America Needs Entrepreneurs. Instead Of Programming Teach Children Fantasy Football.

on August 18, 2014

America needs entrepreneurs. Men, women, boys, girls, native-born, immigrants, smart, skillful, driven, capable entrepreneurs to propel the economy, create jobs, spur innovation and build something from nothing.

I believe to do this, to create a sizable generation of entrepreneurs, we should teach fantasy football to all children. Yes, really.

Again and again we are told all children should be taught computer programming. Perhaps. I suspect however that teaching computer programming is a false idol, a way of telling ourselves we are prepping our children for the future, even though the future will likely need radically few programmers and our screens will be disposable.

Fantasy football, however, teaches lasting lessons, lessons that encourage children to lead, to think, compete, manage, crunch the numbers, negotiate with others and take charge of their destiny. Yes, this also works should your child choose fantasy baseball or fantasy soccer, for example.

Fantasy Is Reality

With fantasy sports, such as fantasy football, a child is allotted a set amount of virtual cash, say $100. From that $100, the child must build a team comprised of actual players. In this instance, the team must include a quarterback, running back, kicker, special teams and defensive unit, for example. Yes, you can spend half your budget on Tom Brady, but that means you now only have $50 remaining to field your entire remaining squad. Talent matters — but talent costs. That’s your first lesson.

Each week, your team wins or loses based on whether your players, in real life, tallied the most points, gained the most yards, limited the opponent to the fewest scores. Your fantasy “Tom Brady” is only as good as the real Tom Brady. Your fantasy defense is only as good as the real defense. That’s your second lesson: It may not take much money to build a team but you must nonetheless be shrewd with your limited resources.

Weekly wins are vital, but you also learn the season is a long, arduous grind. There is no first mover advantage. There are no weeks off. How each player and each unit performs, week in, week out, determines your ultimate success. That’s another important lesson. Once you’ve built your team, your work doesn’t end. Just the opposite. If Tom Brady has a bad week, you have a bad week. If your kicker gets injured, you must take your few remaining dollars to bring in a replacement, or trade an existing team member, or do without. Make a bad bet on a high draft pick and you may find it exceedingly difficult to succeed.

Each action has very real consequences. Drafting the best talent is of disproportionate importance, true. But, even with the very best draft, no team can be set on autopilot. That’s a path to failure.

Learning Is Fun. Just Like Building Your Own Business.

Teaching programming is useful, but I believe we need fewer programmers and far more entrepreneurs, more young girls and boys confident in their ability to start a business, stay on top of all the shifts in the market — the playing field — and continuously improve. Fantasy sports teaches each of these.

It’s also extremely accessible, unlike programming, say. Fantsy sports leagues are freely available on Yahoo, ESPN, and numerous other sites.

Now consider what a child learns by “playing”:

  • How to allocate resources
  • How to build a team
  • Negotiation skills, via trades
  • Statistical analysis and number crunching
  • Managing a payroll

These are all skills that are likely to never have a limited shelf life, unlike computer programming.

Another great lesson: children learn numbers count but only the numbers that count, count. No matter what stats can be generated, no matter the buzz on any player, only a few select stats, like touchdowns, actually count. Know what matters! The weekly standings provide a beautiful, stark, and sometimes brutally harsh reminder of how you are doing. Don’t be misled by numbers, data or buzz that detracts from your goal, winning.

Still more: Children can play in a Yahoo league against other children, teens, adults, retirees. They are not segregated by age or grade. This can be liberating.

Play To Win

Another benefit from teaching fantasy sports: Everyone can play. Everyone. Girls, boys, rich, poor. There are no barriers to starting a team. There are no biases, no restrictions on who can play. Age, gender, race are all irrelevant. The rules are the same for everyone and anyone can field a team, lead a team, and win.

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg has been a strong voice for increasing diversity in the tech industry and for overhauling our education system:

At the broadest level, we are not going to fix the numbers for under-representation in technology or any industry until we fix our education system and until we fix the stereotypes about women and minorities in math and science.

No one can stop a girl or anyone else from going online and starting their own team. No one can stop them from drafting, trading — and winning. They can play as part of a league at school, or anonymously. Through the poorly named “fantasy sports,” a child can prove to themselves their abilities to compete with anyone on the planet long before unleashing their full talents into the world. Along the way, they improve their math scores, improve their understanding of business, and build better habits. These are lessons that never vanish.

Not everyone can be the next Mo’ne Davis, but everyone can play and compete on an even playing field.

America Needs Entrepreneurs

America needs entrepreneurs. As Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site reveals, entrepreneurship is a “critical source of jobs” and a “major driver of productivity growth.”

Despite what you think, however, we are failing at entrepreneurship. 

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Yes, it’s the same bad news even in Silicon Valley.

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Vivek Wadhwa similarly notes that “start-ups have become a smaller proportion of the economy, going from 15 percent to 8 percent. This is worrisome because young companies account for a disproportionate share of job growth and tend to be more innovative than older ones.”

As important as programming and “tech skills” are for old and young, girls and boys, we all know tech constantly changes. Learning programming today will become outdated a few years later. Play fantasy sports and the lessons last a lifetime.

Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen states his firm is “biased towards people who never give up, who never quit; and that’s something you can’t find on a resume.” Playing fantasy football, or fantasy baseball, for example, teaches these exact same qualities. Even if you’ve put together your own great team, you can’t place it on autopilot. Week after week, your attention is required, and changes are always necessary. Never quit.

Our new world requires new forms of education. There are multiple paths toward creating the next generation of entrepreneurs, but fantasy sports may just be the most accessible, fun, affordable and democratic. It’s worth trying.