Football Therapy: Constructive Criticism

Exploring the connections between life skills and fantasy football.

In addition to being a staff writer for Footballguys by night, I’m a therapist by day. No, I don’t put people on the couch like Sigmund does. I spend most of my day educating and empowering my clients to leave my office with fulfillment and purpose. What I’ve learned, and quite by accident might I add, is that many of the life skills that I teach and practice in therapy are actually applicable in the context of playing fantasy football. In these writings, I will seek to show the reader connections between these life skills and those needed to be a successful fantasy owner. My hope is not only to improve your prowess as an owner, but to give you skills that will help you lead a wonderful life.

Reluctant Messengers

One of the toughest, most uncomfortable things I do on a daily basis is to subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) let my patients know they are traveling a harmful path and need to make changes. Will they receive it well? Will they blow it off or will they just blow up? Will there be lasting hurt feelings? While giving this feedback has risks, I know that, for the ultimate good of my client, certain truths need to be communicated.

In both life and fantasy leagues, we are often tasked with delivering messages that can result in defensiveness, anger, and a variety of other negative reactions. Knowing this, we do so extremely reluctantly. How do we navigate a minefield where one misstep can result in a firestorm of unpleasantness? In today’s installment, I will provide some techniques that will help one to deliver these messages in ways that are most likely to leave the recipient edified rather than agitated.

Timing and attitude 

When you need to critique someone, make sure it is well-timed. Going to this person when either you or the other person is “fired up” is not advisable. Take time to strategize and prepare your thoughts before engagement. A better opportunity to address the matter may present itself, or the person may realize the need to change on their own.

Engaging The problem

Attack the problem, not the person. Adding name calling or labels to the equation often has poor results. This immediately causes people to shut down or even become hostile. They feel labeled and condemned right out of the gate, breaking any hope of the personal connection needed to find resolution.

Example: “John, you are so lazy! You never answer your trade requests!”

Example: “You are being such a troll on the league message boards, Bill!”

Labeling implies permanence. If we are honest with ourselves, we are selfish, hateful, haughty, and any number of negative traits at particular moments in our life. However, to use those labels to describe ourselves as these things would be misleading, as they are not representative of our character all the time, or even a large portion of the time. Going back to the example above, is John lazy sometimes? Probably. (And for that matter, aren’t we all!) However, is he lazy in every context of his life? Absolutely not!

Labeling can cause problems for our future dealings with a person. When we label someone, we begin to see a person only through the lens of the label we have given them. We can attribute all sorts of motivations and characteristics to this person that may not be true. Instead of opening this can of worms, keep communication limited to the behavior you are seeking. By attacking the problem rather than the person, you will preserve the connection with a person, and thus, the ability to negotiate with them.

Example: “John, I notice that you aren’t responding to your trade requests. Is it possible that you could respond more promptly from now on?”

Example: “Bill, I’ve had some complaints from other owners about what you’ve written on the message board. What you said seemed to be aimed at upsetting them. Our league message boards are purposed for having fun and trade requests. Would you please use the message boards in these ways next time?"

facts, not opinions

As we saw in the example above with Bill, separating fact from opinion can be a difficult matter, because there is a certain amount of subjectiveness involved in almost every criticism. It is important to establish and present the facts, so as to build a basis for a need to change. Bill’s comments on the message board may have seemed to be innocuous banter to some, while others clearly took offense. Getting into an argument with Bill about the degree to which this was offensive would be a waste of time. What was clearly established in this instance was that Bill’s words had upset several of the league's owners to the point that there was dissension in the league. Bill could not validly argue with the feelings he elicited in others. He also could not validly argue against the reasons why this particular message board was established in this league. By dealing in facts, both parties can avoid frivolous argument and move toward a solution.

Partnering for a solution

This is the “constructive” part of “constructive criticism." With the problem established and the relationship intact, it becomes possible to work together toward a solution. It is best to involve the other party in this process, as it gives them a chance to take ownership of the change that needs to be made. As I’ve touched on in my previous article on de-escalation, compromise is an important tool to use where possible in the partnering process.

Example: After a dispute about playoff seeding rules: “Tom, we’ve established that we can’t change the way things are seeded this year, but what are some changes you would like to see to our league settings next year?"

Final Thoughts

“A word spoken at the right time is like gold apples on a silver tray.” -Proverbs 25:11

Much of giving constructive criticism is having the discernment to consider when and how to speak to others. These experiences may begin negatively, but can ultimately have positive outcomes that strengthen the relationship with the person we are critiquing. However, despite our best efforts, criticism will not always be received well, regardless of how competently we plan and execute. When this happens, do not be discouraged. No one has a perfect success rate when trying to persuade others. It may take time, experience, and reflection for the person whom you instructed to realize the need for change. Take comfort in knowing you did what you could to help!