Remember Fun Coach?
It concluded that ‘smiling comes before the prize’, and that’s caught on.
Now the Fun Coach Movement finally has an international ambassador: Ted Lasso.
Coach Lasso (played by executive producer Jason Sudeikis) is the hero of a record-breaking TV comedy (20 Emmy nominations last week) on Apple TV.
If you haven’t seen it, now’s a good time to catch up; they’re rolling out series two episode-by-episode every Friday.
Here’s a quick synopsis: Ted’s a lovely bloke from America, coaching football (soccer) in England.
He’s a bit lost, but not really, because he knows what it takes to motivate his players, owner, and staff.
For professional and amateur coaches all over the world, he’s a gift wrapped in a gag. Make sure you get these tips down.
Lasso Lesson #1
The coach understands that improvement starts with creating a fun and challenging environment.
On arriving at fictional Premier League Club AFC Richmond, Lasso says, “I do love a locker room. Smells like potential.”
He then attempts to change the blokey feel of the place by covering up sexist pictures, adopting the motto “Believe!” and giving the players books as gifts.
Of course, the greatest sporting motivators were onto this strategy years ago. When World Cup-winning rugby coach Rod Macqueen was leading the Brumbies in the 1990s, he gave his players a single red rose at training during semi-final week.
Lasso Lesson #2
Relationships are more important than Xs and Os.
Every successful coach needs a trusted assistant. Lasso has Coach Beard, who takes care of day-to-day logistics and keep-it-simple-stupid tactics (whiteboard opposition analysis before the first game against Crystal Palace reads: “They’re fast!”). As a bonus, Coach Beard is so familiar with Lasso he’s not afraid to give him honest feedback.
The coach also manages up. “Biscuits with the Boss” is a ritual Lasso observes every Monday morning to bond with the team owner Rebecca Welton.
At first, Ms Welton thinks Lasso is absurd. But he wears her down with his authenticity. They eventually develop mutual respect, which enables the club’s two most senior managers to troubleshoot throughout the season. Such a leadership model is hard to beat.
Lasso Lesson #3
Listening to your players and staff unearths diamonds.
Lasso empowers everyone around him, including the equipment manager Nathan. Previously anonymous, Nate gets a new nickname – “Nate the Great” – and a promotion to assistant coach.
Then there’s the introduction of a suggestion box. At first, players write notes to the “gaffer” calling him a “wanker”. Another note ponders: “I hope you choke on a Big Mac.” After a while, the footballers realise Lasso genuinely wants their ideas — this builds trust. Athletes who realise the coach is there to support them are likely to give more of themselves.
Lasso’s biggest problem is the ongoing tension between his aging captain Roy Kent and superstar striker Jamie Tartt. Truculent Kent, nearing the end of his career, is no fan of Lasso. “Never thought it would end being coached by Ronald F***ing McDonald.”
And talented Tartt is a hog. As Lasso says to him: “Jamie, I think that you might be so sure that you’re one in a million, that sometimes you forget that out there, you’re just one of eleven.” With echoes of Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan, Lasso challenges his front man to simply pass the ball.
But don’t think the best Fun Coaches are soft touches. When the Kent-Tartt rift goes on too long, the coach demands they smarten up. “You two knuckleheads have split our locker room in half.”
Above all else, Lasso knows Kent is the key to team harmony.
“The first domino that needs to fall, [is] right inside that man’s heart,” Lasso says.
Lasso Lesson #4
Communication is king.
The doubting media is no big deal for Lasso, who treats tricky press conferences with a mix of disarming humour and respect.
“Can you explain the offside rule?” asks stern-faced reporter Trent Crimm.
“Well, Trent, I’m gonna put it the same way the US Supreme Court did back in 1964 when they defined pornography. It ain’t easy to explain but you know it when you see it.”
Lasso then reveals his public relations secret to Ms Welton. “You know what you do with tough cookies, don’t you? Dip ’em in milk.”
More importantly, the coach knows not to rely on journalists to introduce him to the public. He walks the streets, goes to the local pub, talks to people and displays curiosity. He knows the club’s most valuable assets are its supporters.
Lasso Lesson #5
Changing team culture takes time (in this case, about 10 episodes).
Be patient. Instead of trying to do it all at once, Lasso chips away at areas needing improvement. If a player is down on confidence, the coach tries to make him more comfortable and appreciated.
For young Nigerian Sam Obisanya, Lasso orders a birthday cake. The team eats it together after a loss, while dancing to music. Concerns about winning can wait.
Leaving reporter Crimm to observe: “In a business that celebrates ego, Ted reins his in. His coaching style is subtle. Slowing growing until you can no longer ignore it’s presence. If the Lasso way is wrong, it’s hard to imagine being right.”