Siblings In Sport

By Matt J.

When looking at sibling relationships in sport, it amazes me when parents create competitors among their children. I grew up with two brothers who were the same age. We were never on opposing teams. But recently, I watch a clip from Toddlers in Tiaras in which the mother speaks on how one child is better than the other. It brings up the question on what motivates the parents to make choices that pit siblings against each other.

In addition to experiences when children compete against each other, are situations where they compete together. When attending high school, the amount of pressure put on my brothers and I was unbearable at times. We had a rare situation of three brothers in grade 11 who were on the same team, but also our older brother was on the team. If one of us under performed then that son was singled out and compared to his brothers.

I also experienced pressure from having a former Olympic athlete as a step father and an uncle who played football at both Mount Allison University (Sackville, NB) and Acadia (Wolfville, NS). In this situation, I not only got measured against my siblings, but also got compared to other family members as well. I feel this would cause a lot of issues within the family. My family seemed to be the exception because we are a blended family. Not being the biological son of a former Olympian made it a bit easier to deal with the hype.

So my belief is that parents must keep the children on the same team. This would allow the children to be seen more easily as equals rather than competitors. The children could not only play together, but it will aid them in acquiring developmental assets.

When parents see children as competitors rather than teammates, it could cause issues with the relationships within the family. Parents like those showcased in Toddlers and Tiaras must re-evaluate how they treat the child they perceive as the “lesser” of the two siblings. Differential treatment can not only damage the child, but can hinder the development of assets. So, as a society, I feel we need to help the siblings by not have them compete against each other.

Other readings:

Davis, N., W., Meyer, B. B. (2008). When sibling becomes competitor: A qualitative investigation of same-sex sibling competition in elite sport. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 20(2), 220-235.

http://www.gridironnewbrunswick.org/hsnews08wk8.html (Brothers are Royal family of football)

This entry was posted in 40 Developmental Assets, Children, Positive Youth Development, Sport. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Siblings In Sport

  1. l8q90 says:

    When I was younger my parents tried to encourages both my sister and I to play sports, but never against each other. My sister is three years younger than I am, and my parents constantly encouraged me to help motivate her, and vice versa. Hearing your sibling cheer for you from the sidelines has a different effect than it coming from your parents. You know that your parents have to cheer for you, just like they have to love you no matter what, but your siblings don’t. I always felt as though my sister actually meant it when I heard her cheering for me. My sister and I could never play against or with each other in sport, so we worked together to facilitate the others improvement. I would try and teach her a few things that I had learned and she would cheer as loud as she could and give me a big high five after the game. I think this makes a huge difference in the way the game is seen by youth with siblings.

  2. colleendaly says:

    I completely agree. Siblings have an opportunity to share a strong bond, and it can be ruined by jealousy of one being “better” than the other. I am lucky enough to have a brother who is two years older than me. When we were kids we would have a one on one game every night after school. But since we were opposite sex’s we never played on the same team, therefore there was no comparing of who was better. We would compete in basketball every single night on the driveway at our home, however on the weekends we would go to each others games and be each others number one fans.
    Parents also have a role in decreasing the jealousy of their children. Parents are supposed to love their children equally. Never should they say one is better than the other. This does not contribute to their childrens development, and it makes them compete more with one another and be jealous of eachothers successes rather than support and be happy when his or her sibling does well at something.
    Siblings have a great bond, yet it is very fragile. Parents should make every one of their children feel special and loved, not just their best athlete or their smartest child feel special. In order to foster positive youth development, parents need to reassure all of their children that they are unique individuals, and just because their brother is a very good athlete does not mean that they themselves need to be. Everyone is different, and in order to prevent sibling rivalry, children need to be treated equally by their parents.
    Colleen D

  3. b3emf says:

    I find it interesting that siblings are often viewed as competitors against one another, maybe its because my brother is two years older than myself and that we never really competed against or with each other but I always viewed him as a role model / mentor in our sport. Of course there were times when it felt as though we may have been fighting for our parents attention, I never felt as though he was seen as a better athlete than myself or visa versa. So participating in sport gave us something in common to bond over not only between us as siblings but my family in general. If anything participating in the same sport as my brother made me a better athlete, I never felt a sibling rivalry so much as trying to show to everyone that I could compete just as well being a girl in a boy’s league.
    Sam.B.

