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“I think I’m in love…again.” —Andre Benjamin
I think I have found a new addiction. Or at least I have found a healthy outlet to unload my lifelong infatuation with statistics and numbers. My experience with sports card collecting, stock trading, and “manager” genre sports video games all merge into one great free and fun new hobby: fantasy basketball. But as I have entered my eighth week of my new pastime, my thoughts are going wild on how fantasy sports can be incorporated into classrooms, in general, to promote healthy competition and support skills for classes such as language and math. Whether within one class, among a spread of different classes, or even campus-wide, fantasy sports make learning fun and relevant.
I started collecting sports cards when I was in the second grade and fell in love with the hobby. A significant portion of my lawn-mowing and leaves-raking money I made with my lawn maintenance business went to purchasing packs of baseball, basketball, and football cards. But it just wasn’t the collection of a mass of cards that made the hobby entertaining. It was the thrill of following the up-and-down trends of different players through following their performance statistics. It was the monitoring of perceived card values in sports card collector bibles Beckett and Tuff Stuff. It was the grinding experience of formulating and negotiating trades with friends. It was the tedious, yet titillating, process of organizing the cards by team, name, year, value, etc.
I have so many fond memories from my card-collecting days, but I have also realized that I gained many skills and interests that I still hold today (especially the bargaining skills and disaggregating data). For instance, my love for statistics and disaggregating data translated into my love for math at an early age and is a skill I constantly use while looking at student performance data. This is one of the many reasons why I have taken to fantasy sports. In a league, you have the managerial opportunity to create a team, which includes the drafting, trading, and organization of players throughout the sport’s season. During this time, you must follow your players’ statistical performance based on different performance categories to beat another fantasy manager’s team. The amount of number digging and analyzing (and speculation) this game takes is fascinating.
Math and economics teachers would have academic field days with students graphing and analyzing statistics. In essence, fantasy sports all revolve around numbers (i.e. performance statistics) so a wide array of mathematical operations and concepts
are involved. For example, on an elementary level, learners can use addition to calculate points a player or team accumulates daily. Advanced math examples range from using statistics theory and applying laws such as the law of large numbers (think of
Michael Lewis’ Moneyball) Following fantasy sports gives numbers new life for students, just like how sports cards did for me.
In the late 1990s, sports video games evolved into allowing users to play the role of “general manager” for sports teams. The user earned the executive role of creating his/her team through drafting and maintaining their team. Sounds quite pale in comparison to playing the sports game, but a hardcore following of players enjoy the managerial aspect of the game. Fantasy sport is a direct product of this popular video game niche: vicarious sports managing.
Classes that deal with numbers are not the only ones that can have fun with fantasy sports. If participants want to be successful in fantasy sports, they must put in a good amount of research on current and past news. For language teachers (whether mother tongue or foreign language teachers), hosting fantasy sports leagues has a tremendous upside. Websites like Fantasy Pros, Rotowire, and other news wires provide a good review and speculative reading material for participants. I envision teachers having students write periodic reviews of their fantasy team or individual performance(s). Information about players is essential to staying ahead of your competition and in knowing which players to put in your lineup. For example, reading daily briefings on players’ health status can play a
major role in determining whom you will have on your lineup or even on your team.
Literacy, research skills, and critical thinking come into play when you are managing your team – what more can a language teacher ask?
Fantasy sports are digital throwbacks of hobbies in our recent past. Similar to card collecting, fantasy sports can get students passionate about numbers as they scour the daily stats of their team. Language arts and history teachers can take advantage of employing students to conduct research on players and teams to help improve their literacy and critical thinking skills. Economics teachers can have students apply and analyze different economic theories, like Ricardian theory of trade or prospect theory (or they can just turn the project into a fantasy stock portfolio). Even school administrators should attempt to implement a fantasy league among the faculty/staff to help build healthy competition and camaraderie on campus. Exploit the many different ways your schools can use fantasy sports to improve learning and establish social bonds within the learning community.
There is a score of leagues available that offer free hosting for a wide array of sports (baseball, basketball, football, hockey, tennis, golf, soccer, etc.). You may find a statistician or a few actuaries in your class from this venture. It is a free project that has valuable potential. Try it.
Examples of Practical Applications and Skills in Fantasy Sports
Language Arts and History
Try using the “Fantasy Sports and Mathematics” website to guide your integration of fantasy sports into your classroom. Please keep in mind that I only advocate (and only play in) FREE fantasy sports leagues.