Jack Russillo
Jun 14, 2015 · 10 min read

A semi-quick, simple guide to playing America’s new favorite pastime…

For those of us that are physically exceptional, there are professional sports leagues. For those of us that aren’t, there are fantasy sport leagues…

If you think fantasy sports leagues are just a few nerdy guys huddled around a computer crunching numbers, you’re dead wrong. It’s actually MILLIONS of nerdy guys huddled around computers crunching numbers. Practically anybody can do it. Fantasy sports doesn’t really take a vast knowledge of math or statistics — that’s why a lot of jocks do it too. In fact, it takes hardly any effort at all. But, yeah, I will admit it is a little nerdy.

So, here’s a quick set of instructions on how to play fantasy sports:

Getting Started:

  1. Get a computer.
  2. Have at least a slight interest in some sport.
  3. Find a hosting site to use. I’d suggest ESPN or Yahoo!.
  4. Gather up some pals — 10 is usually a good amount — to be part of your league. If you can’t come up with that many friends, try branching out to people around the office or in your classes, maybe even some family members. Or you can also adjust the size of the league to incorporate more or less people.
  5. Each team owner must name their team; it doesn’t hurt to be creative. My fantasy basketball team’s name is “Shakillin Erryone” and features a picture of Shaq throwin’ down a nasty dunk.
  6. Name a “commissioner” of the league. This is the person who decides when the draft is (sometime before the season that’s convenient for all participants), the draft order, how the scoring works, the criteria to go to the playoffs, and how any trades will occur; they even get to name the league. Basically, they’re in charge of all the complicated stuff before the league actually starts.

Once the commissioner has chosen all of the settings for the league, you’re ready to begin.

The Draft:

You’ll begin by drafting players. This is my favorite part of the league, and one of the most important. Players will typically be rated for you by the site, so even if you don’t know who’s especially good or bad, just look for the higher rating next to a player’s name.

  1. Go into your draft with a plan. You can use online cheat sheets written by fantasy experts to help you find the best players at each position, prepare for backup players, and as quick references for player information if your draft takes a turn for the worse.
  2. Make physical or mental lists of top choices you want at each position. Or, you could go in with no knowledge and see how that works out — it’s all about the fun anyways. You can check out who some of the guys from the NFL network predicted would be the most valuable fantasy players to draft next fantasy football season here.
  3. As the draft keeps on going, if there are good players still available, make sure to snatch them up. If you don’t want to become too heavy at one position, it’s still a good idea to draft them because they can be useful in trades. You can always decide to drop them from your roster later and make other changes once the draft is over, so don’t worry too much if it doesn’t go well. Also, it’s smart to pick up players that can play multiple positions so that you have more options of where you can put them in your roster — trust me, it’s good to maximize the potential of your team.
  4. And, while it might seem like common knowledge, try to get a well-rounded team. If you see that many of your players are focused on one or two particular stats, try to acquire other players that can help you out in other areas by way of trading or free agency.

Once your team is drafted, you just have to wait for the season to start.

The Basics:

Your team — the selection of players that you drafted — will then play against another player and their team of players in your league. Each matchup is a week long and will compile all of the statistics that each of the team’s players earn throughout the course of the week. Some players will play on different days, at different times, or not play at all. Depending on how your commissioner sets up the rules, your players will earn various stats in different ways during the matchup that will accumulate and determine who wins the matchup.

The bottom line: the winner is the team with the most stats at the end of the week.

Something you might want to know before you start is what the layout of a matchup looks like. Fantasy sports are laid out in a grid. The grid will show a variety of statistics specific to the sport you’re playing, and it will list how each of the players on your roster are doing statistically.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the enormous amount of seemingly random numbers in front of you. Each of them means something, and it’s not actually as cryptic as it looks.

Below, you can check out what my fantasy basketball team’s grid looked like at the end of my last matchup. My team, Shakillin Erryone, ended up winning the matchup, which you can tell by the score in the top right of the image. I won because my players accumulated more statistics than my opponent’s players did in five of the nine possible statistical categories. I had more three-pointers (3PM), rebounds (REB), assists (AST), steals (STL), and points (PTS).

The three players that are pointed out in red all had terrific performances on the basketball court. Pau Gasol — my completely lucky/risky pickup at the beginning of the season that ended up being a starter in the All-Star Game — had a seemingly typical night of 25 points and 16 rebounds , all while shooting a decent field goal percentage (FG%). Then, there’s LaMarcus Aldridge, my favorite team’s superstar player who had a very solid all-around game, making sure to contribute with the defensive stats (steals and block — BLK). Lastly, there’s Isaiah Thomas, the lone UW alumni on my team. But he’s been nothing short of fantastic for me in just about every category; he even takes care of the ball, as a good point guard should (he had no turnovers — TO).

