Can playing Fantasy Football be good for your mental health

I, along with millions of other people play Fantasy Football, but alongside the competiveness that comes with football anyway, can playing this online game actually be good for a person’s mental health? I will look at why I think it could be, alongside some possible negative points that always come along with playing something competitive.

I’m sure there are lots of different versions, but in general terms Fantasy Football is an online game where a person is given a budget (£100 million, for example) and can then choose a squad of football players. These are real football players (I play one that is based on the Premier League), and their online price is based on many factors such as their performance in the previous season. Depending on which version you play, you can have some players on the bench, and play the others, which will in turn earn you points – potentially. When the real football games are played, the players then gain points (for scoring goals, assisting with goals, goal keepers and defenders having a clean sheet etc.), but points can also be taken away (for players being sent off, for missing a penalty, and so on). Once all of the games in a game week have been played, your team’s score is complete and you are then given a position for where your team is in whatever league you have joined, or just overall in the whole competition. You can then transfer players in and out each week, if you want to, which may be decided on by their previous performance or injuries, meaning they will not be playing. You are the manager so there are important decisions to be made for every game!

For me, I had always wanted to play Fantasy Football, having been interested in football from an early age, but I always thought I wouldn’t be any good at it and wouldn’t know what to do. I don’t pretend to have the greatest knowledge of football, but I do keep an eye on what is going on, especially in the Premier League. However, playing Fantasy Football has allowed me to keep up to date with what is going on with all the teams and players. Without having to read pages and pages of text on every team, keeping an eye on the score lines and in turn, the points that have been allocated to players makes it easier to know what the latest goings on in the league are, and perhaps know what to look out for when watching the highlights on television, or presuming the talking points of conversations with any friends, work colleagues, etc. who may be football followers.

I play the game after joining a work’s league, which adds to the desire of doing well. When signing up, depending on the game you join, you can be in multiple leagues which means your team’s score is up against potentially hundreds of thousands of other ones, and each week you can see if you’ve moved up or down the rankings, or even stayed the same. With the one I play, you can also see other people’s team choices, which can be handy to see why they are doing well, or not. For me though, it’s nice to feel part of something – included in something that allows me to learn information that I wouldn’t really know otherwise, and allows me to use my decision making skills based on probability, past performances, and a bit of luck with my choice of players.

One of the main positives I have had through playing Fantasy Football is that I learn a lot more about football and the players through doing so. Having something to focus on (my team) and the decisions of who to keep in my squad, who to sell, who to play, and who to keep on the bench are great ways of learning, remembering, and making choices based on my own calculated probabilities (and personal hopes). It also gives me another topic to discuss with other people who are playing in the league as well as people who know I am playing it. One person, for example, asks me how I am getting on as their partner also plays, and they compare their partner’s team with mine; I think new conversation starters are also always a good thing to have.

On the other hand, one of the downsides of playing Fantasy Football, I find, is that I usually end up being more concerned about other teams rather than the one I support, and that is due to the players I have in my team not usually being from that team! Also, another downside is that there is always the risk that players on the bench score lots of points, but they are not included because they are not on the (online) pitch. This is not the case in every version of the game, but when it is, it can be very frustrating. However, depending on how competitive a person is, it could be viewed as just being part of the game, and part of the decision-making process of managing the team – you win some, you lose some. I am not a very competitive person, so I just take it all with the spirit of it being a bit of fun alongside keeping up to date with what is happening in the games. However, I would warn that like with anything that could be viewed as being a competition which leads to a person comparing themselves with other people, starting to play this game should be carefully considered if doing so can lead to negativity within them.

So, if like me you always wanted to play Fantasy Football but are unsure of whether you should, I would recommend asking yourself these questions:

  • Are you interested in football?
  • Do you want to use your football knowledge to try and score points in a competition?
  • If your football knowledge is limited, do you want to use a game to learn more about it?
  • Do you want to feel part of an online competition which allows you to make decisions based on real life player performances?
  • Would you like to potentially enjoy the highs and lows of being an online football manager?

If the answer is yes to most of these points, I’d say give it a go. In my experience, many versions of the game are free to join online. If you don’t have a league to join with people you know, you can join the overall league (with all the other people who are playing) and sometimes there are options to join a league based on the football team you support (or at least one you choose to online). And if you don’t like playing, you can just stop. In my experience, you sign up for one season at a time anyway.

As I have said, I always wanted to play Fantasy Football but I thought I wouldn’t be very good at it, and actually looking back on that, I also thought it was more complicated that it actually is. Therefore I have also learnt to not presume something, and actually find out what something entails before dismissing it. For me, that is something I will try and apply in all areas of my life going forward. In this article I have described the process of playing Fantasy Football (or at least the version I play) and that is so people who are not aware of how it works can learn about it, but also because it can show how all of the different components create the bit of responsibility, and the entertaining choices, an online manager can make.

All the points I have made are from my own experiences and my own opinions, but I really enjoy playing the game, and I think, depending on the type of person you are, it can be good for your mental health. Not only has being a participant allowed me to become part of an online community, it has also enabled me to learn about something that I always wanted to know more about which I’m very happy with.

Sarah Keeping MBPsS MSc PgDip GDip BA (Hons)

Follow Sarah on twitter at @keepingapproach