We may not go to any stadiums in 2020, we may not go in 2021. But eventually, rest assured, the day will come when parking lots overflow, Jock Jams blare, and a Coors Lite costs $12. There’s an idealized experience in going to the game that often centers around a boy and his Pop. Whether because men recall the good days with their fathers, or wished for them though they never came, the 30 second TV spot of a dad settling his son into the stands with a glove ready for a foul ball is ubiquitous to the point of cheesiness.
If you have a son, I truly hope you take him to games with you. If it’s going to be a big part of your life, bring the gang! I just hope that you take your daughter with you, too.
I probably spent more time at Candlestick Park as a kid than anywhere else besides school and home. And I racked up at The Shark Tank, too. With parents working with the teams, going was inevitable, but belonging was not.
I feel so lucky to have a Dad who didn’t decide for me that I thought the game was boring or assumed that I couldn’t get it. In an effort to let women and girls ‘off the hook’ for watching something they might be disinterested in, an unintentional signal is often sent that this thing is not for you. Or worse still, this thing is only for you if you know the batting averages of the starting line-up of the whatever year of whatever team.
Your Tiny Teammate
This barrier to entry is rarely enforced for men and never enforced for boys… because they’re kids. Your daughters are kids. They’re kids who want hang out with you and have something to talk about. I offer sports as an excellent option in this department.
Enjoying sports with your vocal, formidable, plucky daughter is like joining adorable NATO. You’re creating an allyship that will work to your advantage for years. Imagine a scenario where the family TV vote is split, but watching the game on Thanksgiving gets a yes vote from your daughter. Maybe because she cares, but maybe just because it’s something you do together-and that’s a family holiday right there.
Feeling included in sports has meant my whole family watching games together, with everyone (Mom included) engaged. It’s meant texting my dad from the Rose Bowl while I watched my college play live and he watched on tv. It also has meant virtually no insecurity about my worthiness to participate and enjoy sports in social settings. Confidence is a special kind of gift to give a girl, and there’s no more powerful source than her Dad. I never had to prove myself to him, so I never feel I have to prove myself to anyone else.
As mentioned previously, a key component in bringing your daughter to a sporting event, as with any child, as with parenting, is talking to that child. (I will not attempt to explain why talking to your children is valuable, you’re on your own for that.) The learning environment in person is designed for conversation.
Commercial breaks at home signal that focus should remain on the screen or that snack preparation is in order. In person, there is vastly more dead air to contented with. These are the moments for questions, explanations, and the team history dads so love to impart. Your kid is smart and takes being told, “Wait till after this pitch.” They’ll learn the give and take of doing things together. They also are locked in to a three-hour game with no escape, so lots of chances to practice this one.
The gradual process of understanding what’s going on in the game never felt stressful to me, only fun and satisfying. There’s even a fun game that’s a cross between memory and charades I liked. It’s called “Name that Penalty”. Guessing correctly was cool, but not anywhere near as cool as seeing my all-time favorite penalty. It’s rare, it’s elusive, it’s akin to “I Dream of Genie”. That’s right- the safety. To this day I am giddy at the thought of a professional referee being forced to make a cute little diamond over his head. If you think that doesn’t keep a kid engaged, you’re wrong.
We’re Not Ready for Offensive Schemes Yet
If you think your son is old enough to understand what’s happening on the field, so is your daughter. But what if she’s really not? Even in the earliest years of genuine disinterest and confusion, there’s so much to enjoy.
- Let’s. Talk. Cheerleaders. My homegirls, The Goldrush, up in San Francisco were ICONIC in my early childhood. As an adult and professional dancer, do I have misgivings about them now? Yes. My God, yes. Big problems with – fair pay, anglo-conformist beauty standards, climate appropriate clothing… You get it. But in 1992- I was ALL IN! As a burgeoning dancer, I was entertained, enthralled, and by the 3rd quarter, knew a couple of the routines. The Western kitsch costuming, the billowing peasant sleeves- A Dream! Now throw in the occasional question from Dad, “What’s that step called?” “Which one do you think is the best?” “How long do you think they practiced this dance?” And what you’ve really got is an exchange of expertise- a meeting of minds. You can’t imagine the pride my little heart felt to really get what was happening and be asked to talk about it.
- Accessories. There is almost no event in my childhood that was not improved by a bow or overly adorned scrunchie. For girls who, like me, were not very cool, this expression of fandom carries from stands-sitting to playing high school sports with ease. The price point can be as low as ‘red Christmas ribbons from last year’ to the kind of excessiveness seen in the south on any Friday in October. For the cooler girls amongst us, the ‘hair ribbons’ phase transitions graciously to the ‘coordinated nail polish’ phase. But I personally, wouldn’t know anything about that.
- Treats. The double-digits years of walking confidently to another section of the lower deck of a stadium with a $20 bill brought an agency that felt akin to voting in federal elections. While confined to adult supervision as a young child, there was always- the concession barker. This electrifying staple offers not only the randomness of who will come through your aisle and at what hunger level- but also – the need for immediate action not so dissimilar from play-making. For baseball games, I heartily recommend the classic chocolate malt. Nothing compliments ice cream like the subtle taste of wood, and this will be, indelibly in my mind, what summer is. My dad, in his infinite wisdom, taught us the simple yet genius technique of setting it under your chair for but a couple minutes. This technique tempers the ice cream and builds anticipation. 10/10. Still holds up.
If somehow my personal statement on how ribbons shaped my life doesn’t have you convinced this is a prefect plan, I get it, and the issue might be prevailing narrative. The idea that girls don’t like sports is, I believe, less cause and more effect.
In my experience, many women don’t ‘hate sports’ because they think they’re uninteresting; they hate them because at some point they were made to feel unwelcome. They tried to participate, and instead of a posture of invitation and community – the things that make being a fan so rewarding – they were met with put-downs and dismissal.
I’m not suggesting you’ve done this. Maybe you have but didn’t mean to, maybe you heard it and didn’t say anything. Maybe a lot of things contributed to these gender lines being drawn so clearly. But definitely, you can change it.
You can be a part of changing this culture in two ways.
Firstly, prove to your daughters that they belong. Include them in the things you love, especially sports. Whether they become invested themselves or not, they’ll have the confidence of associative belonging and the thing will be a sweet memory, not a burr.
Secondly, teach your sons that sports are for everyone- that female athletes are amazing and female side-line broadcasters have something interesting to say. That no one, no one, isn’t allowed to like sports. Someday, when there’s a girl in the room trying to watch the game and being actively excluded, let him be the one to ask, “What team are you cheering for?” without a single follow-up question to ‘prove’ if she’s a real fan or not.
It’s the most fun invitation to shape how your daughters and sons will move through the world for the rest of their lives. You can teach them now, “You belong.” It might sound like a huge job, but it’s also just a walk in the (ball)park.
Take your daughter to the game. And thanks, Dad.
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