media · soccer · team sports

Fitness in Ted Lasso

In Apple TV’s Emmy-winning show, Ted Lasso (TL), the titular character is a goofy, Kansas-born football coach who must adjust to a very different life as head coach of a pro football (North American soccer) team in England.

Screenshot of Ted Lasso Talk Facebook group
Screenshot of Ted Lasso Talk Facebook group

I watched both seasons, then I joined ~22K fans in the Ted Lasso Talk FB group. Some fans of not only the show but also the sport of football discuss with enthusiasm actors like Cristo Fernández (Dani Rojas) who are real life football players, and parallels with real-life players and actual British clubs.

But you don’t need to be a football fan to participate in the lively conversation. TL fans love to ask and answer questions about all aspects of the show (many have watched both seasons multiple times). So I asked folks to share what they’ve noticed so far about any representations of exercise and fitness.

[WARNING: Modest show spoilers]

Exercise Made Fun(ny)

Coaches have to find the right words to inspire their teams during practice. Here are a few of Ted’s choice expressions to get his team in action (crowdsourced enthusiastically by the FB group fans):

  • “Your body is like day-old rice. If it ain’t warmed up properly, something real bad could happen.”
  • “Touch your toes. Now touch each other’s toes! Your feet fingers!”
  • “Making quicker transitions from offense to defense. Y’all gotta start making your hellos your goodbyes.”
  • “We all know speed is important. But being able to stop and change directions quickly? Well, that’s like Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak. It don’t get nearly enough credit.”
  • “We’re gonna call this drill ‘The Exorcist’ ’cause it’s all about controlling possession.”

Ted doesn’t use the traditional language of training and exercise; rather, he makes quirky comparisons and memorable pop culture references to get his team moving.

What Fitness Looks Like

All the players on the fictional AFC Richmond team appear physically fit. In the locker room scenes, outfit changes reveal lean, muscular, ready-to-run bodies. A few times we see players using the treadmill and free weights, but there aren’t a ton of game, practice, or training scenes that highlight the pro players’ peak athleticism.

Instead, as one TL fan noticed, in the S2 finale it is the rival football team that is shown doing physically intense calisthenics (while Nate, recently defected from AFC, looks on). By comparison, Ted has his team on the pitch practicing a choreographed dance routine to N’Sync’s 90s hit song, “Bye Bye Bye.”

Other fitness activities portrayed relate to characters’ hobbies and social lives. The sports psychologist loves cycling. The gruff former star player-turned-coach shares a weekly yoga practice with retired women (then drinks rose wine with them afterwards). Ted is a crackerjack darts player, and he walks to work with his Assistant, Coach Beard. There are some pre- and post- sex scenes. So mostly, it’s regular people fitness.

Nutrition and Food

Representations of food and eating in TL do not follow sports nutrition myths, fads, and stereotypes. The players scarf fast food kabobs, drink beer in the locker room and out at the bar, and share potluck dishes they bring to a holiday meal. There is no excess of supplements, restrictive eating regimes, or protein shakes.

Coach Ted is as sweet as the food he shares and enjoys. He brings club owner Rebecca Welton home-made biscuits (sugar cookies) everyday. On the topic of sugar, Ted says, “I’ve never met someone who doesn’t eat sugar. Only heard about ’em, and they all live in this godless place called Santa Monica.” And on his favourite dessert, he says, “Ice cream’s the best. It’s kinda like seeing Billy Joel live. Never disappoints.”

The Fitness of Teams

In this sports dramedy, characters manage the stress not of the daily grind of elite level fitness training but of various personal issues and relationships. Although they come from many different countries and ethnic backgrounds, the team players chat, bicker, and support each other as a team. As one TL Facebook group fan responded, “I love how fitness is not the centre of the story. Football and exercise are their job, but community and relationships are the centre.”

This LA Times article interviewed pro soccer coaches and players who are also TL fans because of the way the show features the interpersonal and psychological aspects of team play. The article quotes one American men’s national team coach who says that the strength of TL is not football itself but rather everything around football: “I don’t watch the show for what I see on the field. That’s not the point […]. But I think, in any sport, a lot of team success is what happens in the locker room. And they get that absolutely right.”

So, with the help of the fan group, I have discerned that TL is not, ultimately, a show about the fitness of professional football. However, there’s much more to say on how TL represents team dynamics, psychological health, and gender in sports. But I’ll have get back to you on those topics—after consulting further with my 22K fan friends.

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