My brother is just sixteen months younger than I am, and it’s fair to say we grew up being quite competitive with each other.
We would argue about who took the better catch in backyard cricket, or who scored more goals playing ‘HORSE’ around the basketball hoop. I’d like to say things have changed now we are adults, but others in the family would probably tell you that the ‘friendly’ game of table-tennis at Christmas time can still get pretty heated.
But when we weren’t competing, we were in cooperation with each other. We would kick a footy between us, seeing how many consecutive marks we could take. We went off to sports games together and often played on the same team.
I was the only girl at my local cricket club, and probably would never have gone along without my brother’s quiet support. It also helped that I knew the boys were not going to tease me while he was around.
This was certainly the case for me, but there are also examples of brother-sister sporting pairs at the elite level. Recently it was announced Jess Trengrove is headed to the Rio Olympics to compete in the marathon.
Her brother, Jack, is an AFL player for Melbourne. The Trengroves show each other a lot of support and have helped each other through tough times, particularly as they have both suffered foot injuries.
Another example is the Tippetts, siblings who started out in basketball and made the switch to other sports. Gretel is now a star netballer with the Queensland Firebirds, and her brothers Kurt and Joel play in the AFL.
In the past, Gretel has said that she looks up to her brothers who are her “sporting idols”. Rightly or wrongly, Kurt has suggested that Gretel’s success stems from her days in the backyard, when she was treated “as one of the boys” in neighbourhood contests.
Sam Kerr has become a household name after the Matildas’ record finish at the Women’s World Cup in 2015, so she probably doesn’t have to worry about being introduced as “Daniel Kerr’s sister” anymore. But Daniel was also a star in his time, playing AFL for the West Coast Eagles.
There are other examples: Sara and Bernard Tomic, Bianca Giteau and Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin, and Liz and Matthew Watson.
But you get the idea; a number of our women athletes also have brothers who are equally sporty, and seem to have provided them with competition, encouragement, and support.
Of course, it’s not just brothers and sisters who sometimes make it to the big league from the one family. We can also point to brother combinations like the Waughs, Marshes, Scotts and Selwoods, or sisters such as the Lannings or Campbells.
It seems that sporting families are actually quite common. Perhaps the so-called sibling effect is part of a more complex environment which fosters participation.
In fact, studies show that parents are critical to girls taking part in sport. Both how active parents are themselves, and how much they are involved in their children’s sport, are important factors. If parents are playing their own sport, and encouraging their kids to do so, sport becomes the norm in the household.
The sibling effect may be real, but it may well be a product of parents creating a family environment where sport is valued. For girls this is especially important because if they have positive experiences of sport when they are young, they are much more likely to continue to participate throughout the rest of their lives.
Certainly the athletes we have already talked about seem to have positive experiences of sport at home. Gretel Tippett might look up to her brothers, but she has also called her parents her “biggest supporters”.
Jess Trengrove’s brother might play footy, but she has also explained how both her parents were active in a variety of sports. Sam Kerr’s brother was an AFL player, but she has spoken about how in fact her whole family is “big on sport”.
Whether our parents play sport, how they talk about it, and whether they encourage us, are clearly critical to our participation.
It might have been my brother there by my side on the cricket field as a kid, but it was my mum who drove us to all the games, and my dad who taught me to bowl an in-swinger just like he showed my brother.
If we are serious about encouraging girls to participate in sport, it’s not just about what they do at school, what their friends are playing, or who they see on television. It’s also about what happens at home.
Of course this doesn’t mean if your family isn’t particularly sporty or if you’re an only child you won’t have success with, or enjoy, sport yourself. But what it does mean is that we need to make sure girls get positive messages about sport at home.