I have been completely fascinated by the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament since the time my age hit double digits. Every year my family copied the bracket out of the newspaper (yes, I’m SO old, I know, ask my kids), carefully plotted and strategized which team to advance past each round, and proudly mounted those completed brackets on the refrigerator to keep tabs on who would get bragging rights for the next year. I watched. I cheered. I agonized. I teared up during “One Shining Moment,” (who doesn’t?), and I loved every minute of it. One year in high school I got to miss a day of classes to go to a first round session and watch my beloved Duke Blue Devils lose to California, for which I still haven’t forgiven Jason Kidd. I went to college, solidified a life-long allegiance to the Indiana Hoosiers, and enjoyed four seasons of tickets in the student section at Assembly Hall, watching Bobby Knight in what turned out to be his last years as IU’s coach.
After finishing college, a lot of things change. You (hopefully) start a career, have more of your own bills to pay, responsibilities to manage, and less opportunities to spend your days in sweats and a hat. Then some of us get married. Some of us have kids. And with each transition, more and more of what we were for the first 20-25 years of our lives become memories and good stories. Currently I live my days rotating between job, family, friends, a glimmer of a hobby now and again, and generally lame adulting. The (almost) three weeks of March Madness, however, is a shining exception. I am just as addicted to this tournament today as I ever have been.
So with a full-time job, kids, and a tournament that lasts three weeks, how’s a parent supposed to make this work? For starters, you have to choose to make time.
I use vacation days from my job for the field of 64. (I am old school, and I still have a hard time referring to Thursday and Friday of week one as the Second Round). For those first four days, I don’t make other plans; I sit around when my kids are busy or sleeping and don’t feel guilty about what I should be doing instead. The other 49 weeks of the year we watch Caillou, and Frozen, and Doc McStuffins, and PJ Masks, and Maya the Bee, and everyone could benefit from some time off from those. I eat wings, drink beer, and don’t care about calories. Every year I hope to get my kids a little more sucked in than they were the year before. My Bean is already hooked at age 6. With twin toddlers in the house, there will be long stretches of time this year that the games will be on in the background and I am much farther away from the couch than I would like to be. But we stay close to the house, we involve everyone in the fun, and I am hopeful that one day my adult children will look back on this fondly as a tradition that was part of our family.
So if you are a parent, and love this time of year as much as I do, I recommend that you involve your kids, no matter their ages. Here are some tips on how to make this work:
- Chances are pretty good they want to like what you like. Take advantage of that and get them gear supporting your favorite team. And when they get older, and they start cheering for your rival just to spite you, suck it up and get them some gear for that team too. Because it is all about the fun of doing things together.
- Have a family bracket contest. Mascot brackets are very popular with Bean. He has been completing his mascot bracket since he was two, and some years has fared better in the bracket competition than the adults who are actually trying to employ strategy in their picks. A source we have used and enjoyed for printable brackets in the past is here at Simple Play Ideas.
- If you are anything like me, I usually try not to have the TV on in the background adding to the noise and chaos unless someone is specifically watching something. I make an exception for this, and I think everyone understands it is a special thing. If you have young kids, find activities you can do with them in the same room when they get tired of watching, which will be often. If you get to a certain time where you’re not super excited about any of the games, get everyone out of the house for some fresh air and a break. Watching every minute of the programming is probably out of the question, but you can work around what is most important to you to see.
- Take advantage of teaching moments. Scoring provides ways to practice math. Situations on the court will allow for discussions about sportsmanship, perseverance, hustle, and hard work. Human interest stories about the different teams are fascinating windows into the lifelong dedication it takes to play and coach at this level.
- Just like Superbowl Sunday, make it a fun atmosphere. Have special snacks. In our house we always eat at the table, so it is a treat to have a meal in front of the TV. Keep those brackets handy and help everyone keep track of which picks they got right. Celebrate wins, big plays, and exciting final minutes.
- Let your kids see you being goofy. Too often we get sucked into the cycle of everyday, the stress of getting everyone where they need to be, food on the table, and bills paid on time. If I am cheering and jumping around and just having a good time, it shows my kids a different side of me that doesn’t always hang around when, for example, somebody is fighting bedtime.
If you happen to have the opposite problem, where your family wants to watch every minute of the tournament and you’re not all that interested, here are some different perspectives to consider:
- If you want to look at it from a different angle, it is basically a three-week long soap opera. There are backstories, drama, controversy, rivalries, and heroics. The more you watch, the more you learn from the commentators and the interviews, and the further in to the tournament you get, the higher the stakes. No one is going to get left at the alter or come back from the dead, but I would argue that real life is better than fiction in this case.
- You can never go wrong rooting for the underdog. Most of the time they won’t win, but the tension when a low-ranked team is close to upsetting a big-name program is thrilling. There are fans from several teams in the venues for every game, depending on the day’s schedule, and without fail they all cheer for the upset. A 16-seed has never beaten a 1-seed, but every year they get closer and closer. There is something in all of us that just can’t help but root for the little guy.
- In a world where we spend so much time talking about painful and divisive news headlines, this is a chance to join a social conversation about something else for a while. Sure, there are unfortunate stories in college basketball too: cheating, recruiting infractions, grade tampering, bad apples with awful attitudes, and more. But overall, it is a chance to take a break from the routine, and talk about something all sports fans will be obsessing over until the championship game is over.
Being a parent means turning everything about your pre-kid life upside down for the sake of the tiny humans that have taken over your house. But that doesn’t mean you can’t prioritize yourself and your own interests every now and again. And if you happen to make a few more Hoosier fans in the process, even better.