Fantasy Football: Eye Opener?

I haven’t mentioned this much in my writing/Brazen/networking circles, but my friends have certainly heard about it regularly this month; I am playing fantasy football for the very first time this year, and I am rather excited about it.

I enjoy watching professional football. I think it is the most exciting game to view on television. (I have never been to an NFL game.) I have fun supporting my local professional teams, and I trash talk rivals. I get a kick out of the visceral football experience that is the NFL. I have done for years. (But not my whole life.)

Yet, I am not a “superfan” as they say. I know what any given team should be trying to do on any given drive or play. I am aware of which teams are good, and which are lousy. I know a blunder when I see one. Yet I am not a storehouse for statistics or history of the game. I don’t totally grasp some of the nuances. Formations, especially defensive, at this time mean nothing to me. I can’t translate them into practical knowledge. I need a cheat sheet to even name all of the positions on defense.

You get the idea. A superfan knows all of these things and more. I know enough to enjoy watching any given game, and to have a position on most of the broader debates within the league, or specific controversies within a single game. Nowhere near enough to make a career in writing about the NFL. So playing fantasy, (a game in which the stats of your select group of individual players determines your points) wouldn’t seem like an ideal choice for me.

But I decided it would be fun to try, for any number of reasons. And from the time I agreed to be in my friend’s small, free league, until last night when I took part in my first ever draft, my way of thinking about football has expanded and shifted somewhat. And it’s kind of a reminder of some of the reasons to try something new. Which got me thinking about how my approach to fantasy football would, and indeed has served me well in other new adventures in life when I first approach them. First, the “whys”.

Deeper Knowledge of the Game

I won’t ever reach that superfan status. But in the weeks leading up to the draft. (The lottery wherein you choose your players), I had to research more in depth into the nature of what certain positions did on the field. I had a vague idea, but if I was going to follow certain tight ends for an entire year, I decided I had better beef up on the nature of what they do. It motivated me to learn a bit more than I know now, even if not everything. This will add a dimension to my viewing of games in the future.

A Broader Range of Games In Which to be Interested

I have generally only followed the local teams over the years. I’ll watch the Super Bowl regardless, but for most of the year, I am only watching the teams I like, unless I am bored and there is nothing else on. With fantasy football, I will now have a vested interest in games I otherwise would never have watched, unless I was bored. Even though the result of the game as a whole is not important for fantasy football, I will now have more of an incentive to catch an Atlanta Falcons game on any given week, since I “own” two of them on my team. I’ll be interested in more of what is going on around the league now, and not just two teams.

More “Water Cooler Cred”.

Okay, I work from home for now, and I don’t have a water cooler. But the point is, fantasy football will give me more of something to talk about at any given time with people who either follow football, or play fantasy. Again, I can’t ever compete with the superfans out there, but sport is a common topic of casual conversation, and the more specific football related knowledge I have, the greater my arsenal of small talk. (Which I hate anyway.) And, heaven forbid this, if I have to meet strangers in the near future, I’ll have one more feeler I can use to engage. (Or be engaged.) If not, my friends and I will at least have more stuff to yell at each other about.

Making Football Less Solitary.

Because I am not a superfan, I sometimes don’t have as much fun sitting in my apartment by myself watching a Ravens game, as I would watching it with friends. The whole tribal thing really adds to watching a ball game. Watching by myself sometimes gets old, and I will turn a game off early. But knowing any given week that I am battling for points with one of my friends will make football seem a bit more communal than usual. Yes, I will still be alone in most cases, but knowing I am crushing someone gives an extra edge, (and motivation) to watching.

I get to watch actual stars do something.

Because the league is small, each of us got some stars on our teams. And while my local teams do have some stars here and there, it will be nice to have a reason to root for many beasts in the league, instead of just the few local ones.

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So those are some of the “whys” to doing this. But what about the “hows” of it all? That was the biggest challenge for me. How to approach this new activity to maximize enjoyment and success?

Don’t Expect Everything the First Time Out.

