5 Ways to Enjoy March Madness 2017 with Kids

It’s here! When New Orleans and Mt. Saint Mary’s tip off in tonight’s game in Dayton, Ohio, March Madness officially begins! The nickname for the annual NCAA basketball championship tournament is a fair way to describe what goes down on basketball courts and in family living rooms across the country.

For players an NCAA win can mean bright futures. After winning the 2001 NCAA title with Duke, Shane Battier went on to help the Miami Heat bring home the 2013 NBA championship. For fans, the Big Dance—68 teams knock each other off to advance to the Sweet 16, the Elite 8 and the Final Four—is often what sparks a lifetime love of basketball.

The best part is that everyone, kids and grownups alike can participate. Over the years, watching the tournament on TV has become a family affair, with fans of all ages competing to pick the winningest teams. Of course, the most fun of all, is turning off the TV after the game and heading to the driveway or a local court to recreate a favorite plays. And when the games end but you don't want to leave your TV, feel free to turn on a movie!

From now through the finals, March Madness basketball exhibitions pop up at civic centers across the country to give kids of all ages a chance to brush up on their moves and experience the game. From March 16 – 18, in Peoria, three full-size and one half-size basketball court (that's a lot of fitness tracking points!), with hoops suspended at different heights, will be set up at the Civic Center to test visitors shooting range.

With basketball exhibitions happening throughout the month, excitement builds in towns where the NCAA games are played. But for families, there’s plenty of fun to be had right at home. Whether you all lace up your kicks together and go out to practice your jump shots or just stay in and play Guess the Mascot, March Madness can be great for family bonding and fitness. Here are our tips for getting in on the action:

Be active viewers: That’s Shelisa Welde’s advice for getting kids hooked on basketball. She’s found the NCAA’s Sweet 16 phase a more kid-friendly entry point for younger tykes, but says that once they’re hooked they have no trouble keeping up with family debates on everything from “basketball rules, abbreviations/initials, college, and sportsmanship.” She and her husband even wear whistles around their necks to signal impromptu drills: “Yes, we allow dribbling in the house, I suspect all great basketball players’ parents did.”

Shoot for teachable moments: Alene Cutler, creator of a March Madness kids’ app told the Deseret News that as basketball lovers, she and her husband wanted a way for her family to bond around the inspirational powers of televised sports: “I think sports are important for kids. They teach determination and discipline and work ethic and how to be active and healthy.” Their app, Mascot Madness, lets kids fill out virtual brackets using the 68 teams’ mascots and indicate seed rankings with more easily understood strength indicators. (Mascot Madness is available from the Google Play and Amazon App store, and for iOS devices)  

Look for March Madness events in your town: Basketball exhibitions, like the one in Peoria, are happening this month in many of the towns where the tournament takes place. In Phoenix, where the Final Four games are played, the Final Four Fest runs from March 31 – April 3 at the Phoenix Convention Center. Kids under 13 get in free (tickets are $8 a piece) and the whole family can get in on clinics, championship “hands-on experiences,” interactive games, concerts, giveaways and more.

Take it outside: There’s no better way for families to experience March Madness than watching a game together before hitting the court. Work on the basics—layups, dribbles and defense—then mix it up with competitions. Get everyone involved in foul shooting contests, which can be played one-on-one or in teams, with younger kids getting to shoot closer to the basket. Challenge older kids to work on their slam dunks. Our fave, Horse, of course, never gets old!

And if your kids don't want to watch a full game, feel free to put on a family-friendly movie!