When my daughter Mariana, aka Little Fan, came into the world in 2015, I thought my days of constant sports travel were over for at least a few years. As I’d learned from friends over the years, traveling with small kids is hard enough already; dragging them to sporting events on top of that felt like it might be a Herculean task.
For the first two years or so, I got my sports travel fix in by taking several solo trips while Mrs. Fan stayed home with the kiddo. But as Mariana grew and got more aware of the world — and, more specifically, was taught about things like states and countries and continents in pre-school — she surprised me somewhat by expressing an interest in going places.
She wants to go to England because of Paddington Bear, Australia because of koalas and kangaroos, and Antarctica because … well, I don’t know why on that one.
While all that was happening, I was introducing her to the wide world of stadiums. Between her first and second birthdays, she attended her first NHL, MLB and NFL games.
Before the pandemic, she was a consistent companion when I went to Staples Center to watch the L.A. Kings, for which I hold season tickets. During the pandemic, she has said to me several times, “I wish I could go to another Kings game.”
Mariana is 5 and in kindergarten now, and I’m perfectly satisfied in her interest in sports and travel — two things that I, of course, am passionate about. But more importantly, I’m glad those interests grew organically and not in a forced manner.
If you’re a parent and would like to have your kids interested and engaged when you take them on your travels and to sports events, you might be wondering how we did it. I won’t sit here and say that it’s easy, but there are things you can do to help steer their interests. Here are a few small tips.
Start the kids off simply — and early
In retrospect, taking my daughter to games, and traveling with her, was easy in her early years. You know why? Because you can take kids under 2 nearly everywhere for free, including inside stadiums and on airplanes.
So she has some early memories of both sports and travel, and thankfully they’re positive ones.
Of course she likes the Kings, but she likes the Dodgers and USC football because she’s seen them both play live. Oh, and also because her parents make sure clothes for both teams are in her wardrobe, too.
Mariana also has an impressive collection of sports-related toys, too. From a wiffleball bat to a hockey stick and helmet, and from a soccer ball to even ping pong paddles, she gets exposed to a wide array of sports. And we’re never opposed to indulging her desire for an impromptu game every once in a while.
Make your kids the focus
I’m not a big fan of unwritten rules, but I do have one that I follow when it comes to attending sporting events: Never leave a game early. You never know what you might be missing out on.
That, of course, is especially true when you’re fervently rooting for one of the teams. For example, I would never give up on the Kings even if they’re hopelessly behind late in a game. Adhering to this rule ensured that I didn’t miss one of their greatest playoff moments (pre-Cup years, anyway).
But since I started taking Mariana to games, I’ve left many of them early. The reasons why can be varied; it’s a school night and the game is running long, or she fell asleep in her chair, or she wasn’t feeling well, or she simply asked to leave.
Of course, all the reasons listed are ones that involve her best interest. And that’s OK, because the more you keep it an enjoyable experience for them, the more they’re willing to do it again.
Just like so many other aspects of parenting, the little sacrifices make big differences.
Don’t put pressure on them!
I want my kid to like the things I like, of course, and sports and travel are two of the things I very much want her to like.
But let me tell you a story: In the fall of 2019, we had the opportunity to sign Mariana up for a free learn-to-play hockey clinic, four sessions every week for a month. We thought, well, she loves watching hockey, and watching us play in our beer league. This is the next logical step, right?
She was excited about it … up until she stepped onto the ice and realized how hard skating was. She lost confidence, and became preoccupied with trying not to fall. She ended one session in tears, and asked to come off the ice early in another.
She completed the clinic, but hasn’t been back on the ice since. And that’s OK. I’m proud of her for trying.
It’s said that about 70% of children involved in sports as a child choose to abandon them by the age of 13. Why? Because sports can be too intensive and children can be worn out by them.
Maybe that’ll happen with my daughter, maybe not. Playing sports is a whole different animal to watching sports. But I think if she continues to view attending sporting events as a positive, then having my kid on a sports travel trip can continue to be something we do throughout her childhood.
And as long as she wants to go, I’m glad to have her along for the ride.