Every sports fan who becomes a parent dreams of the first time that they will be able to take their son or daughter along to a game, to share their interest and passion and pass it on to the next generation.
The mental picture is an idyllic one: sitting there on the bleachers with your child by your side, sharing a hotdog or a bag of popcorn and explaining the rules and nuances of the game while they listen and watch, enraptured by the magic of it all. Sadly, life is not always quite that idyllic, and the reality can be a bored, cold child and a frustrated parent who misses all the key moments of the game due to conducting endless trips to the restrooms.
The dream can turn into a nightmare, and put you off the idea of ever repeating the experiment. This is a shame because with the right preparation and mindset, that first sporting event really can be a magical experience for both adult and child, and can ignite a shared interest that will last the whole family a lifetime.
Let’s take a look at some of the things that you need to think about before you take your children to their first game.
Do they need a ticket?
If you are going to an NFL or NBA game, then the short answer is “yes”, unless the child is under two years old. Major sports events are all about selling seats, and in general, they do not care whether the person sitting in it is four or 104.
Having said that, there are some exceptions as policies are set by the team and the venue, not the league, so it is worth checking. For example, the New Orleans Saints have the most generous policy in the NFL, offering free entry to under-fives at Superdome games.
By and large, though, be prepared that if you are taking your kids to a top sporting event, you will have to pay through the nose. For this reason, it is probably not the best idea for their first experience to be NBA or NFL level. Aside from the cost, the crowds and restricted views mean that the experience is likely to be memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Start off at a lower level, perhaps watching a local minor league or high school game, where you can get closer to the action and it will not feel like a huge waste of money if you only catch half the game.
Get kitted out
Kids are quick to get bored, hungry, and cold. Any combination of these is unpleasant for them and, by implication, also for you and those around you, so go prepared.
Unless you want to finish the expedition $100 lighter through endless visits to the concession stands, then some edible and drinkable supplies are a must. However, you will, of course, need to balance this against ever more stringent bag policies, especially for major events such as NFL games.
Kids feel the cold. You might find it hard to believe when they are chasing around in the snow, but sitting on a bleacher on a cold November evening in New England is a different matter. Take extra layers, and remember that hats and gloves are a must.
They also need frequent bathroom breaks, and usually at the most inopportune moment, but when they’ve got to go, they’ve got to go. Any father who has had to take his daughter into the men’s room at a sporting event will know that this is a whole experience in itself, so be prepared with plenty of wet wipes.
If your child is still in diapers, then you have another set of challenges entirely. Sports grounds are not typically the best setup for changing facilities, so it pays to check in advance. Babies are generally accompanied by lots of kit and equipment, so a diaper backpack is ideal for carrying everything you need for organizing your baby’s necessities on the go, without falling foul of the bag regulations for your venue of choice.
Keep it interesting
Perhaps the most important advice is to remember that your children are not going to be interested in discussing the offside rule or the pros and cons of a zone defense. They will want to see some memorable events (“Look, he’s going to try to kick the ball between those posts”) that they can try out themselves in the backyard when they get home.
From these seeds, a genuine love of the sport can truly grow, and you can look forward to a role reversal, with them taking care of you at a similar event in 40 years’ time.