Josh Pastner: Real Life Ted Lasso
Updated: Dec 19, 2021
My current favorite TV show is Ted Lasso. I think it is a great program for a myriad of reasons. I always chuckle to myself when someone says that it is unrealistic to think that a big-time coach could ever be as positive as Ted. People who say this have obviously never met Josh Pastner.
I first met Josh when he was the coach at University of Memphis. This was his first head coaching gig after serving a year an an assistant on John Calipari's bench at Memphis and six years on Lute Olson's bench at Arizona. Previous to this, he played at Arizona. Despite working under two legendary coaches, Josh is his own person. In addition, his knowledge for the sport he coaches is vast, as he has coached high level players since his teenage years. (This may be the one glaring contrast he has with Ted Lasso. Josh actually has an impressive understanding and pedigree in the game he coaches).
Without a doubt, Josh is the most positive person I have ever met. Listening to his press conferences, you would swear Ted Lasso wrote them for him. His optimism, intelligence, and good sense of humor always shine though. With that said, he is as authentic and empathetic a human being you could ever meet. His brand of positivity is not forced, sticky-sweet, or toxic. Make no mistake: he's no Mr. Rogers, as he is as competitive as they come. Josh will scream on the sidelines. He will question a ref's call, and he will be the first to correct a player. What sets him apart is that, much like Ted Lasso, is that he has a big heart and he genuinely cares about people, and it comes across in everything he does. He never makes anything personal.
Some high-profiles coaches of Josh's caliber tweet biblical scripture, but are hypocritical in nature, because they dog cuss their players on a daily basis and treat people they encounter with disrespect or indifference. This is not Josh. He treats everyone the same- from his star player to the custodian who sweeps his practice gym. I have seen it many times with my own eyes. There are countless amounts of stories about how Josh has uplifted the spirits of people he has interacted with. The beautiful thing about these stories is that most of them involve people who were not in a position to do anything for Josh in return. He did these good deeds out of the kindness of his heart, not wanting or expecting anything in return.
Here is my story about Coach Pastner:
Before I became a mental performance coach, I was a middle school principal in my hometown of Memphis. I became friends with Josh, as he was always nice enough to come and speak to my students in assemblies once or twice a year. He once made the mistake of giving me his mobile phone number. Shortly thereafter, I started texted him about the possibility of working with his players on mindfulness training. Initially, he was skeptical but seemed somewhat interested. He asked if I knew any teams who used mindfulness techniques to enhance performances. I responded by sending him articles about George Mumford and his work with Phil Jackson's storied Bulls and Lakers teams. I guess he figured if it were good enough for Michael Jordan, Kobe, and Shaq, his Memphis Tigers would give it a try.
Growing up in Memphis, I was raised a Memphis Tigers fan. I can name every player and coach from the past forty years by heart. Getting the opportunity to work with this team was a dream come true. At the time, they were nationally ranked with a couple of all-Americans on the squad, and these guys were treated like royalty in Memphis. It would be an understatement to say that I was excited for this opportunity. In fact, I didn't sleep much for weeks leading up to my initial session with them. I was walking on air.
It would also be an understatement to say that my first session with the team was a failure. At the time, mindfulness was not as accepted as it is now. Back then, it was far from mainstream, as many considered it fringe, foreign, hippy dippy, esoteric, or just plain weird. Judging from the players' uproarious laughter when I told them that we were going to work on meditation, breathing, and visualization, one would have thought that they were at a Chris Rock comedy show. My spirit was crushed. I had such high expectations for this, and the players literally laughed me out of the gym. It was a brutal punch in the gut.
After the presentation, I made my way over to Josh, holding back tears of utter disappointment. I was an utter failure. "I am sorry, Coach. Thanks for the opportunity. I am sorry," I said. "Don't be sorry. That was our first time. We will see you again tomorrow," he responded.
It was as if he would not let me quit. The next day he called me into his office and told me that he believed in me and what we were doing, and we would find a way to make it work. He suggested that I start by working with players in small groups and individually instead of the whole team, until they become comfortable with it.
I could not believe that someone the caliber of Coach Pastner had so much belief in me and what I was doing. Having someone of his stature believe in you makes you believe in yourself. With my newfound belief in myself, I dusted off my self-esteem and refocused my efforts with his wise suggestions. I am now happy to report that for three season, we had very much success with using these practices and techniques with his players.
Fast forward many years later: I have since worked with many teams as a mental performance coach and mindfulness teacher. I'm still based out of Memphis, and Coach Pastner is now in Atlanta at Georgia Tech. A couple of weeks ago, the two of us were standing on the sideline in AllState Arena in Atlanta, as one of the teams I am work with, LSU, was getting ready to play his Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. We chatted for a few minutes before hugging and wishing each other well. As we visited, I thought about how good it was to see him again and his massive positive impact on my life. Years before Ted Lasso taped his yellow "Believe" sign up in AFC Richmond's locker room, Josh Pastner was teaching me how to believe in myself. Thanks, Coach. I love you, man.
Greg Graber, the author of Slow Your Roll- Mindfulness for Fast Times, teaches mindfulness and Social & Emotional (SEL) skills to schools, top sports teams, and various organizations around the world. Graber, a frequent keynote speaker, currently serves as the Director of SEL at Lausanne Collegiate School. He may be contacted through his website: www.greggraber.com