What We Can Learn from the Williams Sisters' Rivalry

The tennis champions' sibling rivalry is an inspiring display of healthy competition fueled by love—something we should strive to instill in our own children.
Lev Radin and Leonard Zhukovsky for Shutterstock

 Sibling rivalries. We talk about them a lot here at Parents. When there's a new baby coming, how do you prepare the soon-to-be big sib? Then, how do you get the kids to stop fighting all the time?

On the other hand, sports thrive on rivalries. Yankees vs. Red Sox. Michigan vs. Ohio State. Federer vs. Nadal. Yet none is more compelling to me than the rivalry I witnessed at this year's U.S. Open tennis tournament: Venus Williams vs. Serena Williams. It's the ultimate matchup, not just because the competitors are both incredible, but because they are sisters. Sisters who play as teammates in women's doubles but faced off for the 27th time on Tuesday night, in the Open's ladies' singles quarterfinals.

The media goes wild each time the women meet up, pressing them—with question after question—to describe what it feels like to compete against one another. You figure they must get sick of trying to explain the inexplicable. That one's success means the other's failure. That while some siblings might want to best each other or show the other who's boss, when Venus and Serena play there is a hint of sadness. The internal emotional struggle—wanting to win, but not wanting to defeat the opponent—is what makes their story so fascinating, but also inspiring.

I interpret the bittersweetness as a sign of deep love—the kind support many parents try to cultivate between their children. I never played the same sport as my brother and sister growing up, but we did all sing, dance, and act. Luckily, we were never up for the same roles (my sister is 5 years younger), but I did compare myself to them—and they probably did the same. Still, whenever they snagged the role, or nailed a solo, my heart just burst with pride.

It's not so different with the Williams sisters. I saw the evidence on the court. In the second set, the girls got into a rough-and-tumble rally that ended when the elder Venus bolted a forehand down the line that Serena returned into the net. What did Serena do? She blew her sister a kiss as if to say, Well played, Sis. You could feel the deep mutual respect.

Maybe it's because they've been playing each other since they were kids—always pushing each other to be better. It's important the siblings see each other as aides to success, rather than obstacles. In fact, Venus told me that her advice to young kids who grow up competing with their siblings is to "Enjoy the moment, try your best, and keep practicing."

Therein lies the balance that parents can aim for: healthy competition fueled by love. As Venus said of Serena, "We've always taken care of each other, and that goes for the rest of my family and my sisters...no matter what." As a parent, it's important to raise children who value each other. From the toddler who hugs his sister when she cries to the teenager who cheers on her little sib at his first school concert, we need to encourage our children to comfort and celebrate each other.

So although the Williams' mother, Oracene Price, reportedly chose not to watch the match because of its emotional toughness, I think she has a lot to be proud of. Two daughters. Two grand slam champions. It may make for a lot of great headlines, but it makes for an even better sisterhood.

Ruthie Fierberg is an editorial assistant at Parents. Though she does not have children of her own, she's practically been raising kids since her first babysitting job at age 11. She is also our resident theater aficionado and has interviewed more than 50 celeb parents. Follow her on Twitter: @RuthiesATrain.

Image: Lev Radin (Venus Williams) and Leonard Zhukovsky (Serena Williams) for Shutterstock

Whether you're firstborn, middle child, last-born, or only child, birth order can have a big effect on your personality and behavior.

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