By guest contributor Gordon MacLelland
Have you ever thought as parents how we look after the whole family dynamic when it comes to our children’s sport and most notably the role that siblings play.
We are all too aware of the weekly balancing act of juggling more than one child and trying to make sure that everyone is able to participate in all of the different sports and activities that they wish to, while still trying to maintain some quality family time. It can be incredibly difficult, sometimes it even feels impossible, but there are a number of things that may be able to help us in terms of our preparation and how we are currently feeling about it.
There are a number of possible different relationships that you may encounter as a sporting parent.
Do you have a sibling of a high performance athlete involved in an academy or pathway program?
Do you have a sibling who equally loves and plays their own sport?
Do you have siblings who play the same sport and are potentially in competition with each other?
Whatever, category they may fit into, we have a vital role to play as parents to ensure that all parties within the family unit are happy, valued and within reason get the same amount of time and attention.
Take a moment to reflect and ask yourself, do you as a parent share out your time in equal measures to all of your children including the amount of conversation that you have with each of them?
We have certainly been guilty as a family of prioritizing our older child in terms of overall commitment to training and matches, not on a frequent basis but some of the decisions we made first time around have become far more liberal with second child.
Here are a number of tips that we can use as parents to ensure that we treat each child in equal measure regardless of which category our children may fall into:
- Try not to turn your house into a shrine, likewise on social media, post messages that relate to all of your children.
- Balance both your time and resource to each child. Try to share out the duties as well ensuring both parents spend time with each child whatever their interest
- Ensure that time is spent on activities and interests away from the sporting arena.
- Make time regularly to eat together as a family and give everyone the opportunity to chat about their week.
Sibling of a high performance athlete:
This can be difficult for a sibling due to the huge number of hours that need to be committed to training and events. In an ideal world there will be two parents with two cars who can then share the burden, however this is not always the case and logistics can often prove to be a parents nightmare.
But there are a number of things that we can try to do:
- Involve them in the process. Ask them for their input on how the time can be made most effective for them. They will really value having a voice.
- Make the time as comfortable as possible for them (devices, audiobooks, hot chocolates, drinks, treats and the promise of something for them either that day or later in the week).
- Can you do something in the area with them that links in with the sporting commitment of the other child?
If you do involve them in the process, it does not necessarily mean that you need to bow to all of their demands, but they will at least feel that they have had a voice in the process.
Sibling with equal sporting ability and interests:
Do everything in your power to allow each child the same types of opportunities. Where possible, use other family members to assist and there may be times where it is completely manic. I sat and spoke to my wife about this the other week and we decided that we had to give our children every opportunity and that it was only going to be for a short period of our life, this when we were feeling completely exhausted!
There would be plenty of times for lie ins, Sunday lunches and an immaculate house with no sports gear scattered all over it in the future, but in the meantime we were building so many memories. If you can relate to this, give yourself a pat on the back, keep persevering and enjoy it as much as you can.
Many younger siblings play sport as they aspire to be like their older brother and sister.
Siblings need to be encouraged to give and get support in equal measure. If one has to spend some of the week watching training or matches, do you make the other child reciprocate where possible? It can often be a real boost for a sibling when they see the other one positively supporting and encouraging. It also gives out a great message that everyone’s role is valued.
Siblings can also play a really influential role particularly as an older sibling when helping to support and bring along the younger one. You only have to watch them play to see this. In many instances the older child can often be seen to coach and show the younger child the way forward. Add into this sibling competitiveness, play fighting, and it is no surprise to see younger siblings thrive when it comes to elements of their sporting performance, based on the support given to them by the elder child.
Sibling playing the same sport and potentially in competition with each other:
Whether they play on the same team, compete as opponents or play different sports, each child will seek their parents’ attention and want to be recognized as the better athlete.
“If the siblings already have a rivalry, it isn’t surprising that it extends to youth sports,” says Dr. Linda Sterling, associate professor in the Behavioural Sciences Department at Northwest Missouri State University. “After all, sport is a competitive environment.”
Sibling rivalry in sport can actually be a good thing. Rivalries that are in the spirit of healthy competition can be fun and may motivate the young athletes to work hard, set goals and improve their skills.
However, when sibling rivalry harms your children’s relationships with each other or causes stress within the family, it has become unhealthy.
“Sibling rivalry becomes unhealthy when it leads to a win-at-all-costs mindset or interferes with family functioning,” says Sterling. “Studies have shown that negatively perceived sibling rivalries lead to sport burnout and dropout. Focus on fun, skill development and teamwork. 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. Remember that children are more important than their achievements.”
Tips for making it work:
- Avoid playing favorites. Let’s say you were a rugby player at school. Now, one of your children is a rugby player and another plays tennis. It could be easy to unintentionally give the rugby player more attention since you have experience and memories of that sport in common, leaving the tennis player to feel left out and void of your attention.
Give each sibling support and attention, while keeping in mind each of their specific strengths.
So make sure to take the time to talk to your tennis player about their practices and the skills they’ve learned so that you can connect with them through their sport and understand their passion for it.
2. Focus encouragement on effort instead of outcome. This is important whether or not you have multiple children playing sports who are competitive with each other; however, placing emphasis on effort instead of results can help prevent jealousy among siblings. When an athlete does not perform as well as their sibling they may feel frustrated or upset. By focusing on the effort they put into their performance instead of the outcome, you can help your athlete learn from failure and give them a sense of control over how they perform.
3. Set rules for behaviour. While it’s normal for siblings to tease and taunt each other, you can set some rules to make your expectations of their actions clear. For example, you can tell them to leave their sports-related competition on the field, court or rink (just don’t bring it home!), or to prohibit siblings from making fun of each other for a mistake during a game.
Your family is a team of its own and its cohesiveness shouldn’t be sacrificed to sibling rivalry or scheduling.
Good luck sports parents!