Written by Jeanette Morris and Ashley Hover
It can feel overwhelming and intimidating when it comes to entertaining kids and keeping them busy at football games, especially toddlers. You’re afraid of them running around, accidentally going onto the field, falling on the bleachers, or gasp - throwing a tantrum in public! But with a bit of planning and preparation ahead of time, there’s no reason why you should shy away from bringing your kids to the games.
It is important to be realistic about which games are doable and not doable with little kids.
Home games are great for little kids as long as the weather is good! Once it starts getting cold and/or rainy, you want to be flexible and realize that these might not be the best situations for you and the kids.
Away games that are not easy to reach or require multiple hours of driving tend to be too stressful for young kids. In this instance, you can either get a babysitter to watch your kids so you can go, or you just don’t go. If you decide to go to away games and hire a babysitter, this is an excellent opportunity to find another coach’s wife and make an evening out of it!
Surviving with Toddlers at Football Games
Preparation is key when attempting to bring your kids to football games! Here are some foolproof tips for thriving - not just surviving - a football game with toddlers and young kids:
- I always pack LOTS OF SNACKS! To make it even more exciting for the kids, I buy specific snacks and candy that are considered “game only” treats. Some of our favorites include: lollipops, Fun Dip, and ring pops. A bonus of these snacks? They all take a long time to eat! It’s important to be strategic about handing out the various snacks. I would usually give one snack at the end of the first quarter, one at halftime (usually popcorn!), and one at the end of the third quarter. I’ve never seen kids so attentive to the scoreboard clock when a snack is on the line!
- Pack activities that keep kids sitting down. Our number one activity of choice? Coloring and activity books! This activity is perfect for young kids that love to draw, color, and be imaginative. Other fun toys for kids include things like little Polly Pocket sets, small Lego sets (only a few pieces) toy cars, and other small toys that are easy to pack and set up. Additionally, similar to the snacks, I bring special toys that can only be played with during games. This makes the toys much more appealing because they can only be played with for a particular time frame. Lastly, push toys like a little lawn mower are great for toddlers to play with in a nearby spot.
- Bring mini footballs, especially for the boys! Once your children are around elementary school age, let them find an area where they can play together near the bleachers. Typically, most stadiums have a grassy area for kids to run around during the game. Once the boys are older (late elementary school/early middle school), they can be the ball boys for the team, which is a special treat for coaches' kids. They get to be beside the players and their dad as he coaches!
- Explain to your kids what is going on in the game. A general and basic understanding of the game can make them feel more invested and connected to what their dad is doing. Have them look for their dad on the field, identify specific numbers, spot other coaches and referees, etc. - the football version of I Spy! You can use our “My Dad, The Football Coach” children’s book or our “So Your Dad is a Football Coach” coloring and activity book to explain what dad’s doing on the field and point out different aspects of the game
- Invite family members to come to the game! Make it a family event and invite your mother, father, mother-in-law, father-in-law, etc. Not only does this make it a family event, but it also allows you all to tag team the kids during the game. Take turns watching the game and then watching your kids. You can also take turns with other coaches’ wives watching all the kids (each coach’s wife takes a quarter).
- Go to a part of the game. You probably want to go for the entire time, but managing expectations is essential. Go to the first half and then put your kids to bed. Or go for the second half of the game so that they can see their dad at the end. This makes it easier for toddlers and young kids to ease into the game.
- Hire a babysitter and bring her to the game! This allows you to fully focus on the game uninterrupted while having your kids nearby. Have the babysitter take your kids to an area where they can play and bring them back to you near the end of the fourth quarter so you can see your coach together on the field.
- Change your little kids into their pajamas in the car before driving home from the game. This way, you can take them straight from their cat seat and tuck them into bed. Once they get older, they’ll probably need to shower after the game to get all the dirt and sweat off of them.
- Adjust your expectations. The higher your expectations are, the further they may fall. Recognize that your kids - especially toddlers - won’t be perfect angels throughout the entire game. If you’re in charge of your kids for the whole game, you will likely not be able to watch every second of it.
- Remember that you are creating memories with your kids that they will remember forever. You want them to love going to sports games and to be excited about their dad’s coaching career. It may be time to adjust your plan if it becomes not fun for anyone!
- Give yourself some grace. Please don’t compare yourself to what other wives do with their kids. You don’t know their whole story. Whatever works best for your family is okay!
Navigating Football Games with Kids
There’s no right way to entertain your kids at football games or other sports games, so do what’s best for you and them! Whether that’s feeding them up on their favorite snacks, letting them run around, surprising them with a new toy, or only taking them to half of the game, it’s most important for them to just be around the football atmosphere and see what their father does every day as a coach!
Here are other ways to Staying Connected as a Family During Football Season and how Priorities and Schedules During Football Season can help!
Let us know in the comments how you entertain your toddlers and kids at football games!