There is a virus that is slowly creeping through the fantasy football community. Taking innocent victims one by one, the virus will eventually consume the community as a whole. That is, if we’re not careful. The virus is known to cause infected individuals to rant incoherently, scream at inanimate objects, and destroy their own fantasy teams. When you identify an infected individual, locate the closest blunt object and promptly embed said object between the eyes of the infected.
The aforementioned virus will now be referred to as “Overthinking”.
Sometimes, it is nearly impossible to read through any social media website without seeing articles, responses, or analyses in which people say things that are simply the product of overthinking a situation. I wish I could count the number of instances I’ve seen someone predict the performance of a player based on a self-conjured analysis that has no factual foundation. Many times, these conjectures are easy to accept because they’re written in a way that makes sense; we can draw the same conclusions in our head.
I’m sure you’ve seen something along the lines of “Coach X mentioned in a press conference that he wants to focus on developing the team’s running game. Therefore, Player X will have a good year.” Clearly, this conclusion seems a little ridiculous. But this is the thought that runs underneath some of the problematic analyses I’m targeting.
As I mentioned earlier, this same type of thinking is not only present in published articles, but it also pops into a lot of informal discussions. When you allow yourself to accept conclusions, conjectures, and correlations like this, your ability to make decisions based in fact deteriorates. Every time you rely on things like this, you are sabotaging your chances at success in fake football. That’s why it’s is a problem.
Now, I will say that it is important to analyze things other than statistics when you’re making fantasy football decisions. It’s valuable to know the tendencies of coaches, the basis of offensive schemes, and all of the other non-statistical measures of football. Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of writers and fantasy players that do not rely on these shaky conclusions. Despite that, this method of analysis is still all too common. There is a fine line between knowing what a coach has done in the past and operating under the assumption that you know exactly what that coach will do this year. Some people blur this line just to make their predictions make sense. You need to avoid these people as much as you need to avoid making these mistakes yourself.
Regardless of what form these botched analyses take, they all have one thing in common: They’re the product of overthinking. Most of the time, people who use weak conclusions are not doing so with a malicious intention. Self-drawn conclusions are the product of our attempt to reinforce decisions that we already want to make.
Some of the problem is that the fantasy football writing industry is rooted in an attempt to predict the future. And I would be a fool to tell you that writers cannot be wrong. I can guarantee that I will write content that will contain predictions that will never come to fruition. And that’s ok.
If you’ve read any of my previous articles, you know that I love opportunities to mitigate risk. The avoidance of shaky analyses will do just that.
Earlier, I mentioned the word “overthinking”. I know that seems ambiguous, but it begins to take form when we look at the things that can cause a person to overthink a situation. Some writers, notably Denny Carter have done significant research into a person’s natural quest for comfort. Carter discusses this topic at length in his new book, How to Think Like a Fantasy Football Winner, which can be purchased here.
While it would be beneficial to discuss some of his research in the context of this article, I’m going to leave the comfort discussion to Carter’s book and discuss some other reasons as to why people overthink.
And it comes down to two words: cognitive biases.
According to its textbook definition, cognitive biases are “systematic deviations from a standard of rationality or good judgment, often confirmed by research in psychology and behavioral economics.”
Cognitive biases are nothing new in the field of psychological research. They are backed by the significant testing of both human and (sometimes) animal subjects. While the exhaustive list of cognitive biases are just that, I’ve picked a few biases that are especially relevant for fantasy football writers and players alike.
“The tendency to rely too heavily, or “anchor,” on one trait or piece of information when making decisions.”
Anchoring is detrimental because it draws your focus away from the big picture. The reality is that if you tried hard enough, you would find something unsavory about every single player. It is easier to find the unappealing attributes of certain players, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist for the players you like. We can’t continue to make decisions based on the bad things about a player. This view is extremely retrospective and can lead to faulty decision-making. As I’ve said in previous articles, it is better to focus on the here and now instead of what a player has done in the past. In other words, nit picking will get you nowhere.
“The tendency to pay attention to emotionally dominant stimuli in one’s environment and to neglect relevant data when making judgments of a correlation or association.”
This bias is almost too convicting. It is so damn easy to make decisions based on emotion. In fact, I would say it’s especially hard to make decisions devoid of emotion. It’s also quite easy to accept analyses when you are emotionally invested in a player. If you want Player X to do well in 2013, it’s going to be easy for you to accept an article that says just that. When you do this, it’s possible that you’re ignoring pertinent evidence that might paint a different picture about that player.
In this game of luck, emotion has no productive role and should be shelved when you approach your fantasy drafts or weekly lineup decisions. This bias also touches on a person’s tendency to hear what they want to hear. I think that this can be directly correlated to analyses that use a small sentence in a press conference as basis for a prediction.
“A self-reinforcing process in which a collective belief gains more and more plausibility through its increasing repetition in public discourse (or ‘repeat something long enough and it will become true’).”
This bias is another one that has too large of a role in the fantasy football community. The reflects the challenge I issued to readers in one of my past articles, “Questioning the Status Quo: Life Lessons Transplanted into Fantasy Football”. Consensus opinion might have a place in game shows, but in fantasy football, it’s not always something that you can rely on.
Now, I will say that consensus opinion can be OK. For example, it’s a pretty decent assumption to say that Adrian Peterson should be the top targeted running back in 2013 fantasy drafts and I believe that the consensus opinion reflects this. However, it is your duty (if you care about making sound decisions) to research the topic at length. Through your own analysis, figure out what you believe to be true. Then, weigh that against consensus information to see where the discrepancies are. This will tell you more than I, or any other fantasy football writer, will ever be able to.
“The tendency to search for or interpret information or memories in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.”
This bias ties back into what I mentioned earlier. Often times, we only hear (or read) what we want to. Whether you’re watching a press conference or reading a new article on your favorite website, you’re going to interpret that information based on what you already know and want. This will skew your absorption of the information. You may turn off your TV or shut your laptop without understanding the most important points of the press conference or article. This is something that, left untamed, can be extremely detrimental to the long-term success of your fantasy football career.
Bringing it Together
I hope that you can see how cognitive biases tie into the concept of overthinking. It’s often not something that people do intentionally. In fact, cognitive biases are something that is second nature. It’s natural to succumb to these mistakes. But that does not mean that we can’t do our best to identify dangerous thinking and curb our natural tendencies. I think that, at the very least, being aware of these biases is a step in the right direction.
At this point, you’re probably curious about the title of this article. You’re probably asking, “What makes your mother better at fantasy football than me?”. The answer to this question is actually pretty simple. My mom is better than you because she has never played fantasy football before. (Don’t grab your pitchforks just yet)
My mom is not so submerged in the barrage of information that so many fantasy footballers, myself included, are. We are so overloaded with information, stats, news, and opinions that it is very difficult to distinguish what is fact and what is falsehood. When processing information becomes difficult, we are prone to overthink small bits of data that might not hold any water. We do this in the pursuit of trying to make sense of everything.
I believe that if she were taught the rules of fantasy football, my mother would cycle through minimal amounts of data to get a baseline of information and then use her gut and her own analysis to make decisions. In other words, she wouldn’t overthink tough decisions.
If you take anything away from this article, understand that it’s OK (and often necessary) to take a break from the information overload. Step back and try to identify situations in which you fell victim to cognitive biases. Take some time to clear your head. I think you’ll be surprised the difference a little break can make.