Effects of Sibling Relationships on a Young Athlete’s Development

Parents are advised to adapt a process-based approach and treat the children as individuals and not compare them at any stage, especially on the basis of results or outcomes.

Sibling relationships play a crucial role in child’s psychological development as they are considered amongst the longest lasting relationship in a person’s life. Factors ranging from a child’s characteristics to cultural values shape this relationship. Siblings directly influence one another’s development when they serve as social partners, role models for each other3. Generally, the younger siblings observe their older brothers/sisters and imitate their behaviour. Older siblings provide emotional support to their younger siblings. On the other hand, siblings are often the likely targets for social comparisons by parents, neighbours, coaches and relatives both within and outside of the sport. 

There is a natural tendency for competition amongst the siblings in diverse areas of life. The children often compete to gain attention and get appreciation from their parents. This competition can either take up the positive form of support and encouragement or a negative form of jealousy and grudges amongst them4. A positive form of competition amongst the siblings can teach them cooperation, handling conflicts and managing anger. 

Parents should often keep in mind, not to emphasize on successes or outcomes. The emphasis on the performance results will lead to frustration and disappointment for the sibling who was not able to perform as well as their sibling. Praising the hard work and effort put in by the child despite the performance results will benefit him/her in persevering in the face of difficulty and failures, increasing their sense of control over their performance.

Often, favouritism amongst the siblings is the major cause of a negative rivalry. In these cases, parents should recognise when they play as favourites for one of the siblings. Sometimes, it just happens naturally as the parents unknowingly support one of the siblings more than the other. For instance, one of the parent getting more involved with a sibling’s interests in cricket, rather than other sibling’s interest in badminton. Parents should balance their involvement levels between their children.

One of the most common cause for a negative athlete rivalry is direct comparisons amongst them. For example, the coach’s statements like “Your sister has more power in her smashes” or “You should learn from your brother, he was sincere in his trainings” may seem complimentary, but they can have detrimental effects on the sibling and should be avoided. Instead of direct comparisons amongst the siblings by parents or coaches, the individual differences should be acknowledged. Coaches should be aware of the ways siblings influence one another and utilise strategies that encourage athletes to experience individual success.

It is natural for siblings to compete against each other, whether it’s a fight over a remote control, or who has a better shot. A positive and healthy competition amongst them will always reinforce good values and behaviours amongst the children. While a negative rivalry amongst siblings will cause a disruption in their sporting performance and create a negative environment for the child, also hampering the child’s development. As parents and coaches your job is to support your children equally and encourage healthy levels of competition.

1. Blazo, J. A., Czech, D. R., Carson, S., & Dees, W. (2014). A qualitative investigation of the sibling sport achievement experience. The Sport Psychologist, 28(1), 36-47.
2. Conger, Katherine Jewsbury, and Laurie Kramer. “Introduction to the special section: Perspectives on sibling relationships: Advancing child development research.” Child Development Perspectives 4, no. 2 (2010): 69-71.
3. McHale, S. M., Updegraff, K. A., & Whiteman, S. D. (2012). Sibling Relationships and Influences in Childhood and Adolescence. Journal of marriage and the family, 74(5), 913-930.
4. Osai, K. V., & Whiteman, S. D. (2017). Family Relationships and Youth Sport: Influence of Siblings and Parents on Youth’s Participation, Interests, and Skills. Journal of Amateur Sport, 3(3), 86-105.
5. Allbaugh, C. N., Bolter, N. D., & Shimon, J. M. (2016). Sibling Influence on Physical Activity and Sport Participation: Considerations for Coaches. Strategies, 29(4), 24-28.

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