So You Want to Get Into Women’s Sports

Photo: Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

Women’s sports are booming. In just the past year, record numbers of people watched the Women’s World Cup and the NCAA women’s basketball championship. More people watched Coco Gauff win the U.S. Open than tuned in for the men’s final. The Professional Women’s Hockey League kicked off and quickly drew the largest-ever crowd for a professional women’s hockey game. Brittany and Patrick Mahomes became co-owners of the CPKC Stadium, which will be the world’s only stadium devoted to women’s soccer when it opens later this year.

This is all to say now is the time to get into women’s sports. But maybe you’ve never felt compelled by sports before. How does a sports novice get into the wild world of women’s sports? Sure, you can just start watching, but that can be daunting. We asked Jenny Nguyen, owner of the women’s-sports-centric bar the Sports Bra, and Jackie Johnston, a TikToker whose page is dedicated to women’s-sports news, for tips on getting into the game.

Find one athlete doing something cool

There is always something exciting happening in sports. Take, for example, University of Iowa basketball phenom Caitlin Clark. She is incredible at three-point shots. Even someone who knows nothing about basketball can watch a compilation of her deepest threes and recognize that there’s something special about the way she plays.

“There’s some superstar power there,” Nguyen said. “But guess what? There are 20 other players in that game, and you’re not just watching Caitlin Clark. Then you’re seeing, Oh shit, the bench runs deep. The coaches are awesome. These are some crazy-talented athletes.” From there, you can fall down a rabbit hole and before you know it you’ll have strong opinions about whether Iowa can go all the way this year.

If you want some suggestions for athletes who can serve as your entry point, here are some recommendations:

  • Sha’Carri Richardson is finally going to the Olympics this summer. The track star was ineligible for the Tokyo Games after testing positive for THC but will finally debut on the Olympics stage in Paris. Track — especially sprinting — is a great sport to get invested in because the rules are simple: Run fast!
  • A’ja Wilson cemented her status as a legend in the WNBA last season, and the 27-year-old shows no signs of slowing down. She was crucial to the Las Vegas Aces winning the championship last year after two of her teammates got injured. Following Wilson this year is a low-risk, high-reward bet. Not only will she be a beast in this country but she’s almost certainly going to Paris with Team USA. You have more than enough time to learn how to say “nothing but net” en français.
  • This is technically two people, but I couldn’t resist. Montreal’s PWHL team features two women who are fiancées. C’mon! Laura Stacey and Marie-Philip Poulin are great hockey players, and they’re in love. What’s not to root for?

Start local

If you live in a major metropolitan area, there’s probably a women’s soccer or basketball team near you. Johnston suggests you find out if a local team hosts a pregame party for fans or go on Facebook and find a group for your local team. Even if a team doesn’t play in your city, there are definitely people in your community who are watching. Ask your friends if they want to watch the game with you or go to a bar that’s playing a game you want to see (more on that below). If all else fails, Johnston recommends a simpler approach: “Find the gays and figure it out.” In general, that’s pretty good advice.

Find out where women’s games are shown

Just because you don’t live in Portland and can’t go to the Sports Bra doesn’t mean you can’t watch a women’s game in a bar. Nguyen has seen a recent explosion in spaces designed with women’s-sports fans in mind. Seattle has Rough & Tumble, and several more about to open across the country: Althea’s in New York, A Bar of Their Own in Minneapolis, and Watch Me in Long Beach, California.

“I​​ think sports can be an intimidating venture for a lot of folks,” Nguyen said. “There has typically been this kind of macho, mansplain situation that happens if you don’t come in knowing every statistic about a player.” That aura of machismo can keep the “sports curious” away, she said, but places devoted to women’s sports provide a comfortable space for them to fall in love with the game.

Don’t be afraid to ask for a channel change

“I am a big fan of just going out and asking the bar to put a game on,” Johnston said. Did you know you can just ask the bar to change the channel? I did not, but this is crucial intel.

“The more people do that,” Nguyen said, “the more these bars will realize that fans are everywhere and that maybe they should just make it a habit to add women’s sports to their playlists.” You get to watch the game and feel good about spreading the gospel of women’s sports. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.

Embrace the emotional aspect

Sports are really about storytelling, and women’s sports are no exception. If you really want to dive deep into a new sport, try learning the story lines of the season. Johnston finds women’s sports inherently more compelling because, in her words, “everyone’s an underdog.”

“If you don’t know the rules of a sport, who cares? It’s literally just about the people and the effort they put in and the emotion that comes out of winning or losing,” Johnston added.

You don’t have to know who’s who to watch a game. You don’t have to know what offsides really means (few do). You can pick up on the minutiae later. What you’ll learn immediately is that sports are emotional. There’s a reason dads yell at the TV as if the referee can hear them; it’s because they’re invested on a deep level. Do you love Bravo? You would have loved the NWSL last season when retiring player Ali Krieger found out at practice that she was getting a divorce and then went on to win the league championship no one had expected.

“When we consume sports, we aren’t just consuming win-loss stats,” Nguyen said. “We’re consuming their story — we have a personal connection to that player.” She feels that connection is even stronger in women’s sports than in men’s. “Are the stories better in women’s sports?” Johnston quickly answered her own question: “Yes.”

So You Want to Get Into Women’s Sports