Parent Spotlight: Pro Football Player Johnny Hekker's Top 5 Tips for New Dads

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Johnny Hekker

Johnny Hekker is a professional football player in Los Angeles, CA who became a dad for the first time in 2018. He partnered with First 5 California and ESPN-LA to share his experience so far as a dad and shed light on the important role dads play in the early development of their children.

Here are Johnny Hekker’s TOP 5 ways he exercises his son’s brain to make sure he has the best start in life:

Tip #1: Talk All the Time

Sometimes it feels weird because my son doesn’t talk yet, but from the moment he was born, I could tell he was listening. His face would light up when he’d hear my voice. I like to talk with him about my day, the people I met, and, well, of course football. The more words he hears, the more words he’ll know, so it’s important to talk all the time.

Tip #2: Make Reading a Daily Routine

Johnny Hekker reading

Reading is such an important activity to do with kids…every day. Learning words is important for building vocabulary, but it’s even more than that. It’s the physical touching of books, turning pages, talking about the colors and shapes on the pages. Even for babies, chewing the books is part of learning and embracing reading. My favorite part of reading together is cuddling on our couch and spending this time together.

Tip #3: Use Sports as a Way to Engage

Engaging with a baby – starting from day one – is so important for their developing brains and bodies, but sometimes when they’re so small it’s not always easy. I didn’t always know what to do. So, I used what I know, and that’s sports. When I didn’t know what to talk to him about, I’d talk about football and the different players and rules and even the colors on my uniform. Or I’d sing songs I’d hear in the stadium. For physical development, we’d bounce a lot and I’d show him the proper kicking motion. My job is to help him along, and that’s part of the fun!

Tip #4: Play as a Family

My wife and I are a team and we make sure our son knows we’re both here for him and caring for him in every way. That’s why we make sure there is always time – no matter how crazy both of our schedules get – for play time. Kids learn through play, so even if it’s rolling on the floor, or stacking and sorting blocks, we take time together to bond and play.

Tip #5: Sing Silly Songs

Johnny Hekker playing music

Now is the time to be silly and sing your heart out. Even if you don’t like your singing voice, babies don’t care. It’s amazing! Your voice has power and singing songs can have so many benefits on their early learning. Rhyming songs help them remember words and tapping to the beat is early math. Who knew!? So, sing away, all day, every day!


Download your own digital version of the book Johnny Hekker is reading to his son HERE, and find more ways you can engage with your children in our Activity Center.

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