• Greg Graber

Ted Lasso: A Cautionary Tale About Toxic Positivity?

Updated: Aug 29, 2021

Spoiler Warning: If you are watching Ted Lasso and have not made it to Season 2 Episode 6, "The Signal," you may want to wait and view it before reading this.


By now, unless you live in a cave, you have most likely seen or heard about the Apple TV phenomenon, Ted Lasso. The show, which recently garnered an astonishing twenty Emmy nominations, is centered around the trials and tribulations of a former American college football coach trying to make it in England as a professional soccer manager in the sport's most elite league, The Premier League. I must confess that I am biased. I absolutely love this show. In fact, I would even say that it is arguably my favorite show of all time. It's that good.


The most likeable lead character, Coach Lasso, is as positive as he is corny. It is hard not to root for him. Ted's eternal optimism shines through in almost every situation both on and off the soccer pitch. He is always quick to dispense a positive aphorism to uplift one of his players or colleagues going through a tough time.


Many coaches simply "talk the talk", but often they don't "walk the walk." In other words, their words of kindness are sometimes just empty platitudes used to motivate their players towards better performance on the field. This is evident, because their actions don't match their words. Ted is different. It's refreshing to see that as a coach, his actions match his words in terms of the kindness he embodies. Ted would be classified as a "transformative coach," because he truly aims to transform the players in his life. The types of coaches who offer the empty platitudes fall in the the "transactional coaching" camp, because they are more concerned with the result on the field. (One could argue that there is room for both or a mixture of the two types, but we can leave that for a future article.)


Science tells us that having a positive outlook benefits our overall well-being in the long term. Simply stated, we generally feel better when we can view our lives and the world around us through an optimistic lens rather than seeing it primarily from a pessimistic perspective. However, as I shared in this blog a while back, trying to force positivity on ourselves or on others all of the time is not helpful. This breeds toxic positivity, which does more harm than good: https://www.greggraber.com/post/beware-of-toxic-positivity


I am not suggesting that Ted should stop being kind. His words of encouragement impacts his players in profound ways, and doing things like hanging a yellow "BELIEVE" sign in the locker room is inspirational. Furthermore, one could even argue that "Biscuits with The Boss" is a lovely gesture, even if it does border on brown nosing. :)


I do, however, think Ted should let himself and his players "feel what they feel" when they are going through a rough patch. I tell the athletes that I work with that when we try to mentally resist negative thoughts, emotions, or feelings, they are only going to resurface even stronger. Our first instinct is to stuff it down, ignore it, or fight it. This only makes it worse. Instead, we should bring our awareness to the thought, feeling, or emotion. Once we recognize it, we should label what it is, because often, if we can "name it, we can tame it."


Over the past few months, several famous athletes such as Simone Biles, Namoi Osaka, and Sha'Carri Richardson have bravely spoken up about their struggles with stress and their own personal mental wellness challenges. Ted, despite his many positive attributes, seems to shy away from dealing with mental wellness issues with any real depth. Like many high profile coaches I have worked with, he sees the value of his players working the team psychologist, but he shies away from it himself.


In season two episode six, Dr. Sharon, the team's psychologist, tries to encourage Ted to visit with her. Her initial attempts are futile. Towards the end of the episode, Ted has to leave the field due to an anxiety attack while his Richmond team is playing Tottenham. One can only speculate why he had a panic attack. It is the stress of coaching on this level? Perhaps it is his recent divorce? Maybe he feels helpless as a father, since his son lives overseas in America? Could it be compassion fatigue from always taking care of his players, but ignoring his own self-care? Maybe there is not one specific answer, and it could be attributable to a combination of numerous stressors.


As the episode comes to a close, there is a glimmer of hope, as we see Ted balled up on a sofa in Dr. Sharon's office asking for help. Here's hoping that Ted stays positive, but doesn't use that positivity as a Band-Aid to cover up bigger issues that need tending to.


Feel better, Coach! We need you.


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









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