How To “Help” Your Little Girls Like Sports

** This is still one of my favorite posts.  I love baseball.  There are few things like watching a ballgame… unless that thing is done with your daughters too. **

Originally published November 18th, 2011

“It’s a girl!”  We didn’t know for sure if my wife was having a boy or a girl when we had Megan.  It wasn’t because we hadn’t tried, we’d had two ultrasound appointments to give it a go, but Megan was clamped tight both times.  It was a mystery.  My wife had a gut feeling she was having a boy.  She bought an adorable light blue baseball onesy w/little white shoes with red lacing up the sides.  When I saw what Amy had brought home, I figured we were having a girl.  And I was cool with it.

I didn’t need the doctor to tell me.  I saw Megan come out in a wave of emotion I can’t describe.  I could see she was safe, healthy, and beautiful.  I could also she that didn’t have a penis.  Taking her home and adjusting to life with a new baby was amazing.  We loved taking her to meet new people, but early on I noticed something kind of weird, well, heard something weird… and I heard it more than once.  “You OK with not having a boy?”  I know that my friends didn’t mean it as a slight — It’s just that everyone that knows me knows how much I love sports, especially baseball and college football.  It was like they were tiptoeing around a sensitive subject, you know, the kind of conversation someone has with a buddy after a divorce or a breakup.  Was I OK having a boy?  That would seem to imply that my girl couldn’t love sports.  Was that going to happen?  Was this little girl going to grow up not interested?  Was she going to want more to do with princesses and ponies than the fastball, a home run, or a bullet pass thru two defenders?  I looked down at her, saw her in the pink Seattle Mariners onesy, and laughed it off.

If you have young daughters that you want to love sports, this post is for you.  Do my two daughters (yep, I won another one!) like princesses and ponies?  Sure!  But they’ll also settle down and watch the game with me on a rainy Sunday afternoon.  They’ll point at our local MiLB park as we drive by and ask to see a game, or when it’s out of season ask how many days until the games are back on.  My girls love sports, and I’ll tell you how I did it — For free even!

For short-attention spans, I’ll give you the quick list of things I did to help my girls love the games.  If you want to read about it in detail, keep going, but I know if I don’t get to a list quick that some of you are going to bail and go back to what you were watching.  So, here’s the list, but keep reading for the good stuff:

– Start early!  Buy her cute clothes and related mascot stuffed animals.

– Let her control when you watch the games.  If you force it, she’ll hate it.  (You have more than one TV, use it!)

Play with her.  If you make sports fun and are involved as a dad, she’s going to take to it faster.

– Play with her when she wants to.  This will often mean turning off or leaving the game you’re watching.  It’s worth it in the long run.  Don’t have her resent the game you’re trying to get her to like!

– Reinforce the love of the game.  Buy her related toys.  Go on eBay, there are loads of sports related Barbies (and 12″ Starting Lineup dudes for you).  Buy kids books that are geared towards the sport you like and read to her at bedtime!

Play with her some more!  You bought her those Barbies, be ready to play with them.  But use the time to explain how you’re playing.  You can talk up rules and positions!

– Sign her up for T-Ball, youth basketball, and be involved!  You don’t have to coach, but be at her games, help if you can!

– Take her to games, but start slow.  Load her up with snacks, she’ll stay interested longer.  Be sure she meets the mascot.  If the ballpark has a playground, don’t go anywhere near it or introduce it to her until she’s been to a handful of games.

– Reinforce the game you want her interesed in by picking her up related knick-knacks.  Keychains for her backpack, a poster for the wall, stadium giveaway for a shelf.  Keep it top of mind!

I started early.  By early, I don’t mean broadcasting games at Amy’s womb (but in hindsight…), no what I mean is where I went from when Megan was born.  She had the pink onesy, she had the newborn WSU Cougar cheerleader outfit, and by Easter (she was born in February) she had her first baseball mitt, even though she wouldn’t use it for another year.  On my days (I watched her solo two days a week), I would feed her from my recliner and watch Spring Training baseball with her.  I’d tell her what was going on in the game, then would give her a big burp (her, not me) before strapping her on for a walk.  At night I would sing her Take Me Out To The Ballgame at bedtime.  By football season I’d switch to the Cougar Fight Song.  (Most nights it would be both, until October.  I don’t sing “Ballgame” from Nov-Mar, it’s offseason.)

