I was rather late in joining the Ted Lasso bandwagon. Living in this Golden Age of television, when Ted Lasso came out, I brushed it off as a little comedy I would eventually get to. My slate of shows was already too full with heavier, darker shows like Ozark and The Handmaid’s Tale. Jason Sudeikis would simply have to wait.
Ted Lasso is the story of a college football coach from Kansas who gets recruited to coach AFC Richmond, a struggling soccer club in the English Premier League. Despite his immaculate hair, impeccable mustache, and endearing southern twang, Lasso’s welcome to England is the furthest thing from warm.
Ted Lasso’s lack of knowledge and inexperience with soccer make him a complete fish out of water. His coaching techniques, imported from American football, are not only unorthodox, sports reporters and the people of Richmond find Lasso’s antics to be silly and absurd.
We, the viewers, initially see Ted Lasso in the same way the people of Richmond do. No matter how badly we want Ted to succeed and save AFC Richmond from relegation, 1 we can’t help but recognize the absurdity and seeming impossibility of this Kansan making a difference. It would take a miracle.
That’s the real beauty of the show. The story has some similarities to the classic underdog sports stories we’re familiar with, but Ted Lasso doesn’t just inspire hope: Ted Lasso makes the case that hope isn’t as absurd or impossible as we may think.
The reality is that as silly as it may be, what Ted Lasso does as a coach works. Ted is a good man and a good friend, and that is precisely what makes him a great coach. There is something infectious about his humility and his joy that by the end of the first episode, you can’t help but root for him.
It really is the joy of Ted Lasso that makes the happy-go-lucky Kansan the character that he is. Any viewer of the show has several scenes in mind that are their favorite expressly due to the humor and joy of the title character. He’s one of those people who is simply a delight to see in action.
But Ted Lasso isn’t just happy, he is truly, authentically joyful. And where that joy is most beautifully seen at play is in his treatment of the players he coaches and the people he works with. It is evident that Ted desires nothing more than to see the people around him succeed.
On both a practical and spiritual level, this is such an important element of life that is too often neglected. As social, communal people, our relationships play a pivotal role in the function and success of our families, schools, teams, parishes, etc.
Too often, we can be tempted to see our relationships with those around us as transactional, as a means to achieve whatever end we have in mind. But not for Ted Lasso. From the Director of Operations to the young kit managers, Lasso not only recognizes the dignity and the worth of each individual at AFC Richmond. He calls attention to that worth and celebrates it.
Ted doesn’t merely support and train his players; he cares for them. In doing so, as the season continues for the team and the Lasso-effect begins to take hold, the care and compassion that Ted’s philosophy is built upon begins to spread.
I must admit that Ted Lasso has ultimately helped shape my approach to a unique ministry opportunity I have. At the beginning of this year, I joined the volleyball program at Saint Louis University (where I am currently missioned for studies) as the team chaplain.
Despite having grown up playing volleyball, I resonated with Ted Lasso in feeling like a fish out of water during my first few weeks. Most athletes have never had a team chaplain, so it is a little weird when a guy in clerics begins showing up to your practices.
Knowing and loving the sport, I felt tempted in those first few weeks to think that my knowledge or skill in volleyball would somehow aid me in being a chaplain. As the off-season continued, I realized that the team had enough coaches or trainers, and that frankly, that wasn’t my job.
In spending time with the players, getting to know them, praying for them, I began to notice the special way God had invited me to walk with these athletes.
A common misconception about college athletes is that they are a privileged group of people. Sure, they get to travel and receive a good amount of free gear, but they are expected to excel academically while playing at an extremely high level of competition: a big pressure on top of the already difficult navigation of college and your early twenties.
I planned a casual event where the team could simply relax and have a breather before finals. Workshopping ideas with our assistant coach, she commented that so many of the players talk about missing a home cooked meal.
So, the next week we held a barbeque in the backyard of my Jesuit community. They got to meet my brother Jesuits, share a meal together, and laugh about how easily I got sunburnt.
Now with the regular volleyball season underway, I have especially tried to channel my inner Ted Lasso. I haven’t practiced with the team this season. Instead, I simply sit on the sideline in my clerics and team quarter zip cheering them on. I speak to the players about anything from their families and their mental health to their favorite music and how their classes are going.
I even have pregame handshakes that consist of fist bumps and the sign of the Cross.
The fish out of water feeling has completely left. My team knows what I’m about and what my role as chaplain is. I pray for them daily and strive to make sure that they know that they have someone who truly, deeply cares about them.
I don’t know if an NCAA tournament berth awaits us this season. If I could give my team a word of advice, I would simply quote the great Ted Lasso: “Believe!”
Watch Ted Lasso on Apple TV. Images courtesy of Apple TV.
- The process through which consistently low-performing soccer teams are demoted to a lower league. ↩