It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
Well, OK, actually, it’s the third most wonderful time of the year to me (following March Madness and Christmas, in that order), but we’re in Texas, so we’ll go with the whole “most” idea.
IT’S FOOTBALL SEASON, Y’ALL!
We’re at the point of the year when it’s still hotter than the surface of the sun outside, but we nonetheless cook over hot flames outside mid-day, pile in with thousands of other people and sit on metal benches, wear colors that may or may not reflect the sunlight (or flatter our skin tones, but that’s a whole different story)…and love every minute of it.
Football season is great. However, like everything else in the world, attending sporting events becomes 3,523,325,235 exponentially more difficult when you factor small humans into the equation. What was once an easy jaunt up I-35 for a college game and a late-night return trip complete with celebratory Dr. Pepper becomes an exercise in cramming almost everything you own into your car, scheduling out the whole weekend in advance, forking out a small fortune for hotel rooms at extortionate gameday prices, and making sure you’ve diligently scheduled pumping breaks and mapped out bathroom visits.
Today, I present you (insert gravity-defying cheerleading stunts, and maybe a little old-school “Let’s Get Ready to Ruuuumble” soundtrack for emphasis, my guide to attending, surviving and enjoying a collegiate football game with kids Side note: In-town games or local high school rivalries require less intensive scheduling but still mean using your logistical expert extraordinaire skills, so some of these tips will work for those gameday experiences too!
With Tiny Tots:
- Safety in numbers. Going to a football game is no time to play zone defense (forgive the mixed metaphors; I know basketball season’s not here yet!). If you’re planning on attending a game, invite friends. You’ll kill a whole bevy of birds with one stone: get some much-needed adult interaction, have someone to go get snacks so you don’t have to stand in line whilst holding the baby, and ensure you’ve got someone to blame things on when kids throw snacks, drop sippy cups, etc., on the people sitting in front of you. OK, I kid. But seriously, if you have little ones who are fidgety during the game, it’s great to be able to pass them from lap to lap.
- Have the right tickets. This may seem like common sense, but different schools have different rules regarding ticketing ages. Some may allow lap children under a certain age to enter without a ticket; some require tickets for everyone attending, regardless of age.
- Get the right gear. When we planned to take my daughter to her first football game, I took everything. Seriously everything. We had two college-themed outfits, blankets, socks, nursing covers, jackets, cooler onesies, snacks…seriously, I could keep going on and on. I way overprepared. This is not necessary, people; however, I will give you my easy and concise packing list:
- Extra clothes to accommodate weather changes
- Baby headphones, because they are cute (also, because science seems to say they protect babies’ ears from their moms’ over-zealous shrieks)
- Diapering stuff
- Easy, not-messy snacks and drinks (check policies with the stadium, as some things may be prohibited)
BONUS TIP: One of the niftiest things I saw another mom using was a handheld, battery-powered breast pump. It checked all the boxes: tiny, easy to carry, no need to find a plug, prevents you from having to nurse during times of tremendous stress, such as fourth downs, goal line stands, and two-minute drills.
- Check your bag. Many stadiums outlaw bags that are too large or require bags to be see-through (Texas Tech is one of the latest schools to institute this rule). Because getting through the game without a diaper bag is basically unthinkable, you’ll want to make sure you’ve “cleared” it with your school’s guidelines.
- Map things out. Looking at a stadium map or checking websites for amenities before you head to the game can be extremely helpful. Knowing where things like family restrooms or the best concession stands are before you are in game mode will help you relax and enjoy the game, as well as strategically plan your mad-dash pumping sessions between quarters and at halftime. On the practical side of things, there’s no better gameday networking than sitting in a 10 x 10 room with a dozen other moms and infants, pumping and nursing and diaper changing. It’s instant bonding and cementing of future college roommate/sorority sister/boyfriend alliances. And, it’s really hilarious when naïve men see “family restroom” on the door sign, unsuspectingly open the door, get horrified and stumble away, looking as if their very corneas have been singed from their eyes. Here are a few quick tips and links to gameday info provided by some Texas universities:
- Texas Tech: Men’s, women’s and family restrooms are located throughout the stadium on the concourse level (more gameday info here).
- Baylor: Mom & Baby Room, where moms can nurse/pump/spend quiet time with little ones, is equipped with comfortable seating, electrical outlets, and a changing table (more gameday info here).
- Texas: Single-stall unisex restrooms are located adjacent to every public restroom (more gameday info here)
- Texas A&M: Family/special needs restrooms are available in several sections throughout the stadium (more gameday info here).
- UTSA: The Alamodome has family restrooms on the mezzanine level and changing tables in the majority of men’s and women’s restrooms.
With Older Kids:
For older kids, going to a football game is all about the experience: the photogenic selfies, the possibility of getting on the jumbotron, the junk food, the collegiate swag, the tailgating. They may or may not want to spend the game by your side, so here are a few tips for navigating gameday with your older kids:
- Have a back-up plan. There are a million things going on during the gameday experience. Make sure you’ve talked with your kids and have a plan on what you’ll do if you happen to get separated during the day. Map out locations to meet, keeping in mind that mobile phone service may be sub-par because of the crowds.
- Take time to tailgate, and take a friend. Gathering together with a group of friends can give you the opportunity to reconnect, but it also gives your kids the chance to make friends with other young fans, participate in free gameday activities, and burn off some energy before spending hours in the confined space of stadium seating. Also, pro tip from my good friend Casi: “Just let teens and tweens bring a friend. Trust me. It’s better for everyone involved.”
- Get good parking. You might think good parking only matters if you’re toting around a babe-in-arms, but let me tell you, the last thing you want to do at the end of a long and draining gameday is walk/drag/carry a kid for a mile-long stretch because it allowed you to save $5 on parking. It’s worth it to splurge and skip the in-stadium nachos. Or, take advantage of shuttle options that many universities provide on game day.
- Be prepared for “learning experiences.” Let’s face it: Some sports fans are jerks. You may not be able to stop the opposing fan’s heckling or shield your kid’s ears from every profanity, but you can use these experiences to teach good sportsmanship and to model appropriate behavior. While other fans may cause a scene, the biggest impact on your child’s experience and development will be the way to respond to the game, the opposing fans, and the win or loss.
- Make it visionary. Sure, college is about a lot more than football games. Sometimes you have to go to class, too. However, I would argue there’s not much that gets you more excited for going to college than being part of the crowd on a gameday where something amazing happens. Even if the game isn’t out of the ordinary, gameday is a great way to introduce kids to the college experience. Add some on-campus activities to your schedule if you can, and show off some of the key spots from your college experience, or look into resources or experiences that they might want to add to theirs. Visualizing oneself as part of a collegiate community is a great motivator to start thinking ahead and getting motivated to earn the grades, complete the standardized tests, and fill out the applications that will make the college experience a reality.
Getting gameday-ready may be a little more complicated with kids, but the payoff is this: you’re able to share a game that you love, and a school that you love, with the people you love the most. Last tips: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate; use sunscreen; and take pictures. You’ve invested your money and your time in this day, so make sure you snap some shots that remind you how great it is to have these one-of-a-kind experiences. Go, team!