The Family Guide to Filling Out NCAA Brackets

It’s that time of year once again. College basketball fans worldwide are scheduling PTO days or cashing in their “sick days” and faking coughs and runny noses. March Madness is upon us and only a few days remain to get our brackets filled out. How do you make your choices? How do you get your family involved?

How To Pick The Winners

Check out these fun ideas on how to get your family involved in March Madness! Children of ALL ages can have a blast filling out their brackets, and these are just a few ways that we’ve done with with our kids throughout the years.

✔ The Facts
✔ Highest rank
✔ Mascots
✔ Favorite vacation spot
✔ Favorite color
✔ Simply by name
✔ Pick A Letter
✔ Coin Toss
✔ Can history repeat itself?
✔ Sky or Ground

The Facts:

Who this is good for: All ages, anyone with knowledge of the game. 

When filling out brackets, some people go for facts and facts alone. They research, they read, they pay attention to coaching stats, tournament history, and free throw percentages. If this is your thing, ESPN provides a Complete Look At Every Team in the Tournament.

Highest Ranking:

Who this is good for: Ages 5 and above, as long as you have a sense of which number is largest you’ll be able to apply this method.

If you put a lot of weight into team rankings, I would look no further than the 2016 presidential election race to dispel the truth and accuracy behind them. That said, it makes for an easy way to fill out your brackets and you can easily find out ranks by looking at the ranking status next to any and all teams right on your bracket. 


Who this is good for: All ages

Mascot brackets are honestly my love language. Who doesn’t love looking at grown adults running around in overstuffed bobble heads for entertainment? There are actual studies, and people who devote countless hours to these studies, just to provide us with the information on how mascots affect their team’s chances in the NCAA tournament.

The 2017 breakdown of team mascots.
In addition to people, animals, mythical creatures, bears and weather elements, there are some interesting miscellaneous mascots in the tournament this year. Some of my favorites include an actual pepper (Ragin’ Cajuns), a poisonous nut (Buckeyes) and a happy piece of fruit (Syracuse Orange). If you’re looking for a FUN way of picking, choose the mascot bracket. But long story, short: Mascots don’t have an impact. That said, if you are going this route: Always choose the Wildcat. Statistically, they have the highest chance of winning. For the full write-up, which is quite interesting, you’ll want to read March Madness: How to pick your NCAA tournament bracket based on team mascots

According to the NCAA, cats and people have a greater chance of winning champions

Favorite Vacation Spots:

Who this is good for: Teenagers and above, depending on geographical knowledge. 

This is another way I like to choose. I’m not sure why, but when my brain sees the state of Arizona pinned against North Dakota, there is no contest as to which region rises to the top. The Arizona sun beats out the North Dakota seasons every time. And this is coming from someone who has zero knowledge of either team. Other games, for example Florida State and Florida Gulf Coast University, will be a coin toss. And since this bracket picking method is pure randomness, I wouldn’t put a lot of thought into adding a coin toss into the mess. You’ll want to have google nearby to figure out the location of some colleges. Ummmm, does anyone know where Winthrop is?

Fun learning extension: Print out a map and identify the location of each team before making their picks.

Favorite Color:

Who this is good for: All ages, but great for toddlers

This can be a go-to for the toddler in your family. Highlight each team in the first round with a different color, as well as the line for each subsequent round. Then, read off the color choices to your toddler. As your tiny human chooses their favorite color of the moment , write down the name accordingly. It doesn’t matter of Iowa State is pink one round, yellow the next, followed by green. The color fun is for the toddler, writing down the corresponding team is up to you! 

Fun learning extension: Turn it into a game by printing out color cards. You can use the cards to help in the bracket, or just for fun when you’re finished.

 Simply By Name:

Who this is good for: All ages, but great for infants as soon as they are able to talk and repeat sounds

This is how we’ve done it for our kids from the time they could talk until the time they got old enough to want more. You simply say the names, and they repeat back to you whatever part they remember. Hence, that is their selection. For example:

Grown-Up: “Honey, do you want Wisconsin or Virginia Tech?”
Child: “Tech!!”

Sorry, Wisconsin, but you will lose in the communication skills of a newly talking child 90% of the time. More likely than not, whatever name is read second will be the “winner.” Additionally, if there are any funny sounding teams or names that strike a chord with the child, they will be the favorite. There is as much logic to this one as any other, so why not?


Who this is good for: All ages, but great for preschool and lower elementary

Do you have a preschooler who is excited about learning their letters? Why not show them a list of the ABC’s and then ask them to choose between two teams based on their starting letter? If it’s between Gonzaga and South Dakota State, your child will simply pick between G and S. Whichever letter is picked, the corresponding team advances. 

Fun learning extension: Print this list of ABC’s and let your preschooler try writing the letters in a salt tray.

Can History Repeat Itself?:

Who this is good for: All ages, but great for anyone with a photographic memory

While listening to my 7-year old fill out his bracket this morning, I stumbled upon a new way to fill out your bracket. And it truly was listening and not watching, because the child WOULD. NOT. STOP. with the play-by-play of his thoughts. That’s just how his brain operates. He definitely has it in him to be a sports caster one day. Until then, he’s a second grader who remembers EVERYTHING he’s ever heard or read or watched {except for the fact that he needs to brush his teeth every morning of course}. As he was filling out his first round pick, I bustled around the kitchen, listening to something about how Duke scored a game winning shot in a game once, so OBVIOUSLY they would win. Then I heard about how Oklahoma State lost by 9 points the last time he watched them on tv so they were definitely NOT going to be moving on. 

Fun learning extension: As a family, watch these 25 Greatest Moments in NCAA History. Who doesn’t love a good buzzer beater shot?

Coin Toss:

Who this is good for: All ages

Lest we forget a good ol’ fashioned coin toss to settle a score. One team is heads, the other is tails. Toss the coin. Declare a winner. 

Fun learning extension: Graph how many times you rolled “heads” and how many times you rolled “tails.” 

Sky or Ground:

Who this is good for: All ages, but great for infants and toddlers

If the child “touches the sky,” their pick is the team on the top of the bracket. If they “touch the ground,” they want to team on the bottom. And…….. REPEAT. Short. Sweet. Kinesthetic. Fun. Even grown-ups are going to want to get in on this bracket-picking exercise!

No matter how you decide to spend this March Madness season, involve your family. Use this great sport as an excuse to bond over basketball and popcorn. Laugh as your picks get beat out the first round. Shout triumphantly when your 16th seed pick advances. Banter. Enjoy. 

Sites used in this article include ESPNNCAA, No Time For Flashcards, Yes Coloring, Mr. Printables, Waterproof Paper, Bleacher Report, Printable Team Schedules.

Photo Credits: Mojitos & Munchkins, Gizmodo


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