At the top of the bench is Gordon Hayward. He’s also done surprisingly well for me this season. His team, the Utah Jazz, didn’t play a game that day and so that is why he’s on the bench, because he wouldn’t be earning me any stats.

A few tips and tricks for the season:

As the season progresses, you’ll learn more about how to play your team.

  1. Throughout the course of the season, some players get injured and you have to modify your lineup accordingly. You should trade away players with extensive injuries (indicated by a fat red O next to their name), and you’ll have to make judgment calls on less significant injuries (indicated by a red DTD). For example, you should drop a player if they have a torn ACL, but not if they just have a sprained ankle. Just make sure not to immediately trade away your best players if they get an injury; get some information on the extent of their ailment and decide from there.
  2. Some players will do better or worse than their preseason ratings predicted them to do and you should be aware of that. They may just be in a slump or a hot streak and you’ll have to decide whether to keep them; this is where the fun riskiness of fantasy leagues comes into play. You should keep players who have more playing time because they have more time to accumulate statistics; bench players are usually not advisable, but there are a few exceptions.
  3. Staying updated on your league will help to learn about the free agents in your league. There’s even a statistic that tracks what percent of leagues have a certain player. The higher percent, the more people want that player and the better that player should be. So that’s always an easy indicator of good players.
  4. It’s also good to look at the team your opponent has and search for any possible advantages. In football, if you know your opponent has a bad defense in certain areas, at cornerback for example, you should pick a wide receiver instead of a tight end. For basketball, if the other player has a weaker player playing a certain position, like point guard, make sure to get your best point guard active. Coaches of real teams look for mismatches all the time and so should you.
  5. Many leagues have entry fees that include real money, not fantasy money, but they can also be free. This is another option for the commissioner to decide on. Any winnings will go to the playoff winner. But, if you’re just a beginner, I’d suggest starting off by playing for free.

Just like anything else, you’ll improve as time goes by. So don’t get too down on yourself if things don’t work out at first. There’s always next fantasy season!


The playoffs come at the end of the season. Once again, depending on the rule setup of your league, different amounts of teams can make it to the playoffs.

Only the best teams will make it to playoffs so, if you’re reading this post, I expect you to make it to the playoffs. This is the part of the season when you should be paying the closest attention to your team. You should be checking to make sure anybody who’s injured isn’t playing and that you have the best possible team of players. This is the end of the season and you should want to go out with a bang!

With many fantasy league championships, comes many long, stressful nights. Oh, and great responsibility.

You could even try to trade players with some of the other teams that have already been eliminated from the playoffs. It could end up being a game-changer for you in the future. That’s what I did, and it worked out quite well in my favor. I can definitely say that I got the better end of the bargain… If you’re familiar with the players listed below, I think you’ll agree with me.

Many of the best trades take place late at night, even around 12:33 AM (PST)

Sport-specific tips:


For football, it’s good to go for the best running back available because there are not many great ones. They receive a large amount of the work load in the actual games, so they produce more statistics. Then, based on availability, try to get the best quarterback. You’ll want yards and touchdowns so a solid quarterback, along with good receivers, is essential. And, it’s important to get a good defense, so try to get one that gives up the fewest yards and forces the most turnovers.

Also, kicker’s are underrated and can earn you more points than you think; try to get a good one.


In baseball, try to get a solid, all-around player to start as a good base. This means someone with a lot of home runs, runs batted in, and a good batting average. They don’t have to be those exact statistics, but it’s good to be well-balanced from the beginning. Also, make sure to get a pitcher with a low earned run average (ERA) and a lot of strikeouts (K).


Make sure to substitute your players correctly and efficiently. Pay close attention to your roster. I can’t tell you how many times I would’ve beaten someone but, because I left someone on the bench, they couldn’t help me out in the matchup. There are a lot of games in an NBA season and you don’t want players who would be getting you points sitting on the bench.

So, I hope that you have at least some understanding of the fantasy world of sports after reading this. Even for a non-sports fan, they can be pretty entertaining.

But remember, it’s just a game about a game.

Feel free to hit the “recommend” button if you liked the post so that others are more likely to come across it and enjoy it as well.

Jack Russillo is a young writer. He’s currently working on a double major consisting of journalism and international studies at the University of Washington in Seattle. He writes for The Daily Newspaper, has his own daily blog, and writes about just about anything as long as he has a particular perspective or opinion on the topic.

Go follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Medium.

It’ll be worth it.

Jack Russillo

Written by

World citizen from Orcas Island, WA. Educated in journalism and international studies at the UW. Traveling the world in search of sustainable economies.

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