Life Lessons from Fantasy Football

I’m a competitive person. I’ve been that way since childhood. I can still remember the frustration I experienced as a young teenager when I could not find a way to defeat my older brother at chess. We played time and time again. Many times I got very close, but his domination was complete. Oddly enough, the losing didn’t stop me from playing. There were times that I didn’t enjoy it at all. I just played because it was another chance to get a win.

As an adult it isn’t uncommon to hear a surprised friend remark on how competitive I am. I guess they are surprised because life as an adult doesn’t typically put us into situations with an element of head to head competition. One of the things that brings out my competitive side is fantasy football. The game has a weekly head to head component that is constantly exciting combined with the ongoing seasonal competition that gives it greater depth. Gaming combined with sports? Sign me up!

A competitive situation like this takes me right back to the spirit of competition that I felt as a kid. There is one problem with that. I’m not a kid anymore. As a mature adult there are things that I need to know by now. Acting like a kid is fine when you’re a kid, but not when you’re grown. In the context of fantasy football it isn’t a really big deal if you are over competitive. However, one of the things that I’ve learned about patterns is that the behaviors we embrace in insignificant situations will be the same behaviors we display in much more serious situations.

So I decided to put together a list of life lessons that I’ve learned while playing fantasy football. Remember, the good habits that we learn when having fun will also carry over to more important situations.

Winning isn’t everything, learn to have fun with the process.

The last time I won a competitive fantasy football championship was Y2K. I’ve had a few really good teams and a few really bad teams since then, but I really haven’t come close to sniffing another championship. Recently I’ve run into a string of seasons where I feel really good about the teams that I’ve put together only to watch them fail miserably. Just like every other player I can tell you horror stories of scoring the 2nd most points in the league in a given week only to lose to the team who scored the most. I’ve taken it even a step further. Once I led the entire league in scoring for the year and still managed to miss the playoffs. There always seems to be something.

I think that’s the important thing to remember. There will always be something that goes wrong. There’s only one winner each year and the odds are that it isn’t going to be you. But that doesn’t mean that the season was a waste. Just a few weeks back, in a league where I am already playing for next year, I made a series of trades that pitted multiple owners against each other to maximize my return. Am I going to win that league? No. Did I have fun doing that? Yes! That’s the lesson. Game by game, week by week, it isn’t always about the championships. When you learn to have fun with the process then you don’t have to live or die by the results.

That’s the way life is too. We don’t always win the prize, we don’t always finish first and we don’t always get the job. That doesn’t mean that life is over. It’s important that we remember how rich our lives are and to give thanks for it. We only have one life, it would be a shame to waste it away thinking about all the things that we didn’t win. I’d rather enjoy the ride.

A humble man has many friends, but a boaster has none

I used to be a boaster. In fact, because first impressions are so strong I would bet that some people still remember me as such. I was so confident in my ability to win. Whenever I didn’t succeed I always had well thought out reasons for it, but no one really wanted to listen to them. All they wanted to do was knock me off my perch. I think we see boasting in fantasy football more than in most endeavors. It’s so easy to think that you’ve got it all figured out.

Here’s the problem, you don’t have it figured out. In fact, you can’t. It’s like gambling in Vegas, you can go on a hot streak, but eventually the house wins. I’ve watched year after year as other people win championships. Not just in one league, I play 3 or 4 leagues a year. Eventually I had to admit to myself that I just wasn’t that successful. I started looking at myself differently. I stopped talking about how great I am and how good my team is (with the exception of jabbing at owners as a draft strategy).

Oddly enough, things are a little bit easier when you are humble. People don’t work so hard to oppose you. You don’t have the self-created pressure to exceed expectations. As a result, it’s a little easier to have fun. In addition, it makes it much easier for people to be happy for you when you finally do succeed. In fact, you might find that people will actually help you along the way…at least in life, not in fantasy football.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat

In long term quest to improve I’ve made it a habit of studying winners each year. I try to see what decisions led them to victory. I look back at my own decisions and try to figure out what I could have done to improve them. For example, this year I took MJD with the 4th pick overall and then used my two early 2nd rounders on Greg Jennings and Phillip Rivers. I felt so good about my team. Doh. I would have been much better served to take Aaron Rodgers with that first pick. Then I could have taken Jennings and Frank Gore with the other two picks. Doing this would have put me squarely in the mix for the playoffs. Instead, I’ve already had my fire sale and am looking forward to next year.

Here’s the thing, I’ve never even considered taking a quarterback in the first round. Quarterbacks are great but because of the scoring systems they are not as valuable as a good running back or wide receiver in most leagues. At least, that’s the way it used to be. Times change. Because of the rule changes in the NFL we’ve found ourselves in a much different fantasy football landscape. Now it’s the person who identifies value regardless of position that wins.

In life it’s easy to get stuck in the same kind of rut. As we do things day after day we stick with what works. The problem is that life changes even more frequently than the NFL. The patterns and behaviors that served us well 5 years ago may be holding us back today. It’s the person who actively observes the change and makes the quick, well thought out adjustments that will emerge ahead of the rest of the pack.

Relationships are more important than trophies

One of the greatest things that fantasy football does is create an opportunity for friends who would otherwise drift apart to get together and share a common interest. After 12 years of fantasy sports experience I can tell you that I would trade every win and every dollar to keep the friendships that have formed over the years. Now, I know that this doesn’t sound like a very big statement in football, after all, I don’t win that much. But I’m a little better at baseball. I have more recent trophies in that arena, including a fresh one in 2011 from my NL only league. Winning is great, but friendships are so much better. Long after the glory of victory has faded you’ll find that the warmth of a good relationship continues to glow.

The same is true of real life. There are so many things designed to divide us. If you wanted to you could find something to argue about with every single person that you know. In competitive environments it’s even easier to find yourself at odds with others. It’s times like these that we need perspective. What’s more important, the thing you’re arguing about, or the person you’re arguing with? My answer? People. The answer is always people. In the end success is meaningless if you don’t have people to share it with.

It’s funny to think about all those losses playing chess with my brother. We both remember those times together vividly. The pain of losing has long since faded into the past. The only thing that remains is the memory of the time spent together.

Well… that and the memory of my wife shocking both of us by beating him on her first try earlier this year. Ahh memories…

Be blessed,

Jonathan

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Posted on November 20, 2011, in Personal Development and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

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