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5,000 Foot-View: Self-Evaluation And Awareness

Why aren’t you winning? Or, if you are winning, what things did you “get right” on those weeks where you’ve had the most success? These are hard questions to ask yourself and even harder questions to have an honest self-assessment of. Many DFS players take the easy route of attributing losses to “variance” or “bad luck,” while proudly viewing the wins as proof of a higher level of football knowledge and DFS skill. The reality is that there are often deeper-rooted reasons for our results than an easy surface glance at one specific roster. This lesson is about taking a step back and looking at the big picture of who you are and how you play and finding ways to leverage that into the decisions you make and how you approach DFS. Here are a few things that I’ve found particularly useful to use and be aware of:

Trust the Process

A commonly used phrase in DFS is “Trust the Process.” Unfortunately, people justify their poor results by chalking it up to variance and therefore just continue with “their process” even though it is often a bad process. So, how do we know if our process is good? 

I’m a basketball coach and I once came across this photo that was shared on Twitter by a well-respected coach/trainer, who was relating it to shooting a basketball. It explained how most coaches try to train players to do certain things that will help them make shots, rather than eliminating the things that cause them to miss shots.

When I saw the photo, I immediately thought of how it pertains to DFS. Our “Survivorship Bias” tendencies are to examine what went right in a given week in regards to on-field results, whether they are things we were right about or things that other people were right about that we missed. Our tendency is to feel good about our lineups that do well, and conversely, if we don’t have a good week, to check out the winning lineups and compare them to ours in an attempt to figure out “what 3v3s could I have had different to make my bad lineup cash or make my good lineup great?” This can be a fun (or wildly infuriating) exercise, but in the end, this is usually a fruitless endeavor. 

So, how can we tie the photo/basketball analogy into the initial question about “trusting the process?” We need to understand what a good process looks like. To me, a sound process is more about eliminating misses than finding makes. In order to do that, we need to know what “misses” look like (not just in the box score.) Our “process” and reflection should have ALMOST NOTHING to do with how our lineups actually fared in regards to fantasy points in a given week. My mindset in my process is to eliminate things that can easily tank lineups in my decision-making and roster construction, without just doing what the field is doing. This is a very thin line to walk, but one that can be done. My player pool selection and +EV courses dive deeper into the specifics of having a great process, but to summarize for our purposes in this lesson, the idea is to locate landmines and fragile “certainties” and avoid those pitfalls when building lineups and choosing contests.

Playing The Long Game

Many people ask how I am able to stay calm during losing streaks in DFS and how I go to sleep after a really down week. The answer is I keep a long-term view and I have a long enough track record to be comfortable that over time things will work out. We can look to my results from last season to help me explain:

  • During the 2021 NFL season, I had four finishes in the top-5 of DFS tournaments in the 20 weeks from the start of the regular season through the Divisional Round of the playoffs (the last slate of 4+ game slates, where I have my most success.) 
  • Those four finishes came in Weeks 3, 7, 14, and 20. If you break the 20-week NFL season of “main slates” into four quarters, that means I had one top-five finish in each quarter. 

I am confident over time that the distribution of results will almost always normalize into something similar to what we saw last season. The reasons for these results are my process (referenced above), mindset (later lessons), and some things about myself I’ve become aware of such as:

Contest Selection Sweet Spot

Digging deeper into my best finishes, I’ve found my “sweet spot” for what contests to play and how to play them. Each of those top-five finishes mentioned above came in a tournament that had at least 3,500 people in it, but never in a tournament that had more than 45,000 entries, and with price points ranging from $5 to $100. That is critical information (and holds true looking at past years as well) that lets me focus my energy and capital on the right types of contests where I’m most likely to succeed. I’ve played a lot of higher stakes (over $100), and smaller field (under 2,000 entries) tournaments over the years but have never taken higher than 47th in one of those. I will still dabble in them, but I’ve learned that isn’t my sweet spot. Likewise, I’ve never been a Milly-Maker type of person. Although I had a lineup last year that would have taken down the Sunday Million on Fanduel in Week 3 (ugh, I know), I would argue that I wouldn’t have made that lineup if I was playing that tournament. I likely would have thought I needed to be “more unique” and changed something that helped me put up that huge score. It just has never been my approach to chase the tournaments with such insanely big fields.

For someone who is newer to the game or who doesn’t have the same length of track record as me, I would encourage you to take a step back and evaluate what you’ve done and who you are:

  • What types of contests do you see your best results in?
  • If struggling, what types of contests are you currently playing and putting your attention towards?
  • Are you best suited to the contests you are playing or have played?
    • Is it above your price range, causing you to have too much fear about losing?
    • Is it below your price range, so you don’t take it seriously enough?
    • Are the fields too big, making the required scores to win too high and/or causing you to force “uniqueness”?
    • Are the fields too small, leading you to be too conservative and not chase first place?
    • Do you naturally think safely and logically or are you naturally more aggressive and contrarian? 

Based on your answers to these questions, you may not be playing the right contests. Many people do not naturally think in a contrarian way and force it. This is where you get the people constantly showing off their lineups in the Milly Maker or other large field tournaments with extremely low cumulative ownership and thinking they’ve figured it out. Most of the time these people are mistaking “different” with “contrarian.” A contrarian thinker is one who thinks for themselves and naturally is different from the field because they don’t follow the “groupthink” that most of the field does. If you are someone who is forcing “different” things in your lineups or having to really think hard about “ways to be different,” you probably shouldn’t be playing the Milly-Maker style tournaments where you feel pressure to force uniqueness. You can still play GPPs, but you’re probably better off playing more entries at lower price points and getting more comfortable with your process with less pressure and more reps.

Likewise, if you are a naturally contrarian thinker, most people assume the answer is to play large-field tournaments. However, there can be a huge advantage to contrarian thinking in the smaller field tournaments as well. If you can afford it, the higher-dollar, smaller-field tournaments tend to have ownership congregate significantly more than the larger tournaments. This means it only takes one or two things being different and leveraged from what the field is expecting for you to see a massive return on your investment. You can chase the same first-place prizes with fewer bullets if you are playing within your price range but taking more direct shots.

In either regard, knowing your personality, bankroll, background, and mindset are critical to having any sort of long-term DFS success. Going a step further, you should also be aware of any types of situations or players you see better:

Ideal Player/Roster Types

Are there any commonalities you have with your best rosters and finishes? For example, every one of my high-end finishes over the years has been with a quarterback who falls into one of two categories:

 1) Expensive, dual-threat QB.

 2) Pocket QB with multiple pass catchers stacked with him.

Because of that, I simply rule out the quarterbacks who do not have a concentrated target distribution within their team (hard to know who to stack with) and/or who do not have significant rushing upside. This keeps me from chasing new shiny objects or chalkier plays in a lot of weeks, despite some appetizing matchups. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out, but I’ve learned what my “hits” look like, so I’m eliminating a large percentage of “misses,” a process (see above) that will work out over time.

In addition, I have always had at least one player from my quarterback’s opponent on each of these rosters. Going a step further, I’ve always had exactly one additional correlation within the lineup (either a skill player from each side of a game or an RB and their defense.) Finally, those lineups usually have the last three or four spots occupied by “onesies,” or players that are the only player within their respective game (sometimes there is a third correlation, but it is never forced.

I’ve been able to evaluate myself and understand that I am good at finding these things:

  • QBs with the ability to put a game into overdrive and situations where their passing production will be condensed on one or two targets.
  • Small correlations within games that are high scoring
  • Individual situations that have great certainty or greater than expected ceiling

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