43 of the top 100 WTA Players are….?

He scratched his head and exclaimed “I don’t get why they are so different!” Jenny is so measured. She has her nose in a book half the time but Hope always seems to have something to say and be looking for attention. Of course I love them all (there are three of them) but why are they so different?

Have you ever considered that first daughters tend to have a close relationship with the father and as a result of this and the adult role models that they see they tend to be more like them. The second child hits the ground having to share attention and so can be more extroverted, outspoken and more of a mystery. Wow, It’s obvious when you say it like that. Yes I replied Hope is a pretty typical second child with an older sister. She has to compete but she wants to find her own path in order to avoid the comparisons that most girls hate.

That conversation was a year ago at a social gathering around a pool in Florida and a long way from the shine and polish of the World’s most prestigious tennis event taking place this week at SW19. It might seem totally unconnected but it led to a lot of head scratching and a little research. I have always understood that parenting and coaching are both ironically focused on the same thing, trying to really understand the child!

Surely birth order does not have much to do with tennis! Just maybe it does more than you think!
The stats look like this!
Of the top 100 WTA ranked players at the end of the French Open 43 are first (or only) child and a further 31 fall into the profile of being second child with an older brother. 19 are second child with older sister leaving only 7 as third child or later. Venus and Serena being 4th and 5th in the birth order in their families. Even in the 26 players who fall into the smallest two categories a number have a step sister and some are a younger child who has much older siblings (studies suggest that when siblings are more than 4 years apart or from a second marriage the younger child may be treated as a first child again).

Although these profiles are of course generalizations the first child and second with older brother (74 /100) are much more likely to have a strong male role model /influencer in their upbringing (father or brother). This presents some interesting questions for us in sport who are championing the development of coaches in the area of understanding the female player at any age. For example:

Do these WTA girls make it because they have a strong male role model / influencer or are they just more likely to survive the coaching environment that is created by what is currently a very male dominated work force?

Can we use these profiles to recognize the more common personality traits that arise from birth order to more specifically and beneficially meet the needs of girls in sport? For example recognize the need for second children to be creative and look out for perfectionist tendencies in first children.

This and a number of other concepts will be discussed at the WTCA Conference and in detail at the GTN Workshop, Next Month in NYC, we would love your contributions so make sure you are there!