My husband and I are sports fans. College and professional, basketball, football and baseball—we tend to like it all. So we hoped that our son would grow up to enjoy watching sports as much as we do. Not just because that would make life a little easier, but also because being a sports fan can be good for you in surprising ways: It can heighten your self esteem, curb loneliness and help you feel like part of a community.
Of course, it’s even more fun if instead of just being a “fan,” your kid happens to become a fan of your team.
This part gets complicated for us because my husband is from Eastern Pennsylvania and is, therefore, a Philadelphia sports fan. I’m from Cleveland, which means I grew up a tortured sports fan. To complicate things further, when our son was born, we’d lived in Arizona long enough to call ourselves “supporters” of Phoenix teams, if not true fans.
“Who will he root for?” I’d ask my husband when our son was very little.
“Whatever team he wants to root for,” he’d say, even though we both knew I secretly hoped he’d be a Cleveland fan and he secretly hoped he’d be a Philly fan.
Parents have a lot of influence over which teams a kid claims as their future lifelong obsession. You don’t just hand them a stack of logos and let them pick one from the pile. If you’re a professional or college sports fan, there is a slow indoctrination that happens with your kids over time. And if you’re a house divided like we are, there can be a bit of a race to the finish line.
Either way, there are some strategies you can try to stack the deck in your favor.
Live in the area
If you don’t already live in the area where your favorite teams reign, move there now. I’m kidding; we would (probably) never suggest you uproot your life for a sports team. But living in your team’s area is helpful for a couple of reasons. It’s not just a part of your family’s identity; it’s also part of your town’s identity. There is no real substitute for seeing the T-shirts, car decals and giant flags day in and day out, not to mention all the opportunities to chat with your neighbors about last night’s overtime.
But also? You can always get the games on TV. We moved back east to my husband’s hometown when our son was a toddler. We’re now approximately 60 miles north of Philadelphia and in prime Phillies, Eagles and Sixers territory. Do you know how often my Browns are on TV here during football season? Yeah, exactly.
If living in the area isn’t an option, you’re simply going to have to step up your game (har har) in other areas.
Teach them the fight song
Kids, they like music. And the parents in our Offspring Parenting Facebook Group are using that to their advantage when it comes to indoctrinating their kids into fandom. Jacob, for example, says that by ago two, his daughter was “chanting ‘Rock Chalk’ like a new freshman.”
Two seems to be the magical age to brainwash via chanting and music, because member Taylor took the same approach with her son the year the Chicago Cubs won the World Series.
“We played the song ‘Go Cubs Go’ on repeat, and it was my son’s favorite song as a toddler,” Taylor says. “He was 2 the year they won the World Series and we lived right by the park so we would go to the play area often and he just absorbed the Cubs since he could remember. He identified the W as ‘Go Cubs!’ He asks Siri every morning if the Cubs won now.”
Get them some gear
This starts young. The amount of Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns and Penn State football outfits my son had before he could even walk, let alone cheer, was a little ridiculous. But as kids get older, they like wearing football jerseys on Sundays with you and college gear when you take them to campus for their first tailgate.
Most importantly, you must get them a T-shirt to wear for big games. My son is convinced his brand new Alshon Jeffery jersey shirt helped the Eagles win the Super Bowl last year. Dude likes his Browns jersey well enough but he picks this shirt for every “jersey day” at school because of its magical powers.
Go to the games
Even if they’re not really watching the game, being in a stadium atmosphere is exciting. Sometimes they have a little play area or other activities for kids and if nothing else, there are hot dogs and ice cream and cotton candy. You’ll want to keep your expectations in check, depending on their age, and make it more about having fun and less about watching all nine innings.
You might also look for other events at the stadium that give kids a chance to get down on the field so they can get that extra sense of connection to the place where your favorite athletes play. (Then when the next game is on TV, you can be all, “Look! You were on that field!”)
Include them in the excitement
When I asked my son what parents should do to get their kids into their favorite teams, he said, “Tell them about it, teach them the rules and explain the exciting parts.”
It’s so basic but so important when you think about it. Kids don’t want to simply be around the excitement of a good game; they want to know what the hell is going on, too. They’re curious and they want to understand. Teach them about fouls and grand slams and Hail Mary plays. It’s one more way for them to bond with you and, as a result, your team.
Sometimes, they’re just gonna go rogue
We all have a cousin who has lived in Pennsylvania his whole life but roots for the New Orleans Saints. Or the friend who roots for Oakland in baseball but Boston in basketball. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, they will choose their favorite teams at age 5 based on names that rhyme, like James Summit tells The New York Times:
I grew up in a household full of Miami Dolphin lovers. So, being the rebellious 5-year-old that I was, I decided to cheer for the New York Jets, one of the Dolphins’ fiercest rivals. A short time after, I thought to myself, Why not cheer for teams that rhyme?
Thus, my fascination with the New York Jets, New York Mets and Brooklyn (formerly New Jersey) Nets began.
Although my son, now 8 years old, has proclaimed the Philadelphia Sixers to be his favorite team, he’s still young/kind enough to throw me a bone: “My second favorite team is the Cavs,” he says. “The 76ers are only an inch ahead of the Cavs.”
Okay, I’ve still got a chance. Time to plan a trip to Cleveland.