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Youth development lessons from Ted Lasso

By Kate Walker

Have you seen the streaming Apple TV series Ted Lasso? It’s a beloved comedy about an American football coach who gets hired to lead a struggling professional soccer team in England. Mostly it’s about how Ted leads his team, on and off the field. I am a huge fan of this unexpectedly heartwarming show, and in it I find lessons for effective youth development practice and for supporting social emotional learning with young people.

  1. “Be a goldfish.” According to Ted, a goldfish is the happiest animal in the world because it has a 10-second memory. He encourages his players not to dwell on their mistakes, but to learn from them and move on. Scholars in our field call this a growth mindset.
  2. “Believe!” Ted mounted a sign with this motto in the locker room. It represents his optimistic, can-do attitude. When asked if he believes in ghosts Ted quipped, “I do. But more importantly, I believe they need to believe in themselves.” Youth programs can help young people develop initiative or agency to set and reach goals.
  3. “Be curious, not judgmental.” Ted uses this Walt Whitman quote to explain how people have made assumptions and underestimated him before getting to know him. Ted connects with others by asking questions. He shows genuine concern for the wellbeing of others and tells people how much he appreciates them. He’s supportive and uplifting, and this kind of respect and rapport builds trust and positive relationships.
  4. Be emotionally in tune. When surly team captain Roy Kent says he can’t control his feelings, Ted retorts, “Well then by all means you should let them control you.” Youth programs—like the soccer field—can help young people learn not only to manage emotions, but also to use emotions in constructive ways.
  5. Be your best self. For Ted, “success is not about the wins and losses. It’s about helping these young fellas be the best versions of themselves on and off the field.”​ Likewise, youth programs help young people grow and transfer skills by exploring their sparks, working in teams and taking on meaningful roles.
What leadership or life lessons would you add to this list as key to supporting social and emotional development of young people? How do these lessons help you to be a better youth worker and to help young people thrive?

-- Kate Walker, Extension professor and specialist in youth work practice

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  1. Thanks, Kate for this fun post. I was just thinking of adding "love yourself" but wondering how to get more concreate with that, since, when I was a kid and people told me that, I always wondered what it really means and what it looks like. Then I realized...being a goldfish, believing, being curious and nonjudgmental, emotionally in-tune, and our best selves are all ways of loving ourselves!

    1. I’ll stay on theme with a Ted Lasso take on self-love. His Lasso-ism are usually about building others up, accepting and affirming them as themselves. This is true of a lot of youth workers and educators. And like Ted, they often neglect self-care. When asked about his thoughts on therapy he replies, “General apprehension and modest Midwestern skepticism.” Self-love is a growth area for Ted, so I think your reminder to “love yourself” is a worthy addition, Jess!

    2. There's an episode in season two where Rebecca is in conversation with Higgins about the "brand" he had when he met his wife. His response, "I suppose the best brand is just being yourself," immediately made me think about the importance of self-love and how freeing it can be to be comfortable in your own skin. I think this idea is especially important in youth development with all of the outside pressure put on kids to "be" a certain way or to "do" certain things to build their "brand".

    3. Thanks for sharing another terrific take-away! And youth development programs are great spaces for young people to explore and develop their identities - to try on, get feedback and figure out their "brand" for who they are and who they want to be in the world.


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