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How to Conquer Draft Anxiety So It Doesn’t Conquer You!

A fellow reader of Big Guy Fantasy Sports is a psychotherapist from Southern California and ask if we would post this article. And of course, we said YES!  

So without further ado, I present this awesome article from Stephen Pratt.

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Let me start off this article by painting a common experience on draft day. I will be drafting this season online in a 10 team H2H 5 x 5 league. This year I got the uncoveted 10th pick. The early rounds tend to play out as planned with just a few surprises. Now we get to the middle and late rounds. When the Yahoo alarm signals my turn to draft, I have only 90 seconds to make my next pick. Then another 90 seconds to make the next selection. The 9th pick snagged a player I was targeting. My league has a tradition of posting “hit Larry” when you lose out on a coveted player in your queue. “Larry” is the Sit and Sleep bobble head who proclaims “you’re killing me Larry” when his mattress button is pushed. This only adds to my current emotional distress.

Panic is setting in as I have to scramble to find my next picks. The emotional overwhelm I am experiencing is now activating my emotional/autonomic nervous system. This condition is causing my nervous system to dysregulate and putting my fight, flight or freeze system to go into overdrive. Your brain is being tricked into thinking what you are experiencing is dangerous. When activated this automatic process hijacks our cognitive reasoning abilities. The executive functioning part of our brain will automatically turn off and we’re not physiologically able to think clearly. Needless to say, we do not want this to happen in the middle of a draft.

Luckily, I am here to help provide some tips that will help you stay more calm, cool and collected through the entire draft. Using these guidelines will give you an emotional/mental advantage over your fellow draftees who will have their own moments of emotional turmoil at various points of the draft. Here they are:

Preparedness: Like any good boy scout it is vitally important to “be prepared.” Preparation will make any presentation, job interview or draft go smoother. You always have your notes to refer back to if a freeze moment occurs. I always feel more confident if I properly prepare for any type of performance. Give yourself plenty of time to organize your resources and computer notes before the draft begins. Also have enough working space and a comfortable chair to keep your focus on drafting. I find it helps to have an assistant to call on if you need a particular resource. The goal here is to maintain focused attention, reduce pressure on yourself and minimize distractions.

Manage your Nervous System: However hard we try, we cannot talk our way out of an activated dysregulated autonomic nervous system. It has to run its course until your system returns to a state of regulation. The best strategy is to work with it instead of against it. A good tool I learned was from a workshop lead by David Carbonell, Ph.D. His method uses an acronym “A.W.A.R.E.” The task is to first acknowledge and accept what is happening to your nervous system and then find a way to make yourself more comfortable until it passes. The discomfort will eventually pass. Allow for some nervousness since it keeps you sharp and flexible . A good method to calm yourself is called “Orienting.” This was developed by Dr. Peter Levine. Here you ground yourself by orienting your primary senses to the present environment. Using a curious mindset and being a casual observer, slowly scan your awareness to the present environment starting with your vision, next weight of your body, hearing etc, until you feel a sense of tranquility and calm. A simple tool is called 5,4,3,2,1. Start with 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things smell etc. until you go through all the 5 senses.

Visualization: Many elite athletes use visualization to sharpen their mind while performing their particular discipline. Find a calm space prior to the draft to visually experience a successful draft. It is important to note that the mind does not know how differentiate between visualizing and being there in person.

Breathe: Diaphragmatic breathing activates our parasympathetic nervous system which leads to relaxation. A good method is to breathe through your nose for 3 counts, hold for 2 counts, exhale through pursed lips for 6 counts and hold another 2 counts until you return to inhale. Make the exhale twice as long as the inhale. You know you are doing the breathing correctly when you see your belly rise and fall. This will be important to do before you begin the draft and any moment your feel your system unraveling.

Have Fun: Remember fantasy sports is supposed to be fun. For many players draft day is akin to the childhood experience of Christmas morning. The experience of having fun releases feel good chemicals like Serotonin, Endorphins and Oxycontin. Fantasy sports for me is similar to the experience of playing the ponies at the race track. You put in your research, follow the experts and hope your horse or in this case player performs as expected. Luck also plays a part in how your team fares against your opponents. So don’t take it too seriously and as my Ukulele teacher always says, “enjoy the process.” You get a chance to have fellowship with others in your league. Connection with others is good for our well being.

So my hope by reading this article and putting the tips into practice you will come away from the draft feeling like you “nailed it.” These tools can help you go through the draft experiencing “peak performance.” I like the definition of peak performance by Debra E. Burdick, LCSW, BCN as your mind being alert and your body relaxed. Happy drafting sport fans.

Stephen Pratt, LMFT has been involved in fantasy sports leagues since 2003.

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