With the MLS season opening this past weekend, I’m reminded of how valuable it is to attend a game. Watching a soccer game live is a totally different experience than watching it on TV. The announcers don’t drown out the noise of the supporters’ section (oftentimes purposefully), who stand during the entire game chanting and singing. It’s also easier to see the play develop with a view of the entire field. Plus, when you actually see the sweat bouncing off someone’s head and hear them grunt from a header, you grow a greater appreciation for the athleticism involved.
The in-stadium experience is even more important when it comes to children. It’s more exciting than its televised counterpart, there are fewer distractions, and the experience is, overall, much more real and tangible if kids see it unfolding in front of them (and less like something that is being ‘acted out’ on television).
My husband and I, along with my in-laws, have had season tickets to the Philadelphia Union since their inaugural season six years ago. One of the things I’ve loved most about attending so many games during this period has been watching my nephew grow to love the game. He went from being a video game-only kid to a year-round soccer fan, and player: he is on a travel team, watches games on TV, follows the league, and attended the Union’s camp over the summer. Now that he is 13, and has been going to games more and more regularly over the years, he has taken over ownership of my mother-in-law’s ticket (though that’s still debated among family members).
I give a little credit to my soccer-obsessed husband: as the “cool Uncle”, he probably had some influence on my nephew growing to love the sport. However, I think most of the credit actually goes to the experience of watching the game live. You just can’t beat the sound and feel of a goal and everyone in the stadium standing up and singing “DOOP DOOP DOOP, da da, DOOP DOOP DOOP!” My nephew is getting some great memories watching his grandfather jump around to the song swinging his scarf – he has to love watching that as much as I do!
During the first few games my nephew came to, he would ask dozens of questions (now, though, he knows more about the players and game itself than I do). I doubt this is unique, among youth fans, and I think it’s an opportunity for teams. They could create booklets with information about the game and players written in simple, child-friendly wording, and distribute them at the gate. The booklets could include games designed to help keep kids engaged with the action on the field – for example: keep track of the number of yellow cards and corner kicks, etc.
These booklets could help children become knowledgeable about the sport (and help parents from having to answer questions they may not be sure how to address!). They would help children to be less of a nuisance, get them excited about the game, and make them want to come back. Ultimately, it may result in the development of fans (likely avid ones) for life.