This being my first year, I wanted a good team. Even a great one. But I had to remind myself that the point of me starting this was not to try to win the whole thing. Not many people do that their first time out. I had to remember to enjoy the newness, and take in all of the pleasure of it being a positive learning experience. To do well, yes, but also remember that it was all for fun, and bragging rights. There isn’t even any money involved in this league. So I “paced my stakes” if you will. In other words, I gave it significance, but not importance, to get a good team, placing the top emphasis instead on fun, and experience.

Paralysis By Analysis Must Be Addressed.

We all know about this problem, and I am notorious for it. I had a severe temptation to try to become that superfan in the four weeks between being invited, and last night’s draft. I had to fight the urge to study up on everything, from every source about every aspect of football, so that I could rock the draft, and become an expert. I successfully  battled that urge back, (especially once I saw how much there is to consider) but it still crept in from time to time. But I made a decision; I was only going to use one sporting authority as the source for advice. The conventional wisdom is to aggregate advice from many sources and make your decisions, but I knew doing so would run the risk of me going into information overload. So I chose one reputable source, and stuck with what they had to say as I made my personal wish list. And I gave myself a cut off date. Once written, no changes to my rankings after a certain time. I kept my word on this, I am proud to say.

Instinct!

I didn’t pick my team willy-nilly. I had stats and research to back up my picks. However, my top lists for each position did not match many of the popular top lists. Because I listened to gut instincts I had about players, teams, scenarios. In a broad sense, most of the players I considered were the ones most others considered, but not in the same order. Sometimes I would just listen to a feeling. I may not have the instincts of a superfan, but if I am going to have fun with this, I need to go out on at least a few of my own limbs. And I did. I can’t wait to see how they pan out. But even if they don’t I found value in partly following my own system, and not the ones recommended by the experts 100% of the time.

Practice!

Thank the heavens for mock drafts. (Something I didn’t even know about until a few days ago.) Before I was shown the wonder of a fake draft website, I was running pretty nervous about my first draft. Who do I want? When to get them? How do I know what to do? But having the chance to do a few fake drafts not only let me try out different approaches without cost, but also opened my eyes to some of the patterns that tended to emerge. I took that with me into the real draft last night. I also took the patience and calmness I had acquired from the sometimes long waits in the mock drafts. Being able to run through something before it counts is immeasurable. The actor in me already knows this.

Fight for the bronze.

When I was a kid, we all used to fight in school about what order we would line up in. Many a scrap was started over who called, “I’m first”, first. Usually resulting in someone facing the ultimate humiliation of being sent to the very end of the line.

I learned early on that this wasn’t worth it. And so, as soon as the teacher would say, “everybody line up”, I would call out to the class, “I’m third!”

This threw people a bit, because half the class was already fighting over who would be first. You only called dibs on third once first and second had already been won. Who calls for it outright? I did, and I almost always got it. Why? People, even as kids, we have a fetish for number one, ignoring the fact that often, it is only minor, subjective, or statistical differences that separate it from 2-5. So I decided not to always fight for the top spot. Because I would rather get third right off, than fight for first, lose, and end up 17th. I applied this strategy a little bit to the player draft last night as well. My wish lists were mostly top 5 people, but with one exception,  I don’t think anyone at the top of my lists was also at the top of  the lists.

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Each of these bullet points, both the “whys” and the “hows” have helped make my first ever experience in fantasy football more enjoyable. Next year they may change, but I am glad I followed each of these for my rookie season. And indeed, I am happy to follow all of these points in other ventures as well. For in the end, I think I realized that I approach many new experiences in similar ways. I get information, start small, stay modest, avoid information overload by using a few trusted advisers, give credence to my gut, visualize and practice my strategy when applicable, and try not to be a pedestal hog.

And when I do such things in other areas of my life, I have found that it leads to more satisfying adventures in most cases, because I am breaking my norm without going crazy; I’m testing myself, gaining more knowledge than I had before, adding more flavor to my life story, interacting better with new people, and admiring the success stories of others.

I won’t be cliche and say “fantasy football is like life”. But I have at least applied some of my life strategies to my first fantasy football experience. And hopefully I can apply the most important one of them all: having fun.

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