Sibling Rivalry: What we can learn from the past.

Was it worth the race to the finish line?

Posted Apr 19, 2014

The other day I was talking to a few teens about conflict, sibling rivalry and athletic shoes; yes, I said athletic shoes. I noticed that one of the teenagers was wearing a pair of Adidas sneakers and that reminded me of the infamous dispute between the Dassler brothers. So, I seized the opportunity to speak with these young people about sibling rivalry, shortsightedness, and the importance