Top 10 Psychological Tips for Fantasy Premier League

As we approach the start of the Premier League season, our lives can begin to feel complete once again… FPL is back – and with it, an emotional rollercoaster of hope, torment and jubilation awaits us.

There is no better time than now to explore the limitations of our cognitive biases, discuss the dangers of social media and group influence, and consider how we can optimise our decision making processes to be the most effective managers possible.

Whilst I will be bringing you articles all season long, I thought it would be prudent to present you with my top 10 psychological tips before FPL is back in full swing.

Before I begin, I would like to emphasise that I am a Psychology (BSc) & Sport Psychology (MSc) graduate. I am not a licensed Psychologist, and unfortunately I am not able to speak to you all on an individual basis to tailor these tips to your own idiosyncratic cognitions and behaviours. 

These tips are crafted based on past experiences and psychological research, but they will not all apply equally well for all individuals. As such, you can use them as a guide, but be willing to adapt and disregard them if they are less applicable to your own cognitions and behaviours.

{Most importantly, if you are ever feeling anxious or obsessive to the point of it interfering with your everyday life, I strongly advise you to step away from the game for a period of time, and/or contact a professional to discuss your feelings.}

TIP 1: Avoid outcome bias – evaluate decisions based on the decision making process, not the outcome of the decision.

Photo Credit: https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/outcome-bias-not-all-outcomes-are-created-equal

Outcome bias is the tendency to evaluate our decisions based on the eventual outcome, as opposed to the decision-making process (Baron & Hershey, 1988).

An example of this in FPL can be a simple captaincy choice. Imagine (a hypothetical situation) you are deciding between Mo Salah (playing at home vs. Fulham) and Aubameyang (playing away vs. Wolves) as your captaincy choice. In the last 5 GWs, Salah has 4 goals and 3 assists, whereas Aubameyang has 1 goal and 1 assist. Further, Arsenal have lost their last two games away from home.

As such, you decide to captain Mo Salah. Surprise surprise, Mo Salah blanks and Aubameyang bags a brace with maximum BPS to return a double digit haul.

The bias here, would be to evaluate the decision based on it’s outcome. With only 2 points returned (4 in total with captaincy), you may view your decision to captain Salah in a harsh and critical light. However, the decision-making process was justified, and due to the difficulty of getting decisions consistently correct in FPL, we must instead focus on the reasons we make decisions, and the process that led to the eventual decision.

In other words, instead of being unhappy with your decision because your captain blanked (outcome bias), you should try to reflect positively on your decision because it was made in a sound and logical fashion. Not only will this hopefully improve your outlook on your decisions, it will also lead to more effective and accurate decision-making.

That is, by focusing on the process instead of the outcome, we can learn to improve our analysis and decision-making techniques rather than just responding post-hoc to points gathered in that GW (Lefgren, Platt, & Price, 2012).

TIP 2: Avoid running polls to aid decision making. This could either result in confirmation bias or herd mentality.

Photo Credit: https://fs.blog/2017/05/confirmation-bias/

Running polls (on Twitter) is slowly becoming one of the most popular ways to interact with ones followers and to gain opinions on a mass level. As such, polls are often used by FPL managers to help them make transfer and captaincy decisions.

Starting with the basics, here are a few problems with running polls:

  1. People have the ability to lie (in an attempt to disadvantage other managers) – although most would consider this as going against the unwritten rules of FPL Twitter.
  2. Less critically, people often will click a random option and not truly think about it, in order to gain access to the results.
  3. Often with polls, you have no context as to why (as an example) 56% of people think you should captain Aubameyang. Is it because they also own him? Is it because of form, or fixtures? If you must run a poll, ask people to comment WHY they voted in the fashion they did.

From a psychological point of view, running polls can be the result of – and result in – two equally detrimental psychological processes. The first of these, is confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret and utilise information in a fashion that confirms, supports and reinforces our already established beliefs and preferences (e.g., Nickerson, 1998). By running a poll, we are more often than not looking for the community to support and reinforce our already established belief, thus demonstrating confirmation bias.

Alternatively, if we run the poll, and the community votes against our preferred choice, we could encourage herd mentality. 

Herd Mentality is a widely discussed phenomenon which explains the process by which an individual’s behaviour or beliefs conform to that of the majority in the community to which they belong (Kameda & Hastie, 2015).

This coordination of opinions and decisions within the ‘herd’ is amplified by social interactions (i.e. through social media) (Raafat, Chater, & Frith, 2009).

