The Psychology of Winning Fantasy Football: a sport psychologist's guide


The Psychology of Winning Fantasy Football: a sport psychologist's guide

Over 5 million people regularly play fantasy football. But what separates the best from the rest? Clearly, football knowledge helps, but arguably even more important is the ability to make good decisions on a consistent basis. Unfortunately, humans aren’t really wired to think clearly. Fortunately, five simple tips from sport psychology can help.

Our resident Sport Psychologist, who in two of the last three seasons has finished in the top 0.2% of fantasy football teams, reveals the thinking biases to be aware of in order maximise your points:

The Halo Effect

This describes how we are unduly influenced by our first experience with a person. This then clouds all our future perception. For example, if a player gets a big points haul in the first week of owning, then people tend to think that player is one to keep for a while. Even if he blanks for several weeks after, that early first impression is still imprinted into our mind. This means that people are more likely to hold on to him for longer than they probably should, instead of transferring him out.

The Recency Effect

Ever noticed how music artists always play the biggest hits at the end of their concert? That is because they want people leaving the gig on a high. This is due to The Recency Effect, which states that, as well as heavily weighting the first thing we experience (i.e. the halo effect), we do something similar with the last thing. So if a fantasy football player that you don’t own does well in the last game week, our brain places more evidence on that performance than the one they did two game weeks ago. This tends to result in people rushing to transfer in ‘the next big thing’ and chasing last weeks points (a classic no-no for fantasy football).

The Ikea Effect

Named after the department store which sells self-assembled flat-pack furniture, this thinking bias states that people tend to place high value on the things that they create. This means that if someone has worked hard on something (i.e. picking their fantasy team) they cling to the belief that it is a good idea. This is why some people stick with a failing player for too long. The hope that they will become good and prove them right outweighs the objective data that says this isn’t likely to happen.

The Bandwagon Effect

It has been long known in psychology that people are more likely to do something if they think everyone else is also doing it. The faulty thinking here is along the lines of “this many people can’t be wrong”, and “who am I to disagree with what everyone else is saying”. By abdicating and delegating our thinking to the masses, we don’t involve in any critical thinking of our own. This is where fads, hype and bandwagons thrive. So instead of transferring in the most popular player that week, it is better to focus on what you think your team needs, and back your gut.

The Negativity Bias

People tend to remember the negative more than the positive. This is why insults hurt us more than receiving compliments pleases us. In fantasy football terms, people tend to remember and agonise over the players that they didn’t transfer in, rather than congratulate themselves on the good decisions they made along the way. Doing this can lead to people chasing points and doing too many transfers as a way to rectify previous mistakes.

In Group Favouritism

People tend to like members of their ‘own group’ and dislike members of the ‘out group’. This happens a lot in fantasy football, where fans are more likely to pick (and stick with) players of the team they support, whilst refusing to pick any players from their club’s rivals. This limits the available talent pool you can draw from, and as such, hinders your chances of success.

Final Thought

There is a particular school of thought that says you should always be wary of people who don’t attribute some of their success to either luck or chance. This certainly applies to fantasy football. However, with a bit of rational thinking and by swerving round some of the above thinking biases, your mini-league rivals won’t stand a chance.

 

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