Tech & Media
Why You Want Your Kids to Become Sports Fans, Too
By Erik Missio
Photo © wavebreakmediamicro/123RF
Jun 8, 2017
You know all the reasons why it’s important to get your kids playing sports — from building confidence and self-discipline to improving motor skills and ensuring they stay active and healthy. But did you know there can also be advantages when they watch sports?
Active minds and healthy thinking
Darcy MacArthur is a Toronto dad with five- and seven-year-old boys very much into sports (and Pokémon). The whole family is active, but his youngest also loves following how the pros are doing.
Being part of a fandom means joining a community of others who like the same thing, which can be really important for people (young or old) who are shy.
“Baseball’s his first choice and basketball his second, but he’d watch literally anything if we let him,” says MacArthur. “When he wakes up, he wants to know all the scores. After his breakfast is done, he’ll settle for watching highlights of the Toronto Blue Jays, but gets frustrated because he wants to watch the whole game.”
On the weekend, the family watches the first inning or two and then heads outside. They’ll come back to see the end (or record it for the next day).
“Baseball’s taught him a lot about the ups and downs of competition. He’s seen games where the Jays are down, but then they come back and win. We’ll use it as a lesson, telling him to remember how they never gave up, they stayed focused, and they succeeded. Other times, they start off strong and lose. And then we remind him how things don’t always work out, but you try your best and then you do it again next time,” says MacArthur.
Sports can be a great way to teach your little ones about resilience, and research suggests there can be other emotional and mental benefits. Being part of a fandom means joining a community of others who like the same thing, which can be really important for people (young or old) who are shy. If your daughter really likes the Flames and meets another kid who’s into hockey, this provides common ground and an ice-breaker — an experience and interest they already share.
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A few years ago, Daniel Wann, a professor at Murray State University in Kentucky, told CNN that fans who identify with a local sports team tend to be more psychologically healthy: “You have a built-in connection to others in your environment. If you live in San Francisco and you are a Giants fan, it’s pretty easy to be connected to others.”
Other studies have suggested watching sports may even help improve language skills. Sian Beilock, a professor at the University of Chicago, suggests parts of the brain linked with planning and controlling actions get activated when fans just listen to conversations about their sport. This could mean when your hard-core Federer fan watches a tennis match, her brain is almost keeping up with the action by playing along.
Pro athletes and proto mathletes
If your kids are the kind of sports fan who can spout off stats, they probably also have great memories and, whether they realize it or not, affinities for math. Win/loss ratios, yards gained, possession time, speeds, and averages — it’s all about the numbers.
Brendan Byrne, a Southwestern Ontario dad, has two preteens who play hockey and baseball. They’re also football fans (his daughter swore allegiance to the Chicago Bears at the age of six despite his love for Washington), using their iPads to cycle through NFL games or watch YouTube clips while wearing team gear.
If your kids are the kind of sports fan who can spout off stats, they probably also have great memories and, whether they realize it or not, affinities for math.
“My son does really well for his age in math,” Byrne says. “I don’t know if it’s because he does well in math that he’s interested in sports statistics, or if it’s because he discovered sports statistics that he enjoys math, but he has guide and record books for the NHL, MLB player stats books, NFL stats guides… When seasons are going, he often knows more about team than I do.”
MacArthur says the same thing about his five-year-old.
“He’s in senior kindergarten so I think he’s too young to really understand analytics and statistics, but he can look at players’ batting averages and know whether they’re good,” MacArthur says. “He can take two players, quickly compare their RBIs and homeruns, and decide who’s doing better. And that’s math.”
For some families, following a team is more than a casual pastime — it’s a ritual passed down through the generations and a source for bonding. Alex Fletcher has two daughters, aged five and seven. They’ll sometimes watch Queen’s University rugby and Toronto FC soccer games with him, but he says it’s less about supporting the home team and more about hanging with their dad on a Saturday morning.
“My ‘indoctrination’ of them isn’t so much focused on a particular sport, but rather on the experiences you can get from various sports in general, whether it’s the community you belong to, the moments of exhilaration, or whatever else you manage to draw from the experience,” he explains. “I hope they do find some sort of experience they can enjoy moving forward, whether it’s a specific sport or even just the thrill of visiting various stadiums, ballparks, and arenas on a cross-country trip someday.”
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Brenton Walters, an East Vancouver dad, loves that his 5.5-year-old daughter is getting into his beloved Whitecaps soccer team.
“She’s been to about 10 games with me. I love spending time with her there — it’s different than just going to the park or for a walk. She’s not personally invested, but I think she loves how much I love it. She enjoys the spectacle, going for an outing, and chatting about what’s happening on the field — also, the fun snacks.”
Still, the setting can be intense for a kindergartner, which can be a mixed blessing.
For some families, following a team is more than a casual pastime — it’s a ritual passed down through the generations and a source for bonding.
The crowds are sometimes too much for her, and if we score it’s too loud for her,” he says. “She sometimes gets bored, and we end up wandering around the concourse at BC Place. Fortunately, this saved me from seeing the heartbreaking last-gasp Toronto goal that lost us the Voyageurs Cup last year.”
Walters, who also has a 2.5-year-old son, wants his kids to enjoy soccer so he can spend time with them doing what he loves.
“I love the idea of watching games with them as they get older. I also think there’s a great community of soccer fans in Vancouver, and it’s such a great sport to play and enjoy. Soccer builds community, and I’ve enjoyed so many afternoons kicking a ball around at the park or at games with friends.
And that’s the important part of this all — it’s great when your kids are super-fans, but it’s also important they go out and experience a sport for themselves, whether in a league or casually at the park or in the backyard with family and friends.
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