Twins and Sports: Another Case of Twin Discrimination

Awhile back I wrote a post on twin discrimination, that pesky little problem of negative bias against siblings simply because they were born on the same day. In the post, I cited several examples—the contest where neither twin wins because the judges are afraid to choose one twin over the other; the play date or birthday party invitation that never comes because the host won’t take the chance in inviting just one twin.

Recently, however, a friend inadvertently hit upon another form of twin discrimination. This one deals with sports. As the new coach for a middle-school boys’ basketball team, he held tryouts last week. Two boys vying for spots on the team were fraternal triplets (the third triplet is a girl). The problem? Only 15 boys can make the team, and the two triplets were 15 and 16 in ability, one brother slightly better than his cotriplet. My friend paused for a moment before adding, “I think I may have to take them both or eliminate them both.”

My mouth dropped. “You can’t do that!” I said. “It’s not fair to either of those boys or to the rest of the team.” In either situation, I explained, it’s a form of discrimination. If both brothers make the team, when only one is qualified, then another deserving boy will have to be eliminated. Think about the message that you’d then be sending to the triplet who probably knows he isn’t good enough to make the team. Skill doesn’t matter since being a triplet will open the door anyway? On the other hand, if both brothers are cut from the team when one would have clearly made it if he were born a singleton, than you’d be discriminating against him simply because he was born a multiple.

But my friend was not fully convinced. Wouldn’t taking just one create a difficult rivalry between the brothers? “Your boys play tennis,” he said. “What would you do if only one made the team?”

Fraternal twins boys dressed in soccer uniforms.“I’d hug the one who didn’t make the team and tell him how proud I was at his effort, and then I’d congratulate the one who did make the team,” I replied.

As cruel as that may sound to some, it’s an important concept for parents of twins and triplets not only to understand but put into practice as well. If everything in a twin’s life is equal to his cotwin, how are they ever to understand that life isn’t fair? How will they ever develop a “tough skin,” the ability to bounce back when things don’t go their way in the future? What will happen when they grow up, for instance, and one receives a job promotion while the other is unemployed? Should the former not take the job simply because he doesn’t want his brother to feel less-than? Of course not. Yet some parents of multiples go to great lengths to avoid any appearance of inequality for the sake of preserving the twinship. It’s not only wrong but it doesn’t work. They’re not helping their twins develop, grow and mature into two distinct individuals.

My friend nodded in understanding.

So how did he resolve the situation? When I saw him the following week, I asked. He said he decided to call the dad of the boys and explain the situation and ask for his advice.


“He appreciated the phone call but said not to worry,” my friend explained. “He told me to take the boy who is deserving of making the team, and he’ll deal with the boy who isn’t.”

Now that’s a father who understands his sons and how to parent multiples.


33 thoughts on “Twins and Sports: Another Case of Twin Discrimination

  1. Cheryl

    LOVE this post. We’ve experienced the same apprehension…when He-Twin and She-Twin were tested for our school’s GT program, the spprovides onsor approached me in what had to be described as a near panic…

    Immediately I knew one had “qualified” and the other hadn’t. To me, what a GREAT opportunity to focus on individuality! BOTH have great gifts and abilities. They will NEVER be “equal” and things are never “fair.” Coping with—and learning to appreciate—that they have varied skills is a wonderful step in maturation…for them and for me!

    Loved this post, thank you!

    1. Christina Baglivi Tinglof

      Good for you, Cheryl! We, too, had a similar situation (one made GT; the other didn’t). It was a rough couple of days. When I was researching and writing Parenting School-Age Twins and Multiples, a mom told me that when only one of her twins made the gifted program, she declined because the other didn’t get in. I was a bit shocked.

  2. Nanner

    Love, love, LOVE this post! We seem to have developed such a warped idea of what is ‘fair’ today. Perhaps lost in a generation of appeasement? What is fair is knowing the truth, so that each can be aware out his own strengths and weaknesses. Without that, how is he to become all he can be? How do you know which interests and academics to pursue when one is constantly relying on a false or fuzzy sense of achievement or failure?

    1. Christina Baglivi Tinglof

      Wow, very well put! I do believe it’s a bit different for parents of multiples as we’re so afraid of showing preference to one over the other. When everything is “even” then it helps our guilt a bit. Sadly, we don’t really help at all as it does warp our children’s of what they can achieve on their own.