By 3yrs old, I took Megan to her first ballgame.  By then we’d been rolling the ball to each other’s gloves for at least 2 years.  She’d watched baseball and football on TV in small snipets, and could show me “Touchdown” w/her arms up.  I started small.  We went to a Tacoma Rainiers game.  I was beyond excited.  It was destined to be the perfect day, just me and my little girl at a ballgame.  I was sure I’d catch a ball for her by the end of the game and she would forever tell her friends, and in the future her family, about her first ballgame with her dad!  She lasted 5 pitches.

5 pitches.  Error – Dad.  I got home and laughed about the experience with Amy.  When I told her Megan had lasted 5 pitches she asked a very important question:  “Didn’t you give her any snacks?”  Snacks!  S-O-B, I forgot the cardinal rule of being a parent at any event.  We tried it again later with snacks, and it was everything I wanted it to be.  And yes, she got a ball.  The point was that I started small and I didn’t get frustrated.  I thought it was hilarious.  When she said “All done” I tried to keep her interested, but she wasn’t, so we left.  That’s extremely important.  We left and I wasn’t mad.  I see too many parents try and force their kids to be interested at the game.  If you yell at your kid and try to force them to like anything, even something as glorious as a ballgame on a sunny day, they’re going to resent it!  Don’t let a ballgame become brocolli!  If they aren’t into it, try again later.  Over the last 7 years, we’ve only left 3 games early.  Make watching the game fun (and bring snacks)!

Part of having girls is embracing the inevitable.  You will play with Barbies.  I decided early on that if I was going to play Barbies it would be on my terms.  I bought them a group of Barbies wearing Cubs/Dodger/Yankees jerseys, then bought myself a handful of Starting Lineup guys.  I built them a ballpark to go with them so we could play “All Star” games.  Here’s the thing about buying baseball Barbies though — Don’t think because they’re baseball guys that you are going to necessarily play baseball with them.  I have had Babe Ruth riding a pink horse to a castle while Ken Griffey Jr is BBQ’ing in the backyard and Mickey Mantle is giving a bottle to a dog.  The point is not that the baseball dolls play baseball, it’s that they can play baseball when they want to.  When you can move the play that direction, use it to talk about the rules and positions of the game.  It works!  Just be prepared to play thru a bunch of stuff you could care less about.  It goes back to supporting play.  Don’t force baseball into the play, just have it available!

Play is an important part of being a “Sports Dad”.  There are times I’m just too busy to play.  But you need to realize that the minute your daughter wants to play catch, you need to drop what you’re doing and get out there!  Same thing if she wants to shoot hoops on the short board in the garage.  Encourage play.  The more practice and support she gets, the more interested she’ll be in playing the game.  Get her involved in Little League or Parks/Rec sports.  There are girls on every team at the younger age levels, the more girls she sees playing the same sport, the more interested she’ll be.  Be involved with her team.   You don’t have to be the Coach, in fact, you’re better off not being the Coach.  It’s important she gets coaching and direction from someone besides you because then you can reinforce the behavior later.  But be involved!  Help coach the bases on game day, help at practice but defer to the Coach.  The last thing to make sure and do is dress her right!  If she’s in Little League, buy her socks (keep ’em high!), buy the baseball pants and a belt.  Buy her cleats w/colors on them.  Let her pick out her own bat, and please, buy her her own helmet (and put stickers on it!).  She’ll look great, and feel great playing!  Same thing for you Basketball Dads, buy her some sweet socks and let her choose her shoes!  Make sure she has her own ball with her name on it!

I think this last one is probably the hardest for most of us.  Be ready to turn off the game.  I know, insanity.  Here’s the thing though, if you’re hogging the TV all day on Sunday she’s going to resent that she can’t watch what she wants.  She’s going to take that out on the sport you’re watching.  Be ready to go upstairs and watch the game on the small screen if you can, but give it up, it’s just not worth it!  When you are watching the game with your daughters be sure to explain what’s going on, make it easy to understand and start with the most basic rules and go up from there as she starts to get it.  Learn to like Women’s sports!  Megan has really started getting into watching Women’s Softball.  Hey, it’s still baseball, enourage it!  Show her what she can do as she gets older and start planting the seed!  (Then go out and practice afterwords!)

I want my girls to love sports.  They could even like soccer if they want.  (They don’t.)  I just want them to be active and have fun, and I want to know that as they grow we’ll have that thing that can keep us connected even after they start dating (shiver) or move away as they grow older.  There are a lot of things I’ve done to try and foster that interest since the day they were born, but it comes down to moderation and setting your expectations low.  Will these steps work 100% of the time?  Of course not, but anything that gets you more involved with your girls will just make them stronger, healthier, and happier as they get older.  And, with any luck, they’ll throw a mean fastball.

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