I grew up in a college town. My parents met each other at Ohio University as students, got married, found jobs in the town and never left! And they are HUGE basketball and football fans. So as kids, my sister and brothers and I went to many, many games. Usually it was not really a choice for us since mom and dad both enjoyed the games and they rarely used childcare for us. Fast forward to now. Jim and I have taken our kids to college basketball and football games since they were newborn babies. Mason was only 3 weeks old when he attended his first Bobcats football game!!!
My Dad and Mason (at 3 weeks)
We love the games and the kids love going too....for the most part!!!! I have learned a lot over the years about what to bring, how to handle restroom issues, what to do if it's too hot or too cold or rainy, and most of all what to do when boredom hits! The following tips are from my experiences at basketball, football, and a few baseball games we've gone to with the kids. However, I'm sure this advice will be helpful with many sports, including high school, college and even professional!
1. START WITH LESS IMPORTANT GAMES: If your kids have not been going to games since they were born, then it's best to start them at high school games or college games where the conference title is not on the line. I'll never forget the 2012 Mid American Conference men's basketball championship game. Ohio was on the verge of winning the tournament. There was something like 2 minutes left in the game and Mya grabs my arm to tell me she has to pee. I think I may have told her to pee her pants, no lie. We had awesome seats not too far up from the court.....which meant we had a long way up those stairs to the bathroom. So I scooped up the 4 year-old and ran up those stairs like I was training for the freakin' Olympics. There had been a timeout, so we were back in plenty of time for the final minutes (including the thrilling ending and confetti)! LESSON LEARNED: Take the child to the restroom at the 10-minute mark no matter what. Don't risk missing the ending of the most important game of the year!! In our case, Ohio went on to play in the Sweet 16!!
2. ENTERTAINMENT FOR THE KIDS: iPods, iPhones, iPads, etc. are excellent. Just don't count on WiFi or even 4G in some venues. Make sure the favorite apps are already downloaded. Movies and TV shows are the best!!!! Also we pack notepads and crayons or markers.
A lot of teams have fun stuff for kids before and even during the game. Our kids look forward to all the blow-up slides and bounce houses at the football games! The band performs across the street before the game and the cheerleaders and mascot take pictures with the kids. So look online for kids' clubs the team has or any kiddie games and fun!
3. SNACKS: This is tricky now that security personnel check bags and purses when you enter an arena. I just hide the snacks. Once I forgot to hide them, and the security guy just asked, "Are those snacks for the kids?" to which I said yes. He just waved me on. So I guess the event staff isn't too concerned with kids' food, at least in this particular case. We love to buy popcorn at the games, but I will pack other things like fruit snacks, fruit, and suckers as well. Bring empty sippy cups and water bottles because you may not be able to get things like juice boxes through security. Be prepared to drop $3 or $4 on a drink at the arena.
p.s. Cotton Candy is only $1.00 at Dollar Tree and $3.00 at the venue. Find a way to sneak it in!!
4. HAVE A PLAN....IN THE EVENT OF...: Our most difficult games were when our kids were still napping. It's usually at that two-year-old stage where they won't just fall asleep in your arms anymore. Of course we can't control the game times, so if all else failed, either Jim or I would just go out to the car with the kids (especially during football games). My parents have a parking pass at the stadium, so we were just steps from the car. It's good to have a backup plan "just in case" because it can be very disappointing and frustrating during a game if you're stuck with a screaming kid and your car is parked 18 blocks away. Bring along a babysitter or grandparents for the kids to sleep on or to walk the kids around if they get restless.
Give your kid his/her own seat if possible. If they do want to fall asleep, you can rig up a bed.
5. HAVE FUN!!!! Take your flags, pom poms, noisemakers, glow sticks, etc! Kids will remember the fun times they have at the games and they'll be excited to go again!