Is fantasy baseball educational?
An intrepid reader recently asked me whether fantasy baseball was an educational experience. It seems she had been having this debate with her son, a senior in high school who has been part of a fantasy league for many years. She was concerned about the hours he was spending researching the statistics of up-and-coming players. He told her that he was learning more from this fantasy league than he did in the classroom.
Not to take away from the importance of the classroom, but my gut-level response is that kids learn as much from their hobbies as in formal educational settings. Most anything that piques a kid’s interest can be an important learning experience, right? And as hobbies go, fantasy baseball didn’t see devoid of educational possibilities. But exactly what is it that they’re learning?
How Real Is the Fantasy?
Ask anyone who’s really into any sport, and they’ll be able to spout out all kinds of statistics. But those who participate in a fantasy league take the statistics one step further. They need to understand the statistics and manipulate data so it makes sense. A quick search of the Internet suggests that fantasy baseball is particularly well aligned with middle school mathematics curricula.
PBS Mathline® and Fantasy Baseball Mathematics(who knew?) is among several organizations that offer a supplemental math curriculum for students in grades 5–8, with opportunities for students to calculate and practice figuring out averages, ratio and proportion, data analysis, and probability. The National Council for Teachers of Mathematics also offers teacher- and student-friendly ideas and activities.
Curricula aside, even casual players are learning and practicing skills. In Bloom’s taxonomy language, players move toward higher-level thinking skills, past simply reciting player stats to applying and analyzing them. A successful fantasy league player needs to use the statistics to evaluate each player for the draft.
Seems easy, right? Just pick the best players. But experienced fantasy leaguers will tell you that this is only a small piece of the puzzle. Achieving a well-balanced team may make or break a team.
Picking the team is just the first step. Throughout the year, fantasy players use the updated stats to weigh options and make decisions about important questions such as:
- Which players should be in my starting lineup?
- How can I make tradeoffs to remain below the salary cap?
- Should I keep or trade an underperforming player?
And this brings us to another whole set of skills. Beyond thinking skills, succeeding with a fantasy league requires communication and negotiation—skills that can be important in almost any field. And research suggests that the game can reinforce true relationships. “In order for the game to feel powerful for people, you have to feel connected to the community of people that you play with,” explains Erica Halverson, a researcher of game theory at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
It may be shocking to those of us who grew up near Fenway to learn that not everyone loves baseball. Fortunately, there is probably a fantasy league to tap into any student’s interest. In addition to fantasy hockey, basketball, and almost any other sport, today there is Fantasy Congress. Yep, players pick legislators and earn points for how many bills their team passes. Given the state of Congress, it sounds like that might just be too much fantasy!