Football Therapy: Self-Esteem

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.


In January, Footballguys held it’s annual staff retreat in Las Vegas. Part of the retreat tradition is to partake in a gift exchange. What’s really fun is that there are gag gifts mixed in with the good gifts, so a player never knows what he will land. This year, I managed to pick all the gag gifts-- a Jar Jar Binks action figure, a pink “Stud Muffin” tee, and an undersized Kylo Ren Star Wars mask were among my selections. Perhaps my favorite though was a gift I stole from someone else - a tee with the words, “World’s Okayest Fantasy Football Player.”

After I took it home, I started thinking about what was written on that shirt. It’s obviously meant to be a joke, but there really are people out there who feel insecure about their ability to compete in fantasy football leagues. Some may even think they deserve a shirt that reads, “World’s Worst Fantasy Football Player.”

Sometimes, these feelings come to the surface after a run of bad luck. In the semifinals of my friends and family league this year, I lost by less than a tenth of a point on the last play of the Monday night game. Years and years ago, I seemed to always miss out on playing in the championship due to something fluky. I barely missed the playoffs one year because my opponent had DeAngelo Williams. He had a four-touchdown outburst against a top-ranked Giants defense and beat me by a couple of points. (Can you tell that I’m not still bitter about that?) Losing is bad enough, but insult is added to injury when league trolls say discouraging things that get taken to heart. There are thousands of others who have experienced these scenarios or something like them. Demoralized by failure and mocked by others, they begin to question their own competency. Many players get exasperated, throw up their hands and shout, “I give up! I’m not any good at fantasy football!”

Losing belief in self happens in fantasy football, but more importantly, it happens in daily life. There are individuals who give up on living because they feel inadequate in personal relationships, job performance, intellectual abilities, and many other important life domains. All of these suffer from what is known as poor self-esteem.

Importance and Identifying

Self-esteem is an abstract concept, so it is difficult to define. In my opinion, the best definition I have come across comes from “A realistic respect for or favorable impression of oneself; self-respect.”

Those with low self-esteem can often be identified by body language. Averting the eyes, slouching, and avoiding contact with others all may be non-verbal indications of a problem. Inability to accept compliments, apologies for things for which they are not culpable, negative and hopeless language and thinking, chronic depression, and feelings of guilt or shame are other signs that may be indicative of poor self-esteem.

Healthy self-esteem is extremely important because it heavily influences our actions and decisions. Those with low self-esteem may avoid improving their situation because they feel unworthy, inadequate, or unequal to the task. A deficiency in self-esteem can cause problems in daily functioning, job competency, and interpersonal interactions. It can lead to extreme depression and anxiety. It also causes a person to miss out on realizing their potential because they do not believe they can achieve their goals, so they never take the steps necessary to realize them.

There is a great tool for helping those with poor self-esteem become aware of not only the problem, but the thoughts and feelings that fuel the problem. It is called the Self-Esteem Awareness Inventory. The instrument was created by Dr. Suzanne E. Harrill and is used to facilitate conversations about the false beliefs that are behind diminished self-esteem. It’s free to use and I esteem it highly. See what I did there?

Confidence vs. Arrogance

A common misconception about self-esteem is that being confident in your own abilities means that you are arrogant. Not so! Arrogance and confidence are rooted in two different perspectives of self. Arrogance is a defensiveness concerned purely with self-promotion and preservation. Confidence is a form of inner peace that is accommodating not only to self, but to the needs of others. Confident people are assured of their position, but listen to the viewpoints of others and admit that they could be wrong. Arrogant people are assured of their position and refuse to admit they could be wrong for fear of harming their own credibility. Confident people treat others with respect and love, while arrogant people treat others with condescension. The confident person can see the value in others when the arrogant person can only see the value in himself.

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Imagine a set of scales. Confidence would represent the perfect balance of those scales. Poor self-esteem or arrogance on one side or the other would upset that balance and tip the scale. We are always struggling within ourselves to preserve the balance. Our positive attitude (or lack thereof)  toward self and others is a huge determining factor of whether or not the balance can be maintained.

Challenge Beliefs

Core beliefs of those with poor self-esteem may include:

  1. I’m not good enough to…

  2. I could never do that.

  3. I’m no good.

  4. Everything bad is my fault.

  5. I have to be great at everything or I’m not good at anything!

It’s essential to challenge and ultimately replace these beliefs. You can do this many ways, but one I like to use is called the problem-solving approach. Identify a small goal that you do not believe you can achieve. Make a step-by-step plan and execute each step one at a time. Make sure to have someone you respect hold you accountable and encourage you as you are working on your goal. When you have realized this small goal, several things have changed that will allow you to tackle larger goals:

  1. You’ve broken inertia. Simply doing something instead of overthinking things and doubting will make you more likely to continue in the right direction.

  2. You’ve proven the belief wrong. Your faulty core belief that you couldn’t achieve your goal has been shattered and now it can be replaced with a healthy one.

  3. You may dare to dream. Now you can see a tiny sliver of hope where there was none before. It still may take prompting and assurance from others, but you are more likely to feel you can take on bigger challenges.

Identify Strengths

This is perhaps the most difficult part of the journey for those suffering from poor self-esteem. I am reminded of a client whom I asked to name five things she liked about herself. She replied, “I don’t have any.” I asked her to dig deep and to even consider the smallest of positive traits. “Well,” she said after hesitating a moment, “I think I smell good.” I wanted to laugh, but I didn’t. I thought to myself, “If the only thing you could come up with is that you use scented body wash, we’ve got a long way to go!” If you suffer from low self-esteem, like the client above, it will be very difficult for you to see positives, even if they are apparent and abundant to those around you.

I recommend doing the following exercise on paper so that you will be left with something tangible to which to refer. Write down every single good thing you can think of about yourself. If you have difficulty thinking of things, ask someone you know to supply you with a few to get started. This activity will give you the tools you need to do the next one.

Positive Affirmation Statements

This next exercise is basically to become The Little Engine That Could. This activity should be done after challenging false beliefs, because these will feel like reciting lies if you still possess faulty core beliefs. Out of the positive things that you wrote down, I ask you to stand in front of a mirror each day and recite one of them ten times. It may seem silly, but you are slowly reprogramming your brain to think positively rather than negatively. Repetition of this technique is crucial to the success of your reprogramming.

Assertiveness Training

This approach is all about empowerment and allows you to continue self-esteem improvement. You can learn about your rights and how to appropriately express your needs and wishes in socially acceptable ways. It should only be administered by a trained professional, but is a fantastic option if you would like to further improve your self-esteem.

Final Thoughts

We can spend too much time thinking about a loss or a comment that someone made about our play until it becomes a part of us. I think it helps to go back to the purpose of fantasy football, which is to have fun, express ourselves in ways we generally can’t in everyday living, and to make connections with others. When we refocus on those things, it helps us to keep the proper perspective.

If you’ve found yourself paralyzed by poor self-esteem in fantasy football, daily living, or both, my wish for you is to realize that you can find your way again. If it isn’t you, but you know someone struggling with self-worth, you can use the instruction found in today’s article to point them in the right direction. Enabling someone to achieve their dreams is one of the greatest, most rewarding things you can ever do!

I hope you’ve found this piece from the “world’s okayest football therapist” informative. Now get out there and live it!

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