Sweet coaching

Ted Lasso, the playbook and Mark Coles

Ted Lasso is an American football coach who ends up coaching an English Premier League club, and hilarity ensues.  It's the premise of the Apple+ TV show, and not like a real story.

A lot of it seems inspired by basketball, Lasso talks about making one extra pass, which is the basketball idea. He gives the players themed books to read, which is a Phil Jackson move.  Taking tactics from someone outside the staff, as the Golden State Warriors did a few years back. At one stage he just starts delivering the Allen Iverson practice speech almost word for word. (I enjoyed laughing until snot came out of me while my wife didn't know why).

But as a coach Lasso is interesting because he knows nothing about football, and so his coaching is working on player management. We don't know what formation his AFC Richmond are using. Still, we see how he tries to build up an inexperienced player via methods like birthday parties and to talk about goldfish. He realises that interfering in the locker room dynamic won't help as much as gently persuading a key voice to do it. And he uses a great team-building method of players sharing a personal memory to make his team work together.

I'm not saying you can learn how to coach watching this show, but it's got strong management vibes all the way through it. Which I found weirder, because I just started watching the Netflix series The Playbook, and in some ways, I didn't think it was as good. Instead of showing highly specific ways you can coach athletes, I felt like it was very buzzwordy and seemed to be more about the coaches themselves than their methods. So I actually feel like Lasso is a more practical example of leading than an entire show dedicated to great coaches.

I've been thinking a lot about coaches, not long back I read Mensch - a book on German football managers. And recently I talked to Mark Coles.

Chances are if you have heard of Coles it was because of the piece that talked about his amazing journey.

The entire episode is here, and I think you'll enjoy listening to it if you haven't already.

But this is a transcript from Coles' time in charge of the Pakistan women's team.  It's one of my favourite coaching stories because it's about the people, it's not full of inspirational quotes, or strategic genius. It is just a man trying to make it easier for his players. Oh, and it's very sweet.

"We turned our practices into things where we could make mistakes, and I'm not sure what we'd done in the past and I'm not criticising anything that's been on the past.

But I think what happened in the past may have been at the head test players take them, male test players. And I don't, I don't think the male players understood. "Why can't you play like me? I used to be able to hit over the top, inside out over cover. Why can't you do that?" Well, because the can't, they're 45 kilos, and so they won't be able to.So we encouraged them to make mistakes and be happy to make mistakes because that's how you're going to learn.

And we bought a fun element into it, when we lost and we were down and out against New Zealand. I couldn't have a drink because if I did, I took the chance of being arrested. So I thought, well, the next best thing that I like is ice cream. And I knew that we'd been to a restaurant where they served ice cream. So I thought, well, we'll two-nil down against new Zealand. Sophie Devine had smashed us. She was annoying me. Not that she annoyed me as a person, but it was just here comes Sophie again and she'd belt them.

I thought, right, that's it. Half past six at night, I'm calling a meeting. And in my mind I decided that I'm going to get an ice cream. So I'm going to take these girls and I'm going to get on shout them for an ice cream. I think they thought I said, right, we're going to meet down.

I made the message sound like I was a little bit annoyed at our performance. And so they're all there really. And I put, please don't be late. All the support staff, the team. "Where are we going". It was like a typical New Zealand, typical family, hearding the sheep or to get cows, to get milked.

And I could, I could hear them  "where are we going?" We're going to the mall. And then we got to this restaurant and I said right, chocolate, strawberry, or vanilla. They looked at me. I said, well, we might as well enjoy ice cream and you guys look sad and I'm sad. So we might as well start be happy together. And there's nothing better than makes me happy as ice cream. I'm having strawberry.

So hands up if you want strawberry. And strawberry wasn't popular, vanilla was less popular, but chocolate was really popular. And then for whatever reason, we won the next day against New Zealand for the very first time ever."

Coles isn't saying the ice cream made the Pakistan team defeat the Kiwis. But he's talking about changing the culture. Before it was about what they couldn't do and them losing.  He wanted to change that.

It is clear that he would still have to train up their skills, that's a major part of the job. But you need to get people in the right frame of mind. And sometimes that is Al Pacino style speeches, other times its strawberry - or probably chocolate - ice cream.

The latest episode of Double Century comes out tomorrow. Find it in your favourite apps, or just go to Apple.