Mike's Mailbag: Sibling Rivalries


By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

Every Monday I answer questions from swimmers around the country. If you have any questions, email me at swimmingstories@gmail.com.


I am sixteen and I recently started swimming with the senior training group at my pool. I have been swimming since I was six, and I have been only training really competitively since the beginning of summer. However, at the beginning of the school year my two younger sisters began swimming with the same group, and they are both better than me! Why?? Because of my age I have obviously put way more hours into the pool, including hard summer training when they only swam with a rec league. Starting late, I realized that I would be unable to compare with the elite kids my age, and I was okay with that. But why are my younger sisters so much better than me? How can I stay motivated?

-Stressed Sibling

Hi Stressed Sibling,

I understand that it’s frustrating watching someone younger than you become better. Just like you said: You put in more hours, so shouldn’t you be faster?

Unfortunately, it just doesn’t always work out that way. If everyone could drop time and score a personal best every single swim, we’d all be Olympic gold medalists. What’s more important than winning Olympic gold is just trying to achieve your own personal best, the personal best that you are meant to accomplish.

But there’s a bigger lesson here:

Your sisters’ success should not deter you. You should be rooting for them!

Growing up, my older sister and I were competitive. We competed in swimming a few times, and I always, always wanted to beat her. Looking back now, I’m not sure why. Maybe because she was the closest person around me, and I was very unsure of myself, where I stood within the family ranks and society in general. So I felt if I could beat her, I could beat anyone.

Unfortunately, when you root against the people closest to you, it does nothing but add tension and friction.

There are a lot of people in this world who actually do want to beat you--people who wish for your failure, people who want you to trip, stumble, and fall. Your family does not want this for you. Your family wants you to succeed, to win, to triumph. Your family, both now, and in the future, should be the one group of people you can count on. You should have each other’s backs.

And having each other’s backs means rooting for them. I understand that you’re frustrated because younger swimmers are beating you. But you wrote specifically about your own sisters, which shows me that you’re not necessarily all that pleased they are beating you. They might annoy you, you might get in fights with them, and maybe you guys don’t get along right now. That’s OK. You will get along one day, maybe even be best friends. And you’ll look back and laugh at how you were upset they could beat you in swim practice. But right now, you should be the older sister, be the role model, and teach them how to be supportive. This means helping them with their own swimming, cheering for them, and being happy for their success.

It’s OK to wonder why you aren’t as fast as they are. Your sisters might be faster because maybe they started when you started – thus starting sooner. Maybe they saw you swimming and began thinking about it at a younger age. Maybe they just have a certain body type that allows them, right now, to propel themselves through the water in a more efficient way. I know it seems to matter a lot right now, but in the grand scheme of life, your sisters beating you in swimming isn’t the worst thing in the world. Someone will always beat you. Unless you’re Michael Phelps, there will always, always be someone faster than you. That’s just how swimming goes. It shouldn’t affect your relationship with them.

Instead of comparing yourself to your own brothers and sisters, you should worry about yourself. Don’t compare yourself to your own family. Instead, root for them, just like you’d want them to root for you. Your younger sisters see you as an example of how to lead oneself. If you cheer for them, they will cheer for you.

Hang in there. Don’t let it get to you. If it does, take some deep breaths and remember that your family is the one group in this world who will have your back. If your younger sister beats you in a race, high five her, congratulate her, hug her, tell her nice job. She probably looks up to you, and even though it might frustrate you not to win, you being there for her means one day, when you need her, she’ll be there for you, too.  

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