted gets to know what makes each person tick…


      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hopefully not many – I should have put a spoiler alert warning on that comment! I’m glad the WSJ did mention the biscuits – as you say, they play a significant role in his psychology in building a relationship.


        Liked by 1 person

  7. Haven’t watched the show. It is only available on Apple TV here, and we don’t want to pay for yet another streaming service. But if the show ever shows up conveniently somewhere else, I will definitely give it a try. It does sound entertaining.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m watching an interview with Gary Numan and he said he doesn’t audition band members. He gets referrals, takes people’s word, and invitees the potential member over to hang out. If he gets along with them, they’re hired!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Famous 80s electro musician… Cars, Down In The Park, Are Friends Electric…

        Now he makes Industrial Rock, sorta halfway between his 80s music and Nine Inch Nails. I’m a MASSIVE fan.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Lol… no, not the same. He had a hit called Cars.
        I saw The Cars live a few years ago. People panned the sound but I must have been in a sweet spot because they sounded great to me!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Have yet to see the Millers and don’t have Apple TV but I do like Ted’s team building philosophy. Before I retired my employers said they wanted to build a team but the only thing they looked at were the #s. Since I didn’t think the #s said very much about what I contributed to the team I decided it would be easier to retire than to try to convince them of the error of their thinking!

    Liked by 1 person

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