  3. Nanner

    Oh, wanted to understand that a reason I could understand declining to have your kids be on separate teams or activities is if it creates a schedule or logistics that are just too chaotic or something…

  4. Jana

    Thank you so much for your article. I just experienced this exact situation last night. Both my daughters tried out for select soccer, and I knew there was a possibility that only one would make the team. Sure enough, I received a call from the coach who was concerned about choosing only one twin. I was very appreciative of the phone call, but I felt that it wouldn’t be fair to hold one twin back simply because her sister didn’t make the team. My daughter that made the team really wanted to play and I explained to my other daughter that she could continue to play recreational soccer and try out again next year. She was fine with it because I made it okay for both of them. Although I felt good about my decision, my husband did not agree with it and I started to second guess myself until reading your article. Thank you, thank you! I would like to forward to our coach too. Maybe it would make him feel better about having to make these tough calls!

  5. janettepalmer

    This is always hard. My girls were very close in ability – but when they tried out for volleyball their freshman year – they both made JV, but one was chosen to “swing” to Varsity – my Twin that didn’t get chosen was disappointed – I told her I understood, but wasn’t she happy for her sister? – I thought her reply was priceless – “Not right now, but I will be” – and true to her word, she was her sisters biggest fan and support!! They went on to play all four years together in Volleyball, one as a setter, and one as a middle – they played doubles tennis together too, finding their way to State and now play in college! It’s a tough lesson, but one that children do survive and grow from!

    1. Christina Baglivi Tinglof

      Thanks so much for sharing your story! It sounds like both you and your girls handled the situation very well. It’s a mother’s instinct to often try to “fix” situations like this by calling the coach to ask and “make an acception.” (It happens!) Although it hurts to be passed over, it’s a valuable lesson nonetheless.

  6. charlene

    My 5 yr old b/g twins are in the same kindergarten/grade 1 split class. This is their kindergarten yr and my son has excelled and has been invited to participate in the grade 1 spelling & reading. My Daughter is not ready for such an advancement. We openly encourage Drake to excel and although Jadzia reply’s with a sad “oh”, she eventually encourages him as well. I have predicted that Drake will always be in split classes with the higher grade and Jadzia will always remain in her grade without splits. We are okay with that.
    I honestly haven’t felt guilty at all because we have always celebrated and treated them as individuals. I think it’s been easier for us because my one twin is caucasian like me and the other takes after her fathers Indian heritage. They do not look anything alike and people do not automatically know they are twins.

  7. Jeff Cole

    Wish I had read this a few days ago. My wife and I have 7 year old identical twin boys playing Little League for the first time this year. Both played well. One was designated as the 1st baseman and the other worked his tail off to go from Centerfield to Catcher. I am one of the assistant coaches and told the head coach that if one of my boys were selected for All Stars that I would rather not because it would upset the other. He told me today that he made his All Star selections and would have chosen my son, the 1st baseman, had a I not talked to him about it first. I realized how much of a mistake I made by making a decision for my son (on something he earned) rather than allowing both of them to learn a life lesson in that not everything is fair and that we are proud of both of them for their hard work.

    1. Christina Baglivi Tinglof

      Oh, I’m so sorry! Is it too late to undo any of it? The good news, however, is that YOU learned a lesson and your twins are still very, very young. Lots of time to teach them. And it sounds like you’re a great Dad. Give yourself a break. It will all be OK.

  8. Terri

    I am dealing with this exact issue right now. My 8 year old identical twin daughters are soccer stars. They both just finished rep tryouts. My issue is that one made the first cut and the other did not. I am wresting with my emotions right now because I feel horrible for the twin who got cut while being happy for the one who did not. This twin thing is so hard.

    1. Christina Baglivi Tinglof Post author

      I understand! Recently one of my twins made Nat’l Honors Society while the other missed the GPA cut off by .1
      I keep “checking in” with him to see that he’s ok and I know I’m annoying him! I think it bothers me more than it bothers him and I NEED TO LET IT GO!

  9. Neene

    Life isn’t fair and children need to realize that early on. If one twin doesn’t make the team, then they’re going to learn to deal with the disappointment. It happens. As long as the child is rewarded for the effort and time put in, then it’s ok. :)

    1. Christina Baglivi Tinglof Post author

      Exactly. It’s very important that we acknowledge and reward the effort.

  10. Lorna

    I have twin boys who are still very little. I honestly feel that I would have a hard time with this situation with young children competing. I am sure there is an age (I’m thinking middle school) where these lessons are important and children have had more time to determine their interests. However, I would hate to set one twin up for failure before he knows if the activity is something he would like to work hard at being good at. One thing that I have noticed with my boys is that physically one is definitely more of a natural, but the other is more of the determined hard worker. They both eventually get there and sometimes my hard worker even masters things that initially seem to come easier to his brother. I would hate to cut my hard worker short before he’s old enough to put some time into something and damage his self esteem. Life is not fair, but I would really like the opportunity to set a good foundation of a healthy self esteem and brotherly love before teaching that lesson if I can help it. I wouldn’t expect another kid to be undeservingly cut, but I would perhaps look for another program where both could develop their skills together and try again next year. This teaches determination and overcoming obstacles and teamwork. There are tons of little opportunities in life to teach them how unfair things can be. This situation may be put to better use teaching them to not give up on themselves or each other.

