It's getting to that time of year again for North American sporting fans. While here in Australia we are in the midst of finals fever, in the United States they are just getting ready to start their football season. That means that countless fans are running around like mad, trying to get their Fantasy Football leagues up and running, or getting ready for the big draft where they will pick their sides for the season ahead.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, Fantasy Football is a recreational pursuit where groups of fans—often from a workplace—create their own National Football League (NFL) teams by selecting from a pool of real life players. While I am more familiar with the NFL version, there are similar leagues for basketball or baseball. It's like a version of footy tipping on steroids, where you can influence the results.
Competitors usually have a salary cap of what they can spend, so they will carefully try and make the most of their money, putting together a team that will cover all the bases, with perhaps one or two star players who are guaranteed to perform.
When the season starts, every player is a located weekly points according to how they performed in the actual games, and the fantasy teams will get the total points their players earned—contributing to the ranking in their league. It's big business with a number of leagues putting big money on the line for the winners.
Not just for fun
This year marks the second year I've been part of a league, and last year was a real eye opener. I only really joined as social activity with some US friends, and we are a pretty casual outfit. Even so, as I observed both our leagues and some of the others around, I realised it's a very serious business.
First there was the matter of the draft where, for a small window of time, we descended into a vicious feeding frenzy as people snapped up the players they wanted. In many of the leagues, people had spent hours and days creating charts, outlining their strategy for acquiring the right players, creating binders ready for the big day.
And what a day it was. There was much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth as some competitors beat others to the punch, and I found myself lost and terrified with no idea what was going on. It's safe to say my team was not very well balanced, full of rejects and cats offs no one else wanted.
The Never-ending Battle
As the season progressed, things only became more fraught. Every week you had to check what was happening across the NFL and ensure that none of your players were injured or had been dropped—if they didn't play they would earn no points. Often I would miss such news, and end up with several players in my team contributing nothing. It became a source of stress, especially with the added complication of not being in the correct timezone.
Given it was all for fun, the whole concept was a lot of work. Even someone as casual as myself had to come up with systems to keep up with what was happening, and many of the serious players out there would have whiteboards or computer programs to assist. There was a nagging familiarity, about all this—the sense of a competition that rewarded research and hard work, that seemed simple on the surface but had lurking layers of complexity, and a low tolerance for people only willing to dip their toe in the water.
Not so different?
And then it hit me. The same strategies were just at home in writing. For many writers, their book doesn't start with sitting down to write, it begins with the planning and research that lays the foundation. It's a craft that rewards preparation, with knowing the trends of the marketplace. And, as any writer would know, it is something that appears simple from the outside, with the perception that anyone can be successful at it if they got around to doing it.
The irony is readily apparent. Many writers I know look down on organised sports, using the disparaging term "sports ball" for anything involving physical activity. Statuses I often see on Facebook include: "Stupid sports ball is on tonight so there is nothing good on TV", or "Lots of idiots on the train on the way home, must be a sports ball match on".
Sports fans, of course, can be just as mean, with people who read a frequent target for their scorn. Anyone who was into books in high school can remember being called a geek and pushed around by strapping footy players.
These are generalisations, undoubtedly, with many people I know being both sports mad and proud flag flying geeks, But, it is common enough to have created fodder for countless TV shows, and made plenty of kids unwilling to cross the divide.
But, as you can see, perhaps they have more in common than they think. It's a nice reminder that when we actually start looking deeper into the lives of others, we can always find something to bring us closer—rather than looking at what keeps us apart.
David Goodwin is a freelance writer based in Melbourne. He is a cricket tragic, having run a cricket club and a cricket association, and attempts to hit sixes and bowl legspin as often as possible
David Goodwin's archive of articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/david-goodwin.html