Football Therapy: De-escalation

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.

The Standoff

Note: The names in the following account have been changed to protect the confidentiality of the people involved.

The phone in my office rang. The voice on the other end of the line had a tinge of panic in it.

“We need you to come up front. We’ve got a situation.”


I walked the short distance from my office to the lobby. Standing there with his fists raised was one of my group home clients. An imposing figure, his face was flushed a crimson red. Our female patient care tech was trapped between him and the wall.

“Terrance, what are you upset about?”

“This stupid girl won’t give me a cigarette!”

Our clients who smoke are allowed to have one cigarette at 2:00. It was around 2:30. I guessed that Terrance had already had his allotted cigarette and wanted another.

“Terrance, I’m confused.  Didn’t you have a cigarette at 2:00?”

“Yeah, but it wouldn’t light! When I asked for another one, she wouldn’t give it to me!”

I knew this wasn’t true. Terrance regularly would use this ploy during smoke breaks to attempt to get an extra cigarette from an inexperienced tech. Usually, he could be redirected. Today, he wouldn’t be denied. I knew that arguing with Terrance would get me nowhere. I needed to cool Terrance down without giving in to his demands.

“Terrance, I’m really sorry. I can see how not being able to smoke would be frustrating for you.”


I gave Terrance a moment of silence to reflect on the situation. I could see him softening a little, even though his fist was still raised.

“Terrance, Lisa is scared. We don’t want her to get hurt. Would you please let Lisa walk over here?”

Terrance finally lowered his fist and allowed Lisa to step out and stand beside me.

“Thank you, Terrance. You are a good guy.”

“What about my cigarette?”

“I can’t promise that to you, Terrance. But it’s almost snack time. Would you like your cookie and drink a little bit early while we sit down and talk about this?”

Much to our relief, Terrance consented.


The incident with Terrance and Lisa is an extreme example, but it illustrates how people can become exceedingly angry for a variety of reasons. Studies have shown that when people become very agitated, they do not process information well or think as clearly. Their decision-making can be somewhat impaired by these factors. It becomes necessary to calm a person down so that circumstances do not get any worse. This process is what is known as de-escalation. While some spend years studying and practicing de-escalation (therapists, hostage negotiators, etc.), there are some basic principles that those working to diffuse a heated situation can follow. Where possible, I will give a scenario and an example of how these principles can be applied in fantasy leagues after each one is introduced.

De-escalation Techniques

Just Listen

Listening is perhaps the most important piece of de-escalation. Many times, I find the reason my clients are so angry is because they don’t feel they are being heard.  Take the time to listen to their point of view, even if it’s invalid. Re-state their concerns in your own words and ask them to confirm you have done so correctly.


“That trade was so unfair! Bill needs to be kicked out of the league!”

“So what I’m hearing is that you are upset about the trade Jim and Bill just made. Is that right?”

Validate Feelings/ Show Empathy

Validating feelings and showing empathy can help build rapport that will help you and the other person work towards resolution. If you listen, you can often find something in what the other person is saying that you agree with, whether in truth, or in principle.  If you can’t find anything in a statement to agree with, agree to disagree. Don’t patronize (that has the potential to make a person more angry), but strive to show that you are genuinely trying to understand the way they are feeling.


“When I saw that trade post this morning, I was mad! That was so unfair!”

“I agree that unfair trades would make me upset, too.”

Avoid Attitude/ Power Struggles

Like adding an accelerant to a fire, there are things you can say and do in these moments that will further ignite a person’s agitation. Many times, the angry person will take their frustration out on you. It is important to maintain your composure and not take their attacks personally. Mirroring their behavior will only escalate conflict, while responding softly will de-escalate it.

Sometimes, a person will try to challenge your authority or the rules. Ignore the challenge, as addressing it will do no good. Instead, try to redirect them to the issue at hand.


“You idiot! Who do you think you are to tell me what I can and can’t say to Bill on the message board?!”

“Our league rules prohibit name calling on the message boards.”

Be Concise/ Use Silence

As we’ve already stated, people do not process information efficiently when they are angry. Being too wordy can confuse matters and lead to more agitation. Be sure to get to the point quickly. Give time for the other person to process what you’ve said and respond. Silence can be uncomfortable, but giving a few extra pauses will allow time for the other person to reflect and calm down.

Stand Your Ground/ Offer Alternatives

This may seem contradictory after discussing avoiding power struggles, but setting boundaries is very important in these situations. The demands made by the disgruntled person cannot always be met. Giving into these demands also has the potential to reinforce future angry outbursts. Calmly state what you are unwilling or unable to do. If possible, offer acceptable alternatives to what the person is demanding.


(An owner is upset that there are not enough IR spots for all his injured players.)

“I can’t change that rule in the middle of the season without upsetting the competitive balance in our league. How about we put it to a league vote in the offseason?”

Final Thoughts

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” - Proverbs 15:1

There are countless situations in both everyday life and fantasy leagues in which de-escalation will be useful and even needful. People are not perfect and do not always get along. Rules can’t possibly address every scenario that will arise. Conflict will come. You can choose to fan the flames or to put them out. I hope you will use the skills learned today to restore order, build trust, and strengthen relationships between people!

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