Isn’t it every sports fan dream to take their children to see their childhood favorite team? To pass down the tradition, to share in the joy and pain with one’s offspring of sport fandom?
Yet, the reality of taking children, especially small ones to sporting events is usually painful and anything but fulfilling. Here are some tips from this parent of small children who has attended many sporting events, some successful but many not.
- Keep your expectations low
Part of the problem in parenting is we create this vision in our head of how an experience should be. It looks a lot more like Leave It to Beaver than it does our actual family dinners or night time routines. And through these unrealistic expectations we put on our children and ourselves anything that looks remotely realistic is frustrating and declared failure. Stop it! If your children cannot sit in their dinner seats for a whole meal they are not going to make it for a quarter of football. If your children cannot watch a full Disney movie without needing 3 snack breaks they are probably not going to make it until halftime to be fed. That does not mean you should rule out the sport spectating process totally. It just means you have to adjust your expectations.
Let people help you. I have story after story of wonderful people who helped me out as I took my children at various ages to sporting events. When my 2nd was born, my first was just a toddler who had barely learned to walk.
The three of us went to a college basketball game that was quite full. I asked for spot where we would have room to roam, well those seats happened to be at the rafters. I had to walk up a narrow flight of steps with a toddler who could not do stairs and a baby, just barely learning to sit. My solution, at the bottom of the stairs I left my toddler and told him to wait. I carried the baby to our seats where I sat him down on a blanket. I walked back down the stairs to retrieve my toddler. He was happily playing with a cute older couple who had seen my dilemma and come to my assistance. My biggest take away from my experience of taking kids to sporting events is there are more people willing to help than you expect, let them help you.
- 2. Let your children be children Give your children time to run and wrestle and bang on chairs. I always tell my children our plan. It usually sounds like this. “Ok, I want to watch a quarter of football. See that clock? When it is 0 we will go play?” I must follow through with those promises or I will lose their trust and every proceeding sporting event will be hell. We’ll usually do a quarter of sitting in our seats and a quarter of running through seats or in the halls. Yeah, I’m not watching much of the game for this part and that is ok. I’m making memories with my kids, which is why I’m there.
I never apologize to those around me for my kids being loud. Actually, I encourage them to be loud. I have two rowdy and rambunctious boys who love to yell and scream all the time. Most of the time I am telling them to “Be Quiet” or “Use your inside voice”. One of the reasons I take them to sporting events is to give them an appropriate place to be loud. Here they finally have a place that it is socially appropriate to yell nonsense as loud as they can. They can bang on their metal seats and stamp their feet. And I encourage them to do it.
Roam the stadium. Take your children on adventures. Give them the opportunity to lead and to pick where they go. In Tip 4 we will discuss the types of sporting events more, but do not be glued to your seats. Wander as much as the stadium will allow. Explore as much as the chaperones will let you. Sit in abandoned seats in the nose bleeds. Find the blow-up mazes or the playgrounds. Give your children the opportunity to succeed. But do not make the entire experience about them.
- Being bored is ok
There are articles upon articles that discuss the importance of children being bored. Suffice it to say it is an important skill every child should have. In a world of hand held devices it is easy to quickly hand one to a whining and bored child. But I am here to tell you It is ok to let them whine. It is not parental abuse to just ignore them as they bemoan the sufferings of not doing what they want to do. When it’s time to sit in your seats, sit in your seats and watch the game. If they have questions, answer them. If they are just whining let them whine, it’s nice and loud you can zone them out pretty easily (I know from experience). By letting your children be bored while you enjoy the game you are teaching children important life lessons. You teach them that the world does not revolve around them. As long as you have provided them opportunities to run out the wiggles and find their own joy, teaching them that doing what someone else wants to do is an important life lesson. Even if that means boredom.
With boredom comes creativity. What has been shocking to me through the process of allowing my kids to be bored has been seeing what my children come up with. Usually they band together. They will come up with a game of some sort and their sibling relationships are strengthened. Regularly, however, the boredom leads to in-fighting and a resulting separation of siblings that is enforced by a wall greater than any President Trump could dream of. Yet even in these situations I have been surprised to see what happens to my children. Sometimes they turn inward, thinking or talking or creating themselves. Sometimes they even turn toward the sporting event and I get brief moments where I get to talk sports, as limited as it may be, with my kids. We will cheer on the same team or moan “Oh shucks” when the call does not go our way. Sometimes they will make friends with people around them. They learn confidence talking to adults and older children.
But a child being bored, no matter the age (I have a 15-month old that I do this with as well), does not mean you have failed or the event was a waste of time. Boredom and whining are part of childhood, teaching children what to do with boredom is part of parenting. Going to sporting events is a great place to teach these skills.
- Pick your sporting event wisely
Give yourself and your children the chance to succeed. Picking which sporting events you take your children to is a big step in helping everyone out. I have taken my kids to college basketball, football and swimming meets. They have been to minor and major league baseball games. We have been to hockey games and D-league basketball games. We have gone to high school basketball and football games. In this post I break down the different sporting events with pros and cons. Below are some general guidelines.
- Don’t spend a lot of money on great seats. As we stated above, don’t feel glued to your seats. Get up and wander. Look at the event from various angles and position in the arena.
- Don’t go to sold out events. If the place is packed it will all unravel. I have been going to our local college teams, SMU’s basketball games for 5 years now. I have gone pregnant with every single one of my children, I have nursed babies and chased toddlers for 5 years. When we first went, SMU was terrible so we had the run of the stadium. They have since gotten good and we rarely make it to the 4th quarter anymore. Not being allowed to wander and change seats has made it much more difficult than years past.
- Be varied with your choices. Do not only try one venue and one sport.
- Just do it!
These are important moments for children and their parents. It might seem difficult and a lot of work for very little reward, but isn’t that all of parenting? The memories you make will be lifelong. I do not mean the individual moments, I mean the conglomeration of memories of father and son, mother and daughter going and doing things together. It will provide opportunities for children to grow and learn. It will give parents a time to listen and learn.
I get asked why I do it, regularly. Why do I haul small children to sporting events? The answer is simple, it’s because I love it. I love the opportunities to be with my children. I love the opportunity to share my hobbies with my children. I love to do something I like, in a world of parenting where I spend most of my time doing things they like.
My final advise to you is do it anyway. If it does not work the first time, do not give up on yourself or your children, try again. Try a different event. But failing once is not failure until you fail to do it again. Let yourself learn and let your children grow. Going to sporting events is a great way to do it.