Football Therapy: Establishing Rapport

Exploring the connections between life skills and fantasy football. 

In a recent dynasty football podcast, our very own Chad Parsons made the following statement:

“I love the comparisons from life to dynasty. There’s so many topics that intersect and you can have skills in one that help you in the other.”

His words really resonated with me. You see, 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. Today begins the first in a series that I hope will be a longstanding feature here at Footballguys. 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 Failure To Communicate

The famous poet John Donne once penned:

No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

How true those words ring! Both life and being involved in a league require interaction with others. In life, when people don’t experience those relationships, or their dealings with others are mostly negative, their basic need for community is compromised. These people tend to experience poor life outcomes. Likewise, when a member of a league is not getting healthy interconnections, bad things happen. Communication can grind to a halt. Anger, resentment, and bitterness can exist between members. Owners can go AWOL for long periods of time. Sometimes, people even choose to abandon the league altogether.

The ability to communicate and connect with others is becoming a massive problem. In my therapy practice, depression and anxiety are the most common symptoms my clients experience. It’s when I start to dig deeper that I find that about 90% of the time, the underlying issues have to do with that person’s relationship (or lack thereof) with someone else! It is ironic that in this age of unprecedented access to means of communication (Facebook, Twitter, Skype, etc.), our society has actually had a marked decrease in the ability to have positive interpersonal relationships. Several universities and independent researchers have published studies that substantiate those findings. There have been a lot of theories thrown out there to explain this phenomenon, but I have a few ideas of my own about why this may be. As our society has become more fast-paced, we’ve become more dependent upon convenience to compensate. Texting, Facebook, Twitter, etc. put communication literally at our fingertips. The problem is, they aren’t enough to get the job done, at least not all of it. Did you know that effective communication happens largely on a nonverbal scale? Dictionary.com defines nonverbal communication as:

“...gestures, facial expressions, and body positions (known collectively as “body language”), as well as unspoken understandings and presuppositions, and cultural and environmental conditions that may affect any encounter between people.”

It’s difficult to pin an exact percentage on it, but conservative estimates of research that has been done on the subject are that anywhere between 60-70% of all face-to-face communication is of the nonverbal variety. Those who use mediums in which there is limited or no facetime don’t experience these cues on a regular basis. When the setting changes to the real world, these people have a much harder time of interpreting what they are seeing and find it difficult to respond in a socially acceptable way. It’s much easier for them to miss the prompts of others and thus behave in ways that others consider awkward at best and downright rude at worst. Sometimes, the ill-mannered behavior is not a matter of missing social signals. Sometimes, it’s extremely intentional. The anonymity that sitting behind the computer screen provides allows people to treat their fellow man in ways that they wouldn’t dream of treating another human being if they were standing eye to eye. Over time, they become more comfortable with behaving this way online and become emboldened enough to start practicing it at home, at school, at work, and in the community. Often, it ends up spilling into fantasy leagues, too. Maybe it happened when one person thought a trade was unfair. Maybe some innocent smack talk was misinterpreted and turned into a full-on flame war. I would bet the majority of the readers can think of a time where you’ve witnessed or been a victim of verbal abuse on your league’s message board or chat room. I hope you are beginning to see the point I trying to make. I’m not here to decry the evils of social media. When used properly, social media can be a wonderful and useful tool. No, I’m here to tell you that whether by accident or by choice, our ability to feel for, to care about, and to respect one another is being gradually eroded, both in life and in our fantasy leagues. The good news is that we can make the personal choice to change.

The Importance of Rapport

In my therapy work, establishing a relationship with my patient is the first thing that has to happen. Without it, the client will not trust me to tell me what is wrong, and I cannot help them work toward resolution. Establishing rapport with other owners is also the first step in the context of your league! Without it, you will not have a basis from which to work to solve the problems that will invariably come with interacting with your league mates. People are people, and with people comes conflict. Maybe it's a squabble over an application of the league rules. Maybe a questionable trade insights a near riot in your league. Those issues are easier to navigate when you already have a relationship in place.

We often talk about how important it is for a quarterback and a receiver to have chemistry. Without that groundwork being laid, they will struggle mightily to produce on the field. How do they get to the point of being that in-sync? They talk to one another, both about the game and about life in general. They spend time together in and outside of practice. They work on their game together until they know each other’s tendencies. Those same concepts can be used when establishing rapport with our fellow league members. A good starting point is to poll them about what they enjoy doing outside of fantasy football and talk about it! You will be surprised to find that you have more than a few things in common! Finding shared and common experiences is a powerful tool in making connections with others. Finding even one thing you have in common can lead to twenty more. It will take some time and effort on your part, but I find that the work you put in on the front end will save will pay off later tenfold. Generally speaking, the more time you spend together, both in the context of the league and outside of it, the more you will find yourselves on the same page. Does that mean you will agree on everything? Certainly not. However, you will find that though you do not always agree, you have built a mutual respect, which is far more valuable to you both.

Ideally, this would all happen in person for the reasons we talked about earlier. Unfortunately, the makeup of most leagues is such that not everyone lives in the same locale, let alone the same country! The next best thing is to utilize video chat. If you are limited to chat, social media, or email for league communication, do your best to be clear in your messages. If you think there is any way something could be misinterpreted, rephrase until it's clear as crystal. Also, it's important to "check-in" from time to time It’s not enough to get to know them initially and leave it at that. Cars break down without periodic maintenance and so do relationships. Check in with your league mates periodically and ask them how they are doing. Send them an article you found that includes something in which they have an interest. Find out when they have a birthday and send them a free online card. There are many more small gestures you can think of to show you care and are invested in them.  In turn, your relationship will grow stronger.

I also can’t stress enough how important it is to be driven by genuine motives in this process. We’ve all had the experience of dealing with the “greasy salesman” type. Most people have finely tuned radar when it comes to detecting whether you are being sincere with them or not. If they feel you are only talking to them because you want something, the automatic responses of shutting down or defensiveness will result. I frequently have league mates only make small talk with me before trades and it’s a big turn off. In both life and in our leagues, we need to be upfront and straightforward in our dealings with other people. Anything else will compromise the relationships we’ve worked hard to build. Broken trust can be nearly impossible to recover with some people.

We may not realize it in this very moment, but the ancillary details of our life and leagues really don't matter. The people that we interact with day in and day out are what is truly valuable. We often forget that behind the username we are angrily typing a scathing message to is a person, another human being with emotions, needs, and wishes- just like us. On the other side of that moniker is a person that needs acceptance, and from time to time, forgiveness, just as we do. I believe that when we start to care about others, only then do we realize our own potential. Let's incorporate this concept not just into our leagues, but in our own lives!