Prep Sports

Sibling rivalry can be a good thing in youth sports

Justis: But how parents handle it is key

Two brothers share time together in this file photo, one playing football while other acts a manager. Keeping siblings busy while watching their older brothers or sisters play is key. (The Gazette)
Two brothers share time together in this file photo, one playing football while other acts a manager. Keeping siblings busy while watching their older brothers or sisters play is key. (The Gazette)

Our eldest grandson has competed in sports for at least the last four or five years.

He’s 11 now and is in his third year of travel basketball. He played his first year of tackle football last fall. He also has tried soccer and baseball, but those sports have gone by the wayside.

He knows what he likes.

His younger brother will turn 9 in March. He also tried soccer, baseball and, last fall, flag football for the first time. He has taken two years of golf lessons and joined the local youth track club this past year. He plans on participating in flag football, golf and track again this year. He also takes guitar lessons.

The youngest is just coming into his own in terms of playing sports and tends to like the less physical games the best. Being the youngest, he has spent a lot of time following his older brother around to games. Basketball can be the most time intensive because of travel and the fact three games are played in one day.

We aren’t the only family where siblings have to tag along to watch brothers and/or sisters play. Recently I have become more aware of how these other kids spend those long hours in crowded, noisy gymnasiums.

The surprising answer is they do relatively well. Many bring their iPads or smartphones. Over the years, all the kids have become friends and somehow find places to run off steam. They tend to stick together so no one child is left to fend for themselves. Even so, there are days when there is angst and boredom. Overall, however, activities are found to help pass the time.

Thankfully, in our family, both kids have found what fits them best. Both have seen a lot of success in their own endeavors. They are having fun.

Parents, however, need to be careful how they navigate these busy times. It can be so easy to show preferential treatment to one child over another, to fall into the abyss of heaping praise and accolades on one child while the other creeps into the background.

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None of this is intentional. But it can affect the self-confidence of the child taking the back seat.

Parents need to be sure to share time equally, including conversation. All should be valued for their individual strengths.

Here are some tips for parents to help treat each child equally.

1. Try not to turn the house into a shrine. Both of our grandsons have their own medal/trophy shelves. Messages should be shared on social media in near equal frequency.

2. Balance time and resources to each child. Share duties and spend time with each child whatever their interest.

3. Spend time on activities and interests away from sports where everyone can be involved.

4. Eat meals as a family and allow each member to discuss their day.

Hopefully there are two parents and two cars in the sporting family which can help in the sharing of the burden. If that is not the case, and the sibling needs to attend all events and training sessions, allow the “inactive” child to have a voice in how their time may be spent.

Make their time as comfortable as possible with their devices, books, snacks and drinks. Promise them a special activity later. Is there something nearby to the venue that can occupy their time?

With more than one child it can be difficult to provide the same opportunities for each.

Understand that this time in a parent’s life can be more than hectic but it won’t last forever.

You are building memories.

In our family, the roles have been reversed on certain Saturdays. The eldest grandson is following his younger brother around to activities. He should reciprocate if possible. It will only benefit his brother to see his older sibling supporting and encouraging. In fact, the oldest has helped “coach” and gives pointers.

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Dr. Linda Sterling, a member of the Northwest Missouri State’s Behavioral Sciences Department, said in an article that “sibling rivalry in sport can actually be a good thing.

“Rivalries that are in the spirit of healthy competition may motivate the young athletes to work hard, set goals and improve their skills.

“Sibling rivalry becomes unhealthy when it leads to a win-at-all costs mind-set or interferes with the family. Studies have shown that negatively perceived sibling rivalries lead to sport burnout and dropout (rates). Sports don’t inherently result in fulfilling, character‐building experiences. The quality of leadership from parents and coaches are important to a healthy sport experience.”

Other tips for making sibling youth sports a memorable experience include focusing encouragement on effort instead of outcome. When a sibling does not perform as well as the brother or sister, they may become frustrated or upset. By focusing on the effort they put into their performance instead of outcome, athletes learn from failure which give them a sense of control over how they perform.

Finally, set rules for your own behavior. Make your expectations of the children’s actions clear. Tell them to leave their sports attitudes on the field, not bringing them home.

l Nancy Justis is a former competitive swimmer and college sports information director. She is a partner with Outlier Creative Communications. Let her know what you think at njustis@cfu.net

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