"This Week’s Top Picks: Top 5 School Skills Students Can Learn From Playing Fantasy Football" by Director of Academic Support Gia Batty
This month, I teamed up with science teacher Michael Hoe, our resident brain expert (and fantasy football guru), to examine how we can translate all of the cognitive skills that our kids are using to play fantasy football into actual school skills. Yes, I’m seriously writing about this.
The bottom line is that if your kids are playing fantasy football, they are practicing and refining some of the key skills required to be successful in school.
First, in case you are not one of the 40 million Americans who play this game, fantasy football is a game in which you “draft” a virtual team of professional football players and, each week, their real world stats earn points for your team. Throughout the season, you must evaluate your team and predict which starting lineup will earn you the most points on game day. Fantasy football is played within a league—usually with friends and family, but sometimes online with people you don’t know. Each week (in most leagues), you compete head-to-head against one person in your league for the most earned points.
In other words, to excel at fantasy football, you need to research, reflect, organize, strategize, predict and take risks. I’ve watched my kids and my students play this game for years, and I’m more convinced than ever that playing fantasy football may actually be good for them.
Top Five School Skills Kids Can Learn From Playing Fantasy Football
1. Executive Functions
Some of the skills included in this set are planning and prioritizing, cognitive flexibility (the ability to adjust thinking or attention in response to changing information), working memory (the ability to hold information in mind and mentally manipulate information), task initiation, and organization. At Nobles, students must constantly apply these skills throughout the day as they move from class to class—taking notes, taking tests, learning new information, planning for projects and homework—and at night as they work through their assignments, study, and complete larger projects.
In fantasy football, the major weekly task is “setting the lineup,” which is an exercise in executive function, much the way school itself is. The lineup is based on many factors—who is playing, who is injured, who they are playing with, who they are playing against, and even where they are playing. It must be decided which players on the roster will start and which will sit for each game in a given week. Setting the lineup involves task initiation (the lineup must be set before games begin), planning and prioritizing which players will start for each game, working memory (“holding” data about past performance and player health while considering who to start in a given week) and cognitive flexibility as information about players and teams are constantly changing. If this task doesn’t give kids much needed practice in executive functioning, I don’t know what does.
2. Time Management
The lineup must be set before kickoff of each game, but in order to do that you’ll need to review last week’s performances and the injury list and the projections that the experts are making that week. Changes can’t be made after kickoff, so careful planning and decision making is necessary. This is time management and working memory wrapped into one!
The same is true at Nobles. Students have to exercise time management skills on a daily basis—their homework is due in class the next day, they have a certain amount of time to complete a test or quiz, and they need to manage the long-term projects that are assigned days or weeks ahead of time. Just like fantasy football, time management at Nobles involves careful short term and long term planning,
3. Test Prep
Here are some of the things a student has to do to prepare for a unit test at Nobles: organize notes and identify key concepts into a study guide, consult the textbook and other documents, memorize key vocab, be able to answer essential questions from the unit, determine study strategies based on the format of the test, review old tests, potentially find time to meet with their teacher, and complete practice tests.
We can think of preparing for a fantasy football matchup in the same way. Kids have to research and review the data, make predictions and evaluate areas of need, and make adjustments and fill in the gaps on their roster. Then, on game day, just like on test day, kids can see if their preparation and strategizing has paid off. At times there may be an element of luck or chance involved; if they didn’t win, they must reset, try to learn from their mistakes, make some adjustments and try again next week.
4. Research Skills
Believe it or not, there is a lot of reading involved in the playing of fantasy football. An incredible amount of data has to be scanned, sorted, and synthesized each week. Kids need to consult a variety of “texts”—on their phone, on their laptop, in magazines, even on television—and, as they gain new knowledge from these sources, they have to add that to the body of research they’ve accumulated over the course of the season (and even prior seasons) of play.
This sort of self-guided research is another academic skill that Nobles students must use in order to be successful. We ask them to consume a large amount of information and ultimately make decisions about which details are important and which aren’t. As they learn about new topics, they must manage and sort the details and then access and add to their prior knowledge.
5. Risk Taking
Playing fantasy football requires some level of risk taking each week. After researching their players for the week, they can try to predict who will score the most points for them, but there’s no way of knowing for sure. To play fantasy football is to continuously work and rework “what if” scenarios for the team. It is an exercise in calculated risk-taking.
In school, students are asked to take risks when they raise their hand in class, when they write a response paper in English or answer an open ended question in Algebra II or Physics. They take risks in how and what they study for a test. If it doesn’t go well, they must review their study guide (the roster!) and try something different next time.
Believe it or not, we could go on. We could argue that playing fantasy football also teaches grit, empathy, reflection, patience and leadership. And don’t get us started on the math. Yes, they’re even doing math, too!