  4. I think every family situation can be different based on the number of children in the family, their relationship with each other (biological or step-siblings), and the number of years separating them. In my family, I’m the middle child with two sisters. My older sister is two years older than myself (24) and my younger sister is six years younger (15, with a late birthday). I had a bit of a competitive spree with my older sister because we were close in age and my personality was to always try and do better than her. We had some clashes through piano recitals but since I was the only boy in the family I kind of got to go my own way with sports while my older sister stuck to more creative pursuits like painting. On the other hand, I’ve never had a competitive desire with my younger sister, with six years between us. From that age gap I think I am more of a role model to her and try to encourage her. I mean, there’s always the possibility that she might think she’s living in the shadow of my older sister and I but if that’s the case, it doesn’t show. There are so many variables in every family situation that it’s hard to pinpoint recurring competitive natures. I assume this would make it hard for parents to identify the problem if it’s even happening in the first place.

    Mackenzie M.

  5. JosiahM says:

    I agree with Matt, the best way to grow siblings who play with each other is through positivity not competition. I didn’t have the luxury of playing organized sports with my younger brothers. They are in Grades 10 and 12 right now, so they’ve been able to play together on some basketball teams. I was always jealous of that because I enjoyed playing with them in pickup games. When we play I give them pointers and encouragement, I feel like it’s my job as the older brother. It would be awesome to compete alongside my brothers, I think it would have helped create stronger bonds between us. We are still close, but there is the potential to be that much closer in terms of family support (40 developmental assets). I still try to go watch their basketball or volleyball games when I’m home from school and encourage them afterwards, which I hope makes them feel supported. They grew up being dragged to my games their whole lives, I might as well show up and be their biggest fans!
    Josiah M

  6. daleymatt says:

    by: Matt Daley
    Very interesting article and you make some good points. Competition within a family can sometimes cause a lot of problems. Family members are always more competitive with each other then they are with others. It never stays on the court or the playing field. It will go back to house and most times start fights in the house. I know that is how it worked in my house. I agree that it is probably best that we keep siblings on the same team rather than play against each other. This is more important at the younger ages of course because emotions are a lot higher in youth. As we get older and more mature it is easier to compete against siblings and not mention what happens in the games off the field or court.
    I know in my family, my two brothers and I played on the same team in every sport growing up. We rarely competed against each other on a competitive level but we did have our competitions at home. Every day we would challenge each other at sport. We would go to the local basketball court and I would play harder than I would against any other players in the league. Playing on different teams could also cause a problem for self-esteem. If your team loses to yours brothers team every time then people might say that your brother is better then you or other things that could make you feel very worthless. Playing on the same team could be very positive for youth development. Your older brother or sister on the team could be your leader and help teach you everything and help you learn the game. It is never bad to have a sibling that you are close to on the same team. I know playing on the same teams as my brothers was very impacting on me. They always involved me and taught me the proper things to do. They always had my back on and off the court.
    Competition against siblings at a higher level can sometimes get dangerous also. The reason I chose to comment on this post is to talk about this one moment in high school where my two brothers competed against each other. My brothers are identical twins but in their grade 12 year they played for different high schools. During a basketball league game my brothers were guarding each other. I was only in grade 9 so I was sitting on the bench watching. I saw my brother Robby dribbling ball up and my other brother Timmy guarding him. Robby threw an elbow at his face and cut his lip. Timmy then grabbed him and through him to the ground. A full fight broke out between them as everyone watched in amazement. Everyone including the refs knew they were brothers so tried not to interfere. They were both ejected from the game but it did not end there. They both refused to drive home together and then would not talk to each other at the house. When they did a fight would break out. Eventually they got over it and laughed about it. That was the last year that me or my brothers ever played against each other. I agree that an easy way to avoid a case like this is by keeping siblings on the same team.

  7. shupealyssa says:

    I come from a family of five children who at one time or another, engaged in multiple sports. In particular, one commonality was baseball and softball. With my siblings and I fairly close in age, there were a few occasions where we played on the same playing field, court, or ice surface.

    Likewise, I felt the pressure of not performing to my best ability or underperforming and being singled out or compared to my siblings. As the oldest of five, I believe my siblings look up to me as a role model and a leader; the fear of failure or defeat was very stressful.
    I believe it is important for parents to recognize and take appropriate actions such as: don’t play favorites, don’t make comparisons between your children in front of them, reinforce the idea that “everyone is good at something different, and no one is great at everything”, always try to promote cooperation (through activities, chores and tasks that can turn into opportunities for sharing and bonding), and not demonstrating overly competitive behavior, which presents poor role modeling.

    Most importantly, siblings close in age need differentiation to develop their own sense of identity – and when experiences are always matched, this unique awareness is repressed. It is important to focus not on treating children equally, but on treating them fairly and on finding ways to meet their individual needs.

    Great article!

    Alyssa S

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