How Fantasy Sports Can Improve Fitness

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Success in fantasy sports comes from physical fitness. Not from us—the web browsing massesbut from the actual athletes on our rosters. The faster, the stronger, and the more physically fit they are, the more we succeed. And we never even have to leave the couch.
Researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology want to fix that irony. Combining computer programming know-how and sports psychology, they’ve built a new type of online league that transforms fantasy sports into real-world fitness.

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The league tracks members’ physical activity through wearable accelerometers. If team managers don’t reach specific weekly fitness goals, they lose league privileges. A player from their roster might randomly be dropped at the end of the week. Or they might not be allowed to request a trade, among other potential repercussions.

“A fundamental aspect of the research is to try to leverage the passion that people already have for sports to help them pay more attention to their own health,” says Arlen Moller, the project’s lead researcher.

Moller says men are less likely to join social groups that track health, unless you add in some friendly competition and a whole lot of trash talk.

As the NFL season approaches and you prepare for fantasy draft day, don’t just win a six-pack of beer for trouncing your buddies, win an actual six-pack. You can sign up to take part in Moller’s research, or you can follow these tips to shape up your own fantasy league.  

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1. Find the Right Group

Only the right kind of people will do pushups to determine draft order. According to Moller, the league only works if everyone participates. That’s why he recommends competing in a league where everyone knows each other. That way the trash talk can move from the message board to the gym, keeping everyone motivated.

2. Be Transparent

Post everyone’s weekly fitness results on the public message board. It rewards the overachievers and shames lazy owners. Moller says social control and interaction is vital to boosting motivation.

3. Pick the Workout

In the hi-tech version, members can purchase wearable accelerometers and join an online group that tracks their results. Or, the league can agree to specific fitness goals. That could be weekly running mileage or hours spent at the gym.

4. Select the Consequences

Moller has developed 30 different potential consequences for team owners who don’t reach their fitness goals. They range from determining draft order, to ability to trade and pick up available players, to dropping players from the roster. Originally Moller didn’t want the fitness goals to tamper with the game too much, but owners got hooked and requested that consequences be more influential. He says the key is to make consequences bad enough that competitive, couch-bound managers will have to hit the gym in order to win. 

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