In other words, you may have originally wanted to go with Option A, but the ‘herd’ may have all suggested going with Option B. As such, you internalise the view of the FPL community as your own belief, and conform to the mass decision – a decision you would perhaps not make on your own!

Either way, running polls can (not always) result in some less-than-ideal cognitive biases, and they are best to avoid as serious methods for aiding your decision making. 

TIP 3: The order we receive information in is important – beware of anchoring and the primacy-recency effect.

https://www.emra.org/emresident/article/weighed-down-by-words-how-to-recognize-and-avoid-anchoring-bias/

Simply put, anchoring bias suggests that we favour the first piece of information we learn on a given topic (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974).

For example, imagine you read an article which suggests captaining Aubameyang in GW1 is the best option. If this is the first article you have read on the topic, it may be that you tie your metaphorical anchor to this idea, and end up making it your final choice.

The second psychological phenomenon here – primacy-recency effect – originates from cognitive psychology and is one of the most classical concepts in the field.

Primacy-recency effect explains the tendency for people to remember information presented at the beginning of a list, and the end of a list, more so than the information in the middle of the list (Atkinson & Shiffrin, 1968). Although, this extends far beyond lists, to all aspects of decision making that rely on memory.

Primacy-recency effect is particularly applicable at the moment, whilst drafting our teams for the beginning of the 2020/21 season.

It is most likely that when deciding on your final team, you will have a large majority of players from your initial few teams (anchoring bias and primacy effect), and also a large amount of players from your latest drafts (recency effect), but will ignore and/or forget players from the middle 20%-30% of your drafts.

The lesson to be learnt here is that we unwillingly give high importance to the first pieces of information we receive, followed closely by the most recent information. Being aware of these biases may make it ever-so-slightly easier to avoid disregarding information presented in between.

To further avoid these biases, it is wise to note down any research you complete on players, and screenshot various possible teams and manoeuvres, in order to prevent disregarding ideas formed in the middle of our tinkering sagas.

TIP 4: Beware of the endowment effect and mere ownership effect – try not to just hold onto players because you have invested in them.

The Endowment Effect: Why ownership makes you overvalue your ...
Photo Credit: https://kenthendricks.com/endowment-effect/

The ‘endowment effect’ is the circumstance in which individuals place higher value on an object that they already own, than the value they would place on that same object if they did not own it (Thaler, 1980). 

This is closely related to the ‘mere ownership effect’ – the circumstance in which people who own an object tend to evaluate that object more positively than people who do not (Beggan, 1992).

What impact does this have on FPL? 

It highlights a very worthwhile consideration that we should have when deciding whether to hold or to sell a player. Often, our desire to hold a player could be cognitively biased by our mere ownership of that player, or, in a similar fashion, due to the investment we have already made. 

As a result, a good question to ask yourself is the following: “If I did not own this player, would I want to transfer him into my team?” 

If the answer is no, but you find yourself holding onto a player, you could be the victim of your own cognitive biases! (Small caveat here, in that if you have money tied up in a player, this decision could become more complex. Also, if your FTs are better utilised elsewhere, it may be worth keeping the player).

TIP 5: As FPL managers, we are susceptible to the clustering illusion and seeing phantom patterns.

Photo Credit: https://uxdesign.cc/cognitive-biases-you-need-to-be-familiar-with-as-a-researcher-c482c9ee1d49

The clustering illusion is a cognitive bias that often goes under the radar, but is particularly applicable to FPL.

It is the tendency to erroneously consider the inevitable “streaks” or “clusters” arising in small samples from random distributions to be non-random. In other words, we see phantom patterns in data as we try to attribute meaning to random and unrelated events.

This is a form of Apophenia – the tendency to mistakenly perceive connections and meaning between unrelated things.

In FPL, this can often happen, where we spot random small streaks of data and attempt to attribute meaning to them in an attempt to provide a reason to bring a specific player into our teams.

My advice to avoid the clustering illusion is as follows:

  1. Seek information from a variety of sources – it may be that once you consider the information in a different context, or in a different visual form, that you realise it has created the appearance of a ‘streak’ or ‘spike’, but that it is indeed, an illusion.
  2. Increase the sample size to more than just one or two GWS – do not just look at statistics from the past one or two GWs when looking to bring a player in. Explore statistics from the previous 3-5 GWs, as this is the best way to accurately identify a trend or correlation (another caveat here, in that upside chasing and attacking strategies in FPL may require being reactive to single GW statistics and subtle trends in data).

TIP 6: Watch out for your bias blind spot – we are blind to our own biases, but can easily spot them in other individuals.

