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How much is too much when it comes to youth sport?

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How to coach with a Balance is Better philosophy

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Balance is Better Principles Poster

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Creating a positive parent culture

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The art of vulnerability – Lessons on coaching with Ted Lasso

CoachesLeadership 5 Min Read

This is the first in a series of blogs by Dave Keelty looking at coaching lessons from hit television comedy, Ted Lasso. 

Ted Lasso is back, and I am excited! For those of you who haven’t discovered this gem of a TV show, you need to stop reading this now, find some way to get an apple TV subscription (use your parents, your friends, your neighbours, or you know… one) and watch season one immediately. It’s funny, heart warming, sincere and charming, while also feeling real. The show creators have done a great job at creating a show that makes you feel all those things. But, more importantly than all of those things (in my opinion), Ted Lasso does a great job at debunking some of the pervasive myths within the world of coaching. In particular, how the general public and media understand the role of the coach, and attributes and skills are valued in coaches.

Caveat: I’m not saying that every single coaching behaviour or idea depicted on Ted Lasso is a great one. But, I do believe there are a lot of really good lessons and examples from the show that coaches, parents, and the wider public can learn from.  

For those who aren’t aware of the show, the basic plot of the show is this: 

  • Famous billionaire couple split up after husband (Rupert) gets caught cheating 
  • In the divorce, the wife (Rebecca) gets the Premier League Football Club they own, called Richmond FC 
  • Rebecca cares nothing for Football, but is feeling very vengeful towards Rupert, so wants to destroy Richmond FC, which she claims is the only thing Rupert has ever truly loved. 
  • Her first step in achieving this plan is to fire the current coach, and hire Ted Lasso, an American Football coach who knows nothing about Football (I repeat, he knows NOTHING about Football) 
  • Ted accepts the role and flies over to the UK to start his coaching role, which is set up as trying to prevent Richmond from being relegated from the premier league 

I won’t go through anymore, as I believe you need to watch the show. But that’s enough to help you get a picture. 

The purpose of this blog, and the upcoming series, is to breakdown each episode of season two and explore an idea(s) that come from it. The goal being to help coaches, parents, administrators and the general public understand more about coaches, and the important role they play.  

Season 2 Episode 1 

Idea: Vulnerability 

Season two starts with Richmond FC seven games into their season, of which they have drawn all seven games. In the latest game, one of their best players, Danny Rojas, accidently killed the team mascot (a Greyhound) by kicking a penalty that hit it (ridiculous I know). After that experience, Danny experiences a mental block and his confidence and expertise on the Football pitch leave him. As the show so eloquently puts, he gets ‘The Yips’. Ted (along with assistant coaches) try to help Danny get past The Yips, but are unsuccessful. So, they turn to a sports psychologist for help, which Ted isn’t that happy about, but reluctantly agrees to.  

This is where vulnerability comes into play. Ted clearly doesn’t think much of the idea and explains why. The direct quote is 

“this whole idea of getting someone in from the outside to help us get him there, it puts a knot in my belly and I’m unsure why. I thought it might have been that green eyed monster too (jealousy), but I think there is part of me that just doesn’t trust therapists”. 

He’s had a bad experience in his personal life with a psychologist, so is sceptical. But, after talking it through with his assistant, Coach Beard, he agrees. As the head coach of the team, Ted has the ultimate last say in these decisions, so could trump the opinions of his coaching team and pull the pin on the psychologist idea. But, he doesn’t. He gives it the green light.  

So, what’s the lesson for coaches here? 

Despite having reservations, Ted gives the green light to use a sports psychologist to help Danny get past The Yips. In this act, there are some important messages that he’s sending to his team. He’s saying: 

“I trust you, and value your opinions”.  

“I don’t always have to have the ideas around here. If you have one, and it has merit, we’ll give it a crack” 

“I’m willing to make myself feel uncomfortable for the good of the team. Sometimes good things come from being uncomfortable” 

And how are these messages felt by his team? 

“It’s ok to try new things, and maybe take a risk now and then” 

“We are valued and important here” 

“I can go to Ted with ideas, and he will listen to them, evaluate them and if they add value, will be implemented” 

Think about the behaviours this will enable. Everyone reading this will have been involved with a team, whether that be a work team, a sports team, a committee, a volunteer group etc. If you have a leader who makes you feel valued, who respects your opinion and encourages you to take risks and try new things, it gives you a sense of importance, it increases how much effort you give, it helps you to buy in to the bigger ‘cause’. There is a really important theory that this links to, called Self-Determination Theory (SDT). SDT represents a broad framework for the study of human motivation and personality. SDT helps us understand how social and cultural factors facilitate or undermine people’s sense of volition and initiative (motivation), in addition to their well-being and the quality of their performance. The three key ideas within SDT that are believed to support and grow motivation within people are:  

Autonomy – People need to feel in control of their own behaviors and goals. This sense of being able to take direct action that will result in real change plays a major part in helping people feel self-determined. 

Competence – People need to gain mastery of tasks and learn different skills. When people feel that they have the skills needed for success, they are more likely to take actions that will help them achieve their goals. 

Relatedness – People need to experience a sense of belonging and attachment to other people. 

By Ted showing some vulnerability with his team, you can see how that behaviour translates to his team feeling like they have autonomy and relatedness. SDT outlines that by giving his team autonomy and relatedness, his is increasing the likelihood of his team feeling motivated to give their best, and ultimately, increase their performance. I really believe that coaches showing vulnerability authentically can help create an environment that brings the best out of their team or their athletes, and Ted Lasso gives us a really good case study as to how that works. 

So, how might you apply these lessons from Ted around vulnerability in your day-to-day coaching life? 

  • Create situations where you are taking new coaching suggestions from others. For example, your players, other coaches, your partner, your friends 
  • Acknowledge openly with your team, parents, other coaches to say you don’t have all the answers, and you’re open for feedback 
  • When you make a mistake, acknowledge it to your team 
  • Spend time getting to know your team outside of your sport. For example;
    • Try get to training early so you can chat with your players and find out what other interests they have 
    • Set up a system, like show and tell, where everyone in the team brings an item that’s important to them and tells everyone else the story behind that 
    • Do a couple of things as a team away from the sports field or court or track each season 

Read more in this series:

Hey Coach, what’s your stance on second chances?

How not to coach – with Led Tasso

Image Source: Apple TV

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