Super Ted’s circle of ‘we’

As the second series begins filming, Melissa Marselle revisits Ted Lasso – which some are calling perfect lockdown viewing…

Although it came out in summer 2020, a friend recommended the US comedy Ted Lasso to me in January as a ‘smart, funny, feel-good show without irony, naivety or self-deprecation’. In the midst of winter and the start of Lockdown 3.0, this sounded like tonic for the soul. 

Ted Lasso is an Apple TV+ show about a good-natured American college football coach, Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis), hired to train the fictional English Premier League team AFC Richmond. Originally based on an NBC Sports advert, Ted Lasso is a classic fish-out-of-water story of a heart-on-his-sleeve American rubbing against buttoned-up English mores. 

The show starts with Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham) assuming ownership of AFC Richmond from her cheating ex-husband, firing the current misogynist trainer and replacing him with Ted Lasso. All is not as it seems… Ted’s ignorance about football makes him an unlikely choice. His enthusiastic personality makes him the perfect dupe and our beloved underdog. To avoid relegation, Lasso must earn the respect of his players while also winning over a hostile press and fanbase. 

For a show about a football coach, the football remains mostly in the background, as the show focuses on the relationships Lasso forms with those around him. Ted’s secret weapon is his positivity. What he lacks in basic knowledge about football or the UK, he makes up for in positive thinking and motivation skills. This is best conveyed in his coaching philosophy: ‘I don’t care if we win or lose matches. I am here to help these players become the best version of themselves’. By cultivating positive relationships and self-esteem, Ted helps others pursue meaningful lives.

In this way, Ted Lasso embodies positive psychology – the study of psychological strengths and positive emotions. Ted is an extraordinarily positive person. He demonstrates many positive psychological character strengths, such as curiosity, creativity, open-mindedness, integrity, persistence, humility, gratitude and humour. This is especially conveyed when Ted attributes a quote to Walt Whitman during a darts competition: ‘Be curious, not judgmental’. Kindness is another character strength, as Ted secretly bakes homemade shortbread biscuits for Rebecca, and gives his football players personalised presents. Ted also demonstrates forgiveness to Rebecca, while she in turn clings to the negative attachment to her ex-husband. 

Lasso has high dispositional optimism as he expects that good things will happen. Despite never having coached football before, he is confident about his future at AFC Richmond and expects that team and player outcomes will be positive. Lasso explains the causes of bad events, like losing games, are unstable (We’ll win next time), specific (it’s just a game) and external (Man City are a good team). Through his persistent optimism and genuine warmth, Ted leads characters and AFC Richmond towards their best selves.

As such the programme is also a case study in the social identity approach to leadership, which has felt like a real paradigm shift in Psychology in recent years. For Ted, leadership is about ‘we’ not ‘I’. This is a lesson some real life Premiership football managers seem to grasp more than others: Jose Mourinho is perhaps experiencing diminishing returns with his ‘I am a special one’ approach, while just last night Leeds’ Marco Bielsa won plaudits from many fans for saying ‘I didn’t take Leeds to the Premier League. I manage in the Premier League thanks to Leeds.’

I enjoyed spending time with Ted. His positive character strengths and optimism are infectious; an antidote for all the doom and stress and negativity in the world right now. Albert Bandura’s social learning theory highlights how TV programmes can encourage people to make positive changes in their livesTed Lasso sparks such behavioural and social changes by showing the benefits of positive thinking and behaviour. Although just a TV show, it may even prompt the audience to become the ‘best version of themselves’.

Reviewed by Melissa Marselle, PhD, Lecturer in Psychological Well-being, De Montfort University. Twitter: @melissamarselle

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