Football Therapy: Unconditional Positive Regard

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.

What Is Unconditional Positive Regard?

In the context of therapy, unconditional positive regard (UPR) was a term that was coined by psychologist Carl Rogers. It is accepting and respecting others as they are without judgment or evaluation. It does not mean that you force yourself to like a person. It does not mean that you always agree with another person’s behavior. Basically, it is choosing to see the worth of each person you deal with in spite of everything else. In my practice, I see clients from all walks of life. Their socioeconomic statuses vary greatly. Some are in legal trouble. Some are experiencing the consequences that come with long-term abuse of substances. Some smell really, really bad. Some have abused children or spouses. Some are severely mentally ill. Though it is a challenge at times, I strive to treat each as a person with dignity and honor. I put aside what they have done and where they are now. I choose to value them, even if society says that they do not deserve to be valued. In a fantasy league, some of the social class or value decision issues may be present, especially in leagues that involve a lot of face-to-face interaction. Treat your league mates uniformly, no matter what their skill level, education, station in life, or beliefs may be.

Even though some of the issues above come up from time to time in leagues, practicing UPR usually takes on a different form in these settings. This is because the dynamics in the online-only-league world tend to be a little bit different. More often, someone becomes critical of another person’s team management decisions and evaluation of players. I’ll provide you an example of this from a dynasty league. One day, a player noticed that another player in the league had updated his trade bait to include Trent Richardson. He sent an offer of a third-round pick to the Richardson owner. The Richardson owner countered, asking for a first-round pick. The originator of the trade offer proceeded to write a scathing email to the Richardson owner in which he told him how deluded he was, how Richardson’s career was on the ropes, and how he must be crazy to want a first-round pick. As if that wasn’t enough, he proceeded to post messages on the public message board making fun of his league mate. A few of the other league owners joined in on bashing the Richardson owner. The Richardson owner became angry and left the league.

Similar scenarios play out all the time in leagues. When UPR is not practiced, feelings are hurt, relationships are destroyed, and negativity rules the day. How differently would that situation have turned out if the initiator of the trade had calmly talked about the difference in valuation that existed between them? Who knows, maybe they might have been able to come to terms on a deal! Even if no agreement had been reached, it would have been simple to say something like, “I don’t think we can complete this deal, but I really appreciate you listening to my offer.” Responding in this way would have preserved the relationship and left the door open for future negotiation.

The Results of Regard

The results of treating others in this positive way are fantastic. It leaves those with whom you interact free to explore without danger of rejection or condemnation. The natural outcome of showing respect and being nonjudgmental is that rapport is strengthened and the lines of communication remain open. If a league mate has had a negative experience with you in the past and fears getting blasted for making another “ridiculous” trade offer, chances are that they won’t even try again. Even worse, they may decide to deal exclusively with everyone else in the league except you. This may not seem like a big loss, but even having one less team with which to negotiate significantly reduces your chances of making a deal. Conversely, if offers are responded to courteously and nonjudgmentally, it allows dialogue to continue. By operating this way, you move closer to a successful trade in the here and now, but also lay the groundwork for future positive interaction.

Make no mistake-- there will be times when people don’t respond in kind. Don't take this personally. Many times, people are abrasive for reasons that have nothing to do with you. They may be seeking attention or trying to mask their feelings of vulnerability with defensiveness. Even when people continue to treat you contemptibly, you can practice UPR. Often, those with prolonged exposure to UPR techniques soften or drop their hostility altogether. There have been instances that a client sat across from me during the first session with arms folded and offered sarcastic or angry replies to my questions. Nine times out of ten, the client would lose this demeanor after coming to several therapy visits and begin to actively participate. When a person feels that they are valued and listened to without strings attached, it becomes very difficult for them to continue to respond negatively.

Even if UPR had no impact on others, its effects on those who practice it are powerful. UPR is a form of positivity. Multiple studies show that a positive outlook improves health, boosts innovation and creativity, and increases resiliency. The neuroscience behind this is complex, but here are a few things that might explain the results. Having a positive mindset releases chemicals that award the brain’s reward centers, causing feelings of pleasure, relief, and safety. These chemicals also clean up the stress hormone cortisol. Prolonged exposure to high levels of cortisol can lead to all kinds of health, cognitive, and memory problems. Basically, UPR will allow you to be your optimum self, while at the same time allowing you to avoid chronic problems.

UPR may seem like common sense to some, but it comes with more difficulty for others. Even though I am one who is inclined toward positivity, I have found it to be impossible to be flawless in my application of it. I predict that there will be times you have the same trouble. We don’t have to be perfect, but we do have to try. Being constantly mindful of what you hope to accomplish-- an improved relationship with self and others-- will help!

Playing fantasy football is about enjoyment and the human connection. UPR helps minimize strife and build bonds so that those goals are achieved. Don't stop there, however. Take it beyond the game and make it a way of life, for that is where it really matters.