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Sports fans are everywhere. Pro sports have become a staple of the American pop culture. Now that TV broadcasts games across the globe nearly 24 hours a day, fans are able to follow their favorite teams and players more closely than ever before. It’s not unusual for fans to criticize coaches’ calls, second-guess personnel decisions and ultimately believe they could do a better job managing their beloved team. With the onslaught of fantasy sports, fans can now take over the reigns, owning and managing their very own teams.

Fantasy sports are a fast-growing trend among sports fans of all ages. Fantasy sports got their start in the early 1980s when a group of sports writers and baseball stat gurus got together and created what they called a “Rotisserie League,” a name that has stuck today. The idea quickly gained roots and became a buzz among die-hard baseball fans. Eventually the idea spread to other sports as well, most notably football.

Through the years, many different variations and league rules have been created, but it was the advent of the Internet that really set off the current fantasy sports craze. The Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA), in conjunction with fanball.com and Harris Interactive, reports that 29.6 million people participate in fantasy sports. It is difficult to know exactly how many teens own their own fantasy sports teams, but if you know a teen who is interested in sports and has access to the Internet, you can be pretty certain they participate in a fantasy sports league. Though a handful of females do participate, a recent Pew Internet survey revealed that “86 percent of the participants in online fantasy leagues are male.”

What are fantasy sports?
Rules vary from league to league and from sport to sport, but the basic premise is that a group of individuals gets a chance to own and operate their very own sports team. Team owners draft or bid on players they believe will have the best stats in pre-chosen categories through the course of an entire season. The number of teams in a league may vary, but 8-14 is usually the norm. In some leagues trades are permitted during the middle of the season, players can be dropped from a roster if they aren’t producing good numbers, and new players without a current team can be added to rosters via the waiver wire, just as in real-life sports.

The majority of fantasy sports are played online where users can log into their league, visit their team’s page and decide which players will start and which players will sit the bench. Stats are either calculated on a day-to-day, week-to-week or season long basis. Regardless of the sport or the type of league, the ultimate goal is to have the team that has produced the best numbers at the end of the season. Some leagues have a playoff system in which the top-seeded owners face one another in a bracket format until one team claims victory.

Baseball and football are by far the two most popular fantasy sports. Though baseball started it all, fantasy football has actually surpassed baseball in popularity. The FSTA reports that 93 percent of fantasy sports team owners participate in fantasy football, while 76 percent manage baseball teams. Most people who play fantasy sports get involved in more than one sport. Interested fans can now manage teams in just about any sport imaginable including basketball, hockey (maybe), NASCAR, golf and even bass fishing.

Should I be concerned if my teen is involved in fantasy sports?
Overall, fantasy sports are a fun, leisurely past time that parents and youth workers should not be overly concerned with. There are, however, a few things to be aware of.

Fantasy sports can take up a lot of time. Researching players statistics, looking out for injuries, paying attention to team depth charts and making roster decisions are just a handful of the tasks the average fantasy sports team owner undertakes. Research and analysis can be found in magazines or purchased online. Users can spend hours reading mock draft results, ranking players according to position, and reading the latest tips and news on players they hope to draft. Managers often further their time and effort spent on fantasy sports by participating in multiple leagues at the same time. Respondents of a 2004 survey administered for the FSTA reported managing an average of 2.3 baseball teams per season and spending an average of close to 41⁄2 hours a week managing these teams.

Fantasy sports have a way of turning casual fans into more dedicated enthusiasts and could become an obsession. No longer simply interested in just their favorite team or players, owners will spend more time following their sport of choice in order to track players on their team and throughout their league. This is a great way to become more interested in the pastime of pro sports, but can also lead to unhealthy behaviors. Owners may be distracted from their regular activities in order to keep an eye on the latest stat lines. Ultimately, they may begin spending too much time managing their team. The emphasis on individual players and how well they perform—rather than whether their team wins or loses—could also lead to further idolizing pro sports figures.

Fantasy sports can get expensive. What started as an idea among friends has now become a full-fledged industry. In 2003, it was estimated that fantasy sports had become a $4 billion business, and the number of participants has doubled in the two years since those results were calculated! Television coverage has solidified the industry as sports highlight shows on television have caught on by including fantasy sports segments. On Sunday mornings during football season you can even find entire shows dedicated to the topic. Online sites have been cashing in, too, collecting entry fees from registered users. Entry fees can be as low as $10, or as high as the thousands. Research done by the University of Mississippi showed the average spent on fantasy football entry fees was $122. Teams in this type of league usually compete for a cash prize. Owners may also pay money for added features such as stat tracking programs and pre-draft analysis kits. Resources, such as magazines, with an average price tag of $7, are also available. Cell phone owners can even pay a monthly fee to have fantasy stat lines sent directly to their mobile phone. All fees, research tools and add-on features included, fantasy baseball has the highest price tag, with participants spending an average total of $179.

Fantasy sports expose participants to a growing amount of marketing. Advertisements now bring a pretty penny to online sites as well. Companies like GMC have signed contracts with fantasy sports Internet sites. Knowing that the vast majority of participants are male, advertisers looking to reach guys are also beginning to jump on board. Of major concern are the many sites that advertise links to sports betting pages. In order to steer your teen away from this temptation, encourage them to join a league free of gambling advertisements. Yahoo! fantasy sports offers perhaps the best leagues for teens to join. They are one of the few services left that still offer a free league, and though they do have advertisements, none of these include links to online sports betting portals. This will offer teens a free way to compete in a safe environment. Remember, it is not a requirement to purchase any of the add-on features!

Fantasy sports can get ugly. Joining a fantasy sports league with a group of friends is a great way to stay in touch and enjoy some friendly competition. Though teens can join an open league, discourage them from doing so. Fantasy sports are much safer and more fun when you actually know who your competitors are. Some 55 percent of fantasy sports competitors are in leagues with their best friend. A standard feature in most leagues is a message board. Players can communicate with one another and post messages to the league. Many long-distance friends keep in touch using the message boards in their leagues. It is here on these message boards that friendly banter takes place as well as the common “smack-talking,” where owners poke fun at one another for bad statistical performances by their players. Help your teen understand the difference between light-hearted “smack-talk” among friends and offensive personal attacks that do not belong in a fun fantasy sports league.

This fall, as baseball season ends and football season begins, the number of teens flocking to the Internet to monitor their fantasy sports teams will be on the rise. Hits to fantasy sports Web sites are at their peak in September. If your teen enjoys pro sports and is interested in joining a fantasy league, help them find a free one within a safe environment, ideally with a group of good friends. Encourage them to enjoy this fun activity. If needed, help them set limits to the amount of time they will dedicate to fantasy sports. Allow fantasy sports to become a teaching lesson for how to look at winning and losing from the proper perspective. With a little parental guidance and direction, teens can be safely on their way to owning their very own team!

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