Having more than one gymnast in the family means managing multiple practice schedules, having the seats in your car covered in chalk, and your weekends devoted entirely to meets, but it could also mean dealing with sibling rivalry, especially if your gymnasts progress at different rates or have different levels of success. How can you help your kids maintain a healthy, supportive relationship with each other while they compete in the same intense sport?
Appreciate the Benefits
Rachel Hofseth of Houston, Texas has three daughters in the development program; Addisyn, a 15 year-old level 10, Emree, a 13 year-old level 9, and Quinn, a 10 year-old who just finished level 6. Hofseth shares that a huge benefit is having all of her kids in the same place.
“I talk to parents who are running in all different directions with different sports schedules, and it’s such a blessing to have them in one place,” says Hofseth. “It’s also nice because being in the same sport gives them so much to talk about. So many conversations revolve around gymnastics!”
Shivani Cotter has found similar benefits in having her daughters, Talia, 15, and Julia, 14, competing in the same sport. Both girls are level 10 gymnasts training elite at Brestyan’s American Gymnastics Club in Burlington, Mass., and in such a competitive sport Cotter has found it extremely helpful for her girls to have each other to lean on.
“They are each other’s rock and sounding board,” says Cotter. “This sport has brought them so close. They are best friends and they each genuinely want the other to do well.”
Sure, plenty of siblings compete in the same sport, but there does seem to be something about gymnastics that brings siblings even closer together. The long hours spent in the gym, the challenge of gaining new skills, and the need to navigate the mental aspect of the sport often seems to create an environment where siblings turn toward each other for support.
“Julia and Talia see themselves as individuals, so they haven’t had any rivalry in gymnastics, but learn so much from each other and are able to trust and encourage each other. Having a sister in the gym who can watch a routine and give honest feedback has been a big benefit,” says Cotter.
When you have more than one child in the same sport it can be tempting to compare their skills and abilities but comparing them is likely to lead to jealousy and increase sibling rivalry.
“My husband and I focus on each of their strengths, and we never compare them,” says Cotter. “We’ve always supported them individually and we don’t say that one is better at a skill or an event or pit them against each other in any way. And it would have been a mistake if we had made any comparisons in the early days because strengths and weaknesses shift and change over the years in this sport.”
Hofseth and her husband have taken a similar approach and have always avoided comparing their daughters’ skills.
“We’ve never compared them,” she says. “We don’t discuss each other’s score or places with them. They each have their own unique strengths and we celebrate each victory individually.”
Each gymnast is on his or her own path, and by focusing on your children’s individual journey you can minimize the feeling of competition between them.
Praise Effort, Not Achievement
It’s wonderful to see your child on the top of the podium, but avoid focusing on scores or awards, and instead praise your kids for their effort and improvements. In gymnastics sometimes one age group is more competitive than another, and sometimes your child’s very best effort scores below what they scored at the last meet—recognize what they did well on during their routines rather than where they placed.
“We support their attitude and mindset rather than focusing on their skills or winning,” Hofseth says. “My husband and I both come from a team sports background, and we understand the struggles, so we tell them, ‘This is work, and it’s not always going to be fun, but it is going to be worth it’.”
This approach celebrates progress that has nothing to do with trophies, but everything to do with staying positive in a competitive environment.
Cotter notes that over their years in gymnastics her daughters have had seasons where one sister is winning meets while the other is recovering from injury and unable to compete.
“It’s hard as a parent to see one struggle, or to watch one getting ready to compete when the other is injured, but we remind them that it’s a marathon, not a sprint and that they are each on their own path,” says Cotter. “We emphasize how getting through an injury or fears make them stronger. Rest allows you to regroup, and setbacks let you focus on what you can still do. So, we stay on a positive, forward moving path, and the girls support each other through the tough times.”
Spend Time Together Outside of the Gym
Gymnastics is a time-consuming sport, but it doesn’t have to consume your kids’ entire lives. Make time for a family bike ride or hike. Check out the local mini-golf, or art museum, or plan a family game night. Having fun, family time outside of the gym allows your kids explore other interests and talents outside of gymnastics, which can also help reduce rivalry between them and create lifelong memories independent of their sport. Finding some one-on-one to spend with each of your children allows them to see that you value them as individuals.
Having multiple gymnasts in the house may be busy, but it can also be something that truly helps your kids cement their sibling bond and learn how to be there for each other through the highs and lows that will come along even after their gymnastics journeys are over.
Jen Kula is a Massachusetts based writer, and mom to two gymnasts. She has published one novel, has worked for several magazines and websites including; MetroSports Boston magazine, Appalachian Mountain Club Outdoors Magazine, and Babyzone.com, and has an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College.