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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on every Monday. A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom." 
Opinions expressed on the US Youth Soccer Blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of US Youth Soccer.


Sibling Rivalry

Susan Boyd

Two weeks ago my grandson won his big game, making his team the champions of their town. A week later his brother lost his big game, denying his team the championship. That loss was made all the more bitter when framed in the light of his younger brother's victory. His injured pride had suffered the double-whammy of a loss and having to listen to his brother's bragging rights. Closer to home, my oldest son's team continues to win in its drive to a championship and my youngest son's team continues to lose. Additionally Bryce, the older son, plays every minute of every game and Robbie only plays about 30 to 40 minutes a game. Talk about sibling rivalry. No matter if they are pre-teens, teens, or post-teens, being on the losing end of a competition isn't easy. Handling our children's disappointment can be complicated since we usually have our own disappointment festering in the background. Add a second child having success into the mix gives you an uncomfortable and difficult situation.
While we understand as parents that every loss will be offset later with a win and vice versa, kids don't have the experience and therefore the context to be so wise. Kids just see others succeeding while they are not. When it is a brother or sister who is achieving success, it makes the defeats all the more defeating. Experts suggest not focusing on wins and losses but on hard work. You should support a big win and show your pride in that success, but you also should shift your continuing praise to the good performance of skills and effort the child showed in that win. That way when a sibling loses a game, you can commiserate on the loss, but then shift again to those excellent qualities your child exhibited in that loss. The praise becomes about the process rather than the product, which allows you to give equal support in an unequal situation.
Additionally, you want to avoid comparing your children. Don't talk about how well Johnny dribbles and then say, ""Hopefully Susie you can soon dribble as well as Johnny."" Keep the accomplishments separate. Any rewards for success shouldn't be based on wins and losses. You can develop a point system for working hard in practice, doing something well in a game, and even being a good helper to the coach. When enough points are earned you can go as a family to enjoy a treat like ice cream or a movie. This system lets the child earn a reward which benefits everyone. It should help siblings encourage one another in the pursuit of a reward. I even witnessed my younger grandson telling his parents that his brother had made a good tackle during a game and that he should earn a point for that. Instead of being jealous of his brother, he had a stake in looking out for things to praise.
It's also not surprising following a big loss for a child to express a wish to quit. So much energy gets put into working towards a win, that a loss can mean more than just that loss. Kids can begin to question their abilities, their commitment to the sport, and their teammates. Putting so much of their hopes and dreams on the line again seems overwhelming and unreasonable. Parents should give kids the time to vent. You can certainly be sympathetic without succumbing to reinforcing the negatives. Kids want to shift the blame from themselves to others because that helps diminish their own complicity in the loss. However, no matter how many mistakes others made that may have contributed to the bad outcome, these are your child's teammates, so no one should be a scapegoat. Talk in general about how the team may have faltered or lacked energy, or even better talk about how the other team was just stronger and more skilled today. When talk of quitting comes up, tell your child that the discussion has to be tabled until after a cooling off period of a week or two. If it's the end of the season, then you can't use the commitment card, but you can talk about successes up to that point and remind your child of the fun he or she had during the season. When quitting gets brought up out of jealousy of a sibling's success, then time usually dissipates those impulses as long as the sibling's success isn't overly promoted in the family.
Devastating losses that occur in tandem with monumental successes can have the effect of diminishing a success by putting a damper on the celebration. In this case, sibling rivalry can be resentment from the successful child towards his or her sibling for stealing thunder. Once again, parents have a difficult tight rope to walk in which they give proper respect to the win and proper deference to the loss. When it's a significant win such as a league championship, having a family celebration seems in order. Dwell on the great things each child did respectively for their teams and encourage the one sibling to congratulate his brother or sister on the win. Make sure that both children know that this is a family success because everyone supports one another and therefore shares in the pride. Likewise, when there is a loss, every family member shares in the disappointment, but never loses their respect for the child's abilities. Make sure to reassure both children that your love and pride are not dependent upon wins. You value effort and improvement. Make sure that while wins come and go, commitment, determination, and growth continue to be the ultimate goals. Allow a child to have pride in his or her win, but don't allow smugness. Likewise, allow a child to feel badly about a loss, but don't allow wallowing. Remind them that every season brings new challenges and new opportunities that they can rise to and seize.

Helping children learn to accept their wins humbly and their losses stoically can be a significant life lesson to come from soccer. Helping them to be loving, supportive siblings is even bigger. As parents, we have to set the tone which should be that wins and losses don't define our children's worth. While winning is wonderful and deserves joy and praise, losing will never diminish any child. We can make the case for our children that losing just sets the bar for the next encounter in our lives. By not over-emphasizing the power of a win or a loss to define our children's activities, we set the stage for our kids to share in their siblings' successes and letdowns without making these a reason to compete within the family. Encourage them to place their rivalry on the pitch against their opponents and not in the living room against their siblings. We can express the pride we feel in our children's willingness to train and compete in their sport and in their growth as a player. We will have plenty of opportunities to tell our kids how proud we are of them, even if they never win or even if one wins and one doesn't. They each embody qualities worthy of our praise.