Photo Credit: https://www.aesc.org/insights/magazine/article/checking-your-blind-spots

The bias blind spot is the cognitive bias of recognising the impact of biases on the judgement of others, while failing to see the impact of biases on one’s own judgement – we are blind to our own biases!

Pronin, Lin and Ross (2002) refer to this as an ‘asymmetry in perceived susceptibility to biases’. We think we are shielded from, and less susceptible to, the very biases that we highlight in other individuals.

This is important, as being aware of our difficulty to reflect introspectively, will improve our chances of catching our own biases, and refraining from making decisions in a sub-optimal fashion.

TIP 7: Consider making FPL decisions in the morning. Decisions made in the evening are risky and pressured by sleep (not applicable to all managers).

Photo Credit: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/strategies-to-promote-better-sleep-in-these-uncertain-times-2020032719333

There is a fantastic study by Leone, Slezak, Golombek and Sigman (2017), exploring the effect of time of day in relation to decision making, represented by online chess.

Participants had to have played at least 2000 online games. Over 100 participants took part in the experiment, and completed a Morning Eveningness Questionnaire (MEQ; e.g., Östberg, 1976) to assess their chronotype.

Here is what the authors found:

“We found that players changed their decision-making policy throughout the day: players decide faster and less accurately as the day progresses, reaching a plateau early in the afternoon. This effect was observed for all players regardless of their chronotype, indicating that changes in Decision time are mainly determined by the time of the day.” (Leone et al., 2017, p. 53).

The authors continue to say that:

“Our results show that players play more accurately and slower in the morning, which could be interpreted as a strategy based on safety (prevention focus), and they play faster and less accurately in the evening, which could be a more risky way of playing (promotion focus).” (Leone et al., 2017, p. 53).

Therefore, the authors suggest that it does not matter whether you are a morning person or an evening person, it is the time of day which is important.

They do not suggest that one is better than the other, they simply suggest that morning decisions tend to be safer and preventative, whereas evening decisions tend to be riskier and attacking in nature.

They suggest that this could be the result of ‘sleep pressure’. This theory suggests that throughout our wake cycle the drive and desire to sleep slowly accumulates, resulting in the gradual degradation of our cognitive functioning (Schmidt, Collette, Cajochen, & Peigneux, 2007).

In other words, by the time we reach the final few hours before sleep, our cognitive functioning is inferior to what it was earlier in the day!

However, there is also a cohort of literature which suggests that we should tailor our decision making dependent on whether we are ‘early risers’ (a morning person) or ‘late types’ (an evening person).

Indeed, Facer-Childs and Brandstaetter (2015) suggest that we can improve our decision making by up to 26% if coincided with our sleep patters and chronotype (i.e. morning person making decisions in the morning, evening person making decisions in the evening).

If you are not sure on your chronotype (i.e. whether you are a morning person or evening person), I would advise you to make decisions in the morning, as they are generally less impaired by sub-optimal cognitive functioning. However, if you are notoriously productive and effective in the evenings, stick to what you know.

TIP 8: Beware of the Twitter Bubble. Just because it is on Twitter does not mean it is representative of the entirety of FPL.

Photo Credit: https://www.lifewire.com/twitter-isnt-as-important-as-trump-or-media-tries-to-make-it-4693154

Often, it can feel as though Twitter is representative of all FPL managers and teams. However, it only represents a very small percentage of the 6-7 million teams active on Twitter.

Further, not only are FPL Twitter accounts only representative of a very small percentage of those actively playing FPL, it is often the case that only those that are successful in their decisions and GWs will post about it – people are less likely to post low scores and captaincy fails.

Therefore, to put this into perspective, when you see others succeeding whilst you are not, I advise you to think the following:

  1. Twitter only represents a small percentage of FPL managers.
  2. Often, only successful decisions will be posted and shared.

TIP 9: Embrace the negatives – “without the lows, the highs just aren’t so high”!

Photo Credit: https://medium.com/weekend-yogi/the-existence-of-positivity-c2748ae8a956

*Please read the above picture quote, as it elegantly encapsulates Tip 9.*

We need the low, negative experiences of FPL for two reasons. Firstly, without the experience of negative emotions, positive emotions will begin to become the norm. As such, the adrenaline, euphoria and utter enjoyment associated with getting a decision correct in FPL, will suddenly become less enjoyable.

“Without the lows, the highs just aren’t so high!”

Secondly, negative events and ‘mistakes’ stimulate improved thought processes and help us move forward with a more positive world view (Vohs, Aaker, & Catapano, 2019).

A great quote to emphasise this is:

“Some of the best lessons we ever learn we learn from our mistakes and failures. The error of the past is the wisdom of the future.”

