By Bill Onderdonk
I remember taking my then 5-year-old daughter to her first San Francisco Giants game in 2010. I was there with my father-in-law, a lifelong Giants fan. When Pablo Sandavol, aka Panda, hit a grand slam, my daughter excitedly exclaimed, “I’m a lucky charm!” The 2010 season ended with the Giants winning the World Series. When they won, she told her grandfather that she had waited five years for that to happen. He laughed and said he had been waiting 52 years for that day––since the Giants moved to San Francisco in ‘58.
Like my father-in-law, I’ve always been a sports fan sharing the ups and downs with my family and friends and now my daughters. I recently learned that being a sports fan is actually good for you. It’s also great for building strong intergenerational family bonds, which is important for anyone navigating the “sandwich years”–simultaneously launching children into adulthood while caring for aging parents.
Larry Olmsted, a New York Times best-selling author and Dartmouth professor, is an expert on sports fandom. His book, Fans: How Watching Sports Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Understanding, is chock-full of facts supporting the premise of his title. He devotes a chapter to “The Sports Fan and Family Ties” with his thesis “that sports spectating has been an important way of spending quality time with family members, and it’s also a bond between generations.” He continues that “sports provide a shared experience, shared language and shared emotions that is not found in too many other areas of life.”
Along with strengthening intergenerational ties, Olmsted highlights three other facts about sports fans that I find compelling. First, sports fans are happier. He cites Dr. Daniel L. Wann, a Murray State University professor, who found 24 mental health benefits from being a sports fan, including having more friends, more vigor, less anger, and less depression. Wann calls it the “fan effect.” It’s known that happier people experience less stress, have healthier lives, and live longer. (See Big Retired Life Coping Skills Lead to Better Health and Longer Life post.) Second, sports fans maintain better cognitive processing as they age. Olmsted interviewed Dr. Alan Castel, a UCLA professor, who found watching sports is a cognitively demanding activity that exercises the brain. And lastly, sports fandom fosters belonging and connection to others. Research shows that social connection fosters both better physical health and longevity. (See Big Retired Life, Cultivate Your Social Power post.)
I see first-hand how sports have strengthened my family’s bonds. That first outing with my daughter and father-in-law is etched in our family lore. I also have a family fantasy football league, which includes three generations of two families. This long-running tradition connects all of us.
With the College Football Playoffs starting Saturday, the NFL playoffs coming soon, and both the NBA and NHL seasons going strong, now is the time to embrace your fandom. Not only is being a fan fun, it’s also good for you.
Bill Onderdonk is the Chief Product Officer at Kiwico that empowers kids to explore, create, and learn with hands-on kits delivered monthly. Bill is married to Big Retired Life founder Diana Sunshine.
Throughout the “Sandwich Years” section of this blog, we will provide you support for launching children into adulthood while caring for aging parents.