I like to think of myself as a competitive person, especially as it pertains to sports. That being said, I’m not a sore loser. Sure, in the back of my head I may be fuming, I may hold a grudge, and I may never forget a loss, but on the surface I’ll look calm and ready, just like Eminem.
I’m not the most athletic person in the world, which is to say you won’t find me in any upcoming Nike commercials racing horses on a track, or pulling a sled of weights in a poorly lit gym.
However, I do consider myself athletic, just not the “most” athletic.
As a kid, I quickly developed a strong understanding of various sports. I could tell you the rules, the best strategy, techniques, anything.
I was the kid in elementary school who played intramural basketball and wanted everyone on the team to have a position and spread out, rather than five players chasing one ball and yelling, “I’m open”, when they’re standing two feet away from you.
That bothered me. In my nine-year-old brain, I couldn’t believe they didn’t know how to spread the floor like the Toronto Raptors. It boggled my mind.
I was the kid who asked his parents to borrow books from the library about how to throw different pitches because when I was eight-years-old, I thought I was going to grow up and be a pitcher in Major League Baseball. I practiced in my backyard every day, so why not?
Apparently practice doesn’t always make perfect and dreams are nothing more than six letters.
I was skilled at various sports, but I was never “the best” at any. Though I did have a pretty good run as a softball player and got a kick out of it when the opposing pitcher would tell the outfield to “back up” whenever I went up to hit.
My style of play quickly turned to trying to outsmart my opponent using my sports IQ, which I was more than confident in.
In Grade 6, I signed up to play indoor soccer at school. I don’t really like soccer. I can only pass and shoot. I still don’t know how to run fast with the ball for more than three seconds, while maintaining perfect control.
I see other people do it effortlessly; I swear it’s an illusion.
The teacher who was organizing the intramural league at school came into my class to select people to be captains. The league was made up of kids from Grade 4-6. He called out a bunch of names and asked them if they wanted to be captain.
They all accepted except for one kid – he didn’t want to be captain because he wanted to be picked (yes, we had a draft) by one of his friends. What a loser.
When he said no, the teacher looked at the list of people who signed up, as if to say, “There really isn’t anyone else I can pick to be a captain.”
I should note, captains were picked based on skill. They never told us, but it was obvious. And rightfully so. If I were a kid in Grade 4, I wouldn’t want to be on a team where the captain didn’t know what they were doing.
Finally, after staring at the sign-up sheet for what felt like three days, he called out my name and asked if I wanted to be a captain. I accepted, knowing I was literally the last choice.
At the player draft, I selected my team based on names I recognized – kids who I saw do athletic things at recess, or little brothers of people I knew. Not bad for being my own scouting department.
Finally, I had my team.
I remember going home with the list of names and creating substitution rotations we would follow every time we were told to “switch”. I made sure to always have enough older kids out there with the younger kids.
You know, balance and stuff.
In my head, and on paper, my team was unbeatable. I had a strategy. I had my rotations set. I knew we would face an uphill battle, but if we got one goal, all we had to do was prevent the other team from scoring. That was my strategy.
That strategy fell apart when I realized kids don’t follow substitution rotations. They just go with the flow and say, “I need a break” or “I’m playing” whenever they feel like it.
I also realized that the guy I drafted to be the “goal scorer”, wanted to be our goalie most of the time.
The highlight from that season was a save I made on a penalty shot. The ball seemed to be placed about eight feet away from me, when the opposing player took their shot. I felt it was too close.
BAM. Right in the face. I don’t even think he was aiming at the net. Oh well, I was fine.
Looking back, I find it funny how seriously I took that experience. But it’s absolutely something I would do. And it’s no surprise that when I got to university and started playing intramurals, that I was always looking for a competitive advantage by trying to outsmart the opponent.
Soccer baseball was my favourite. Before every time I kicked, I would tilt my head and direct my eyes in a certain direction, hoping to bait the opponent into thinking they knew where I was going to kick the ball.
“He’s kicking to the right!”
I loved when they screamed out what they thought I was going to do. Made me know I fooled them.
People are gullible.
Or when I was playing defence, I would intentionally stand in a certain spot while the kicker was surveying where they should kick. As soon as the pitcher started rolling the ball, their focus would be on that, and I would move into the spot they thought was open.
Again, people are gullible.
I don’t know if my teammates knew I was doing this, maybe a few caught on. I don’t know.
I also had a good memory of what someone did the last time they kicked. By the end of the game, I knew everyone’s tendencies and what it meant when they stood a certain way before they kicked.
I attribute that “good memory” to my softball pitching days – I had a scouting report of most of my opponents, stashed in my head.
This, finally, leads me to fantasy sports.
Fantasy sports are everything a non-professional athlete, like myself, craves. Competition while sitting. It’s perfect. And it’s entirely based on thinking. Well, and luck. And praying.
I’ve been involved in fantasy sports since 2011. I’ve never played for money. I don’t need that to motivate me. And I only do a few sports. Hockey, basketball, and this year, baseball.
This past Sunday, I won my fantasy hockey league for the fourth time in six years. The other two years, I came in second and third, respectively.
We played with a head-to-head format, which means each week I faced a different opponent and had to win more statistical categories than them.
My record this year was 23-1. 23 wins. 1 loss. That one loss came in Week 3, back in October. I remember telling myself after that week that I didn’t want to lose another week for the rest of the season. I didn’t.
There were some nerve-wracking, nail-biting,
bed-wetting weeks. And I know this sounds crazy to most of you, but I love sports and this is the closest I may ever come to being the General Manager of a team. So back off.
I spent hours strategizing and projecting in my head how the week would go and what days I would have to make free agent pickups. I would try and predict what my opponent would do and think of a plan to counteract it.
Just to reiterate, I’m crazy.
I’ve always thought that if you’re in a fantasy league, why wouldn’t you try to win? So many people just give up after a month and don’t set their lineups.
Two Sundays ago, I won my fantasy basketball league, defeating Chris in the finals. Chris had won the championship three years in a row. Last year, he beat me by the smallest percentage point imaginable. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t motivate me this year.
See, to some people, fantasy sports is just something you do because you’re friends are doing it and you want to be included. You may not even watch sports, but you participate anyway.
Then you don’t realize the commitment this new found hobby requires if you want to do well.
For people like me, it’s a game that lasts for about six months. I’ve always loved games. To me, it’s fun. It’s competition. It’s a brain-excerise, just like Sudoku, or navigating a shopping cart around a busy grocery store.
And it helps me learn about the different players in a specific league.
I’ll be honest, winning a fantasy sports championship always feels a bit hollow because you realize that no one actually cares about your victory. Half the league won’t even know you won because they stopped checking the league page months ago.
This year, I’m participating in a fantasy baseball league for the first time since 2012. I didn’t really enjoy it the first time around, mainly because I had no clue what I was doing. Baseball can be tricky.
The season is six months long, we’re one week in and I’m already living and dying by my team’s performance on a daily basis. This isn’t healthy, but it’s fun!
Sports, stats, smarts, competition, luck, and fun, all in one. I’m a big fan of all six of those words.
I don’t know if I’ll ever participate in fantasy football. I’ve been slowly losing interest in football over the last decade, so that would just seem like work and a hassle.
What started as drafting a real team of children for intramural soccer back in Grade 6, has turned into drafting a team of professional athletes to play for a fake team with a pun-inspired name.
Hockey: Two And A Half Benn
Basketball: First Cousins
Baseball: Pepé LeMahieu
This must be that “growing up” thing that people always talk about.
This must be how you make a fantasy sports player.
Or, maybe, this is just me.