(Quote by Tyron Edwards).

Therefore, it is good practice to try to accept that lows are both a part of life and FPL, and to see them for what they are: great learning opportunities and an important counter-balance for positive experiences.

TIP 10: If you are feeling overwhelmed, place FPL in the bigger picture of your life and future life.

Photo Credit: https://aboutmeditation.com/using-meditation-to-see-the-bigger-picture/

This is a very useful technique that is often termed ‘Psychological Distancing’. A broad definition of this technique is the separation of oneself from the immediate situation, to consider the broader perspective (i.e. the bigger picture; Shapiro, 2016).

To utilise Psychological Distancing in FPL, we should ask ourselves these questions when experiencing unsuccessful decisions:

  • “Is it really THAT bad if I fail in my captaincy choice, have a bad GW and drop in rank?” (The correct answer is NO!)
  • “What is the worst thing that will happen if I have a bad week and drop in rank?” (The correct answer is “nothing really, I just have a lower rank”).
  • “Will this affect my overall life in a negative way?” (The correct answer is no it will not, or it shouldn’t anyway).

By asking ourselves these questions, we can aim to rationalise and distance ourselves from our negative thoughts and realise that FPL isn’t everything. It is only a small part of our lives. It’s success or failure is not the end of the world, even if it feels like it is.

Even if it is your full-time job, perfect success on a weekly basis is not the most important part of being in the FPL Community. Positivity, interactions, discussions and quality content are much more important!

If placing FPL in the bigger picture of your current life does not work, we can take this one step further, using a technique I regularly use in everyday life – placing the event in the bigger picture of your future life!

Similar to the above, here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • “In 1 year time, will I really care that I had a captaincy fail in GW1 of the 2020/21 season?” (You really shouldn’t!)
  • “In 5 years time, will I even be remember picking Ings over Jimenez to start the 2020/21 season? (Absolutely not!)

These events will seem so unimportant in the future. They only seem so important now due to the intensity of emotions that humans are programmed to feel, and we are caught up in the here-and-now.

Considering the future in this way, will help reduce the magnitude and intensity of the emotions we feel, in turn relieving the stress associated with decision-making in FPL.

References

Atkinson, R. C., & Shiffrin, R. M. (1968). Human memory: a proposed system and its control processes. In Spence, K. W., & Spence, J. T. The psychology of learning and motivation (volume 2). New York: Academic Press, pp. 89-115.

Baron, J., & Hershey, J. C. (1988). Outcome bias in decision evaluation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(4), 569-579.

Beggan, J. K. (1992). On the social nature of nonsocial perception: the mere ownership effect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62(2), 229-237.

Facer-Childs, E., & Brandstaetter, R. (2015). The impact of circadian phenotype and time since awakening on diurnal performance in athletes. Current Biology, 25(4), 518-522.

Kameda, T., & Hastie, R. (2015). Herd Behavior. In Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences: An Interdisciplinary, Searchable, and Linkable Resource, 1-14. Wiley Online Library.

Lefgren, L., Platt, B., & Price, J. (2014). Sticking with what (barely) worked: a test of outcome bias. Management Science. https://doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.2014.1966

Leone, M. J., Slezak, D. F., Golombek, D., Sigman, M. (2017). Time to decide: diurnal variations on the speed and quality of human decisions. Cognition, 158, 44-55.

Nickerson, R. (1998). Confirmation bias: a ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises. Review of General Psychology, 2(2), 175-220.

Östberg, O. (1976). A self-assessment questionnaire to determine morningness-eveningness in human circadian rhythms. International Journal of Chronobiology, 4, 97-100.

Pronin, E., Lin, D. Y., & Ross, L. (2002). The bias blind spot: perceptions of bias in self versus others. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28(3), 369-381.

Raafat, R. M., Chater, N., & Frith, C. (2009). Herding in Humans. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13, 420-428.

Schmidt, C., Collette, F., Cajochen, C., & Peigneux, P. (2007). A time to think: circadian rhythms in human cognition. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 24(7), 755-789.

Shapiro, D. (2016). Negotiating the non-negotiable: How to resolve your most emotionally charged conflicts? NY: Viking.

Thaler, R. (1980). Toward a positive theory of consumer choice. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 1(1), 39-60.

Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1974). Judgement under certainty: heuristics and biases. Science, 185(4157), 1124-1131.

Vohs, K. D., Aaker, J. L., & Catapano, R. (2019). It’s not going to be that fun: negative experiences can add meaning to life. Current Opinion in Psychology, 26, 11-14.

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