Swimming with Siblings: Rivalry vs. Camaraderie

As the oldest in my family, I have seen and experienced both sides of competition among siblings. The competition between my brother and I has had intense moments, such as when he beat me for the first time. However, it has also been incredibly constructive. By constantly supporting each other and being each other’s loudest cheerleaders on the pool deck, we make each other better. It’s important to consider the negative and positive aspects of sibling rivalry, and how to make the most of it.

Even beyond athletics, siblings always seem to be competing for something. It could be something like the attention of parents, or simply the last piece of bread at dinner. However, siblings participating in the same activities brings about a new level of competition.

Swimming is a sport that frequently becomes a family affair. Children who used to spend time in the stands watching older siblings often join them in the pool at some point. This could create an enjoyable spectacle for parents and a bonding experience for the athletes, as the younger siblings follow in the footsteps of older siblings that they look up to as role models. As they progress through the sport, however, the competition between siblings has the potential to become something very personal.

Negative sibling rivalry

A dangerous characteristic of sibling rivalry is the defining of a relationship with a sibling solely based on competition. It is common for one sibling to gloat and feel superior after a better practice than the other, beating them in a meet, qualifying for a higher-level meet, or breaking more records – all at the expense of the other sibling’s sense of self and ability to improve. Such poisonous tendencies often translate into and impact life outside of swimming in a negative way for those involved. This often results in excessive bickering, hurt feelings, and a wavering sense of self-esteem.

Additionally, just because siblings are not currently competing directly, does not mean that a negative rivalry can’t exist. For example, one sibling in college might hope that their younger sibling doesn’t commit to “as big of a school” as they did. A high school swimmer may wish that their sibling excelling in club swimming eventually fails. A former swimmer may not be able to accept that their younger sibling is on the cusp of breaking their records.

The list of examples that fuel a dangerous sibling rivalry, as well as their various consequences, are endless. Yet, all raise a simple question: Why are people so often fueled by pride and jealousy when it comes to sibling competition?

The problem with comparing

Relative comparison is inevitable growing up with siblings. People know what makes each one different, and often mention it in casual conversation.

When something like swimming evolves into a large part of a person’s life, it becomes easy to use it as a measure of self-worth. A person may be characterized based on their success in the pool. Unfortunately for swimmers with siblings, such “success” is often perceived in comparison to the achievements of their siblings. This can lead to additional negative sibling rivalry. Not only are siblings competing against each other for pride and prowess, but also for attention, accolades and a sense of superiority when it comes to the opinions of those they care about.

However, sibling rivalry doesn’t have to create a negative experience for athletes, their teams or their families.

Building camaraderie amidst the competition

Although it sounds cliché, all swimmers must remember that swimming is not who you are, it’s something that you do. Keeping that in mind is key when it comes to making the most of sibling rivalry in the pool. Additionally, everybody is gifted with unique talents and abilities. In the end, somebody will always excel further than others in different aspects of life.

Despite this, having siblings that swim creates some amazing opportunities! Swimming with siblings can foster a stronger relationship that will last a lifetime in and out of the pool. Not only is this constructive for siblings, but for everybody around them.

A competitive edge can create a positive training atmosphere, in which siblings can motivate each other at every workout. Embracing a “family team” mindset can lead to enhanced leadership opportunities, as siblings can work together to help cultivate a positive team culture. Unconditional support increases the success of siblings, in which each hope for nothing but the best for the other(s). Considering the countless additional examples, embracing sibling rivalry in this way makes for a more enjoyable experience. Those involved will see success as a result of coming together, rather than letting the competition be divisive.

In my personal experience, swimming with my siblings has given me a sense of family pride. The team I have formed with my siblings is the one I consider to be the most important. Taking advantage of the opportunities that arise from swimming with siblings can help create lifelong memories, unparalleled success, and a legacy that wouldn’t be possible without working alongside the people who are your biggest competitors, yet greatest friends.

So next time the competition heats up, make your family vs. the rest of the competition. Be excited about what can be accomplished together.

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My twin sister and I do occasionally fight during practice but it is usually actually unrelated to swimming and once it comes to meets its complete support in both directions. Sometimes we get along better in practice than other places because we are some of the only girls. In other sports, we are actually a little more competitive but still support each other.

Auntie Prudy

Joey, what an excellent article you have written! I’m so happy to know you have this opportunity to express yourself, and share with others.
I have watched you and your siblings grow up. Your parents have done a wonderful job instilling good sportsmanship in all of you. It still depends on the child. I have felt you and Ben have been behind each other.
I was so impressed at how you handed the medical information that could change your life’s direction. It wasn’t easy, but you had your family behind you, and your confidence in yourself.
You go Jo! You know our family here in Illinois loves the heck out of you! Keep writing, and make sure we see it!
Love, Auntie Prudy

About Joey Puglessi

Joey Puglessi

A Grand Rapids, MI native, Joey began swimming for the Rapids Area YMCA (RAYS) at 8 years old and eventually swam for Grand Rapids Catholic Central High School. He is passionate about leadership and using his experiences to help build the swimming community. All three of his younger siblings swim …

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