    1. Christina Baglivi Tinglof Post author

      At think at that very young age, most sports are inclusive where all kids get to play. No winners; no losers. And that’s the way it should be so that all kids, as you say, have a chance to build their self esteem. We’re talking more about older kids where it does get competitive. And frankly, if you’re going to enter that world (and many parents choose not to push their kids in that direction), than you should expect that at some point, one will “win” while the other doesn’t. And as a parent, you have to be ok with that and help the one who doesn’t succeed bounce back. That said, many parents of older twins encourage their multiples to try different sports so that they’re not competing head to head. Or, if they do the same sport, at least “specialize” in different areas. For instance, my own twins are on track and field together–one is a sprinter, the other is a pole vaulter. They never have to compete against one another but yet they’re on the same team.

  11. Lorna

    It seemed like some posts were referring to community activities, 5 and 8 year olds. I guess for me once they enter school sports (7th grade when I was little), what will be will be. Until then, with all of those community activities, I would just like for them to have fun together. I also have a girl who will be one grade younger, so unless she is on the same team, splitting them up just wouldn’t be possible, and that might be another reason some parents wouldn’t want to split their kids up. My boys have been compared to each other since they were born. They don’t have to enter the world of sports to be disappointed. In almost everything they do one will “win,”which should be celebrated, but we are talking about being cut or not allowed to participate. I wouldn’t make one boy sit and watch his brother have fun because someone said he wasn’t good enough to participate. That would probably be the only option with my family since there are only two of us and three of three of them. Even when they’re in school sports one of the children will not be able to have us there If the boys are split up. If the family dynamics are such that the parents can attend different activities then that’s great, but I am adding that there are different circumstances for different families that may lead to different decisions.

  12. Lorna

    Also, if my boys were 15th and 16th out of 15 in a sport. I might encourage them to try something new that they might be better at and enjoy more instead of having one just ride the bench anyway. Then if they still want to try out again next year there’s always that.

  13. Briana

    Thank for sharing! I’ve run into this so many times with ID males. They are 19 now and were and are still very close in their athletic abilities growing up. The father did the right thing IMO with this situation.
    Good read!!! Thanks again:)

    1. Christina Baglivi Tinglof Post author

      It’s a tough one for sure, and something that every parent of twins is sure to come up against at some point.

  14. Emily

    My twins are only 18 months right now, but I love reading your articles to prep me for situations that are bound to occur down the road. My two already have very different personalities, and I’m sure they’ll be good at very different things as they get older. Thanks for the heads up!

  15. Lori

    This isn’t just a twin or triplet thing, this is a sibling thing. I have 3 daughters of different ages, 2 are athletic and are picked for all kinds of team, the other is not athletic at all. We just had to find her niche, which was archery/guns, and sewing. You just have to look for something else for them to do that is different than their siblings.

    1. Christina Baglivi Tinglof Post author

      Not sure I agree. When twins are up against each other (i.e. trying out for the same team), it’s a very different situation than if two siblings of a different age were to do the same.

  16. Sharon Curtis

    As a twin (now 50 yrs) what I Iearned growing up and still holds true today is that we support each other no matter what. When one of us achieves xsomething we are pleased proud and excited for them. We are sisters first.. Our twin ship is just an extra special relationship on top of that.

  17. M.K.

    I have twin 7 year old girls who play softball. They are both good players but one is all ready turning into a fantastic player and will make All Stars as a top 11 player. The other twin will not. My dilemma is this. They both love the game and work hard. Neither one realizes that one sister is a better player at this time. The one who is better asked me the other day what if her sister makes it and she doesn’t. They have 3 years of eligibility in this age group for All Stars and their older sister who is 11 will also play All Stars. So I have two out of three make it and the one twin will be left out and her twin will make comments about having made it…she is very competitive and it will happen. My gut tells me to keep the twins out of all stars for now and teach them the lesson when they are older. But after reading this article i’m not so sure anymore. I’m looking for good advice!

    1. Christina Baglivi Tinglof Post author

      Wow, that’s a lot going on. A wise woman once said to me, “focus on the effort, not the achievement.” Focus on the effort, not the outcome. If they love the sport, let them play and let the chips fall where they may. Don’t downplay the All Stars achievement but don’t poo-poo it either. Don’t pity the one left behind–find something else for her to try. (But as an aside….7 year old All Stars? That does sound a bit intense for kids that young. But if they love it, who am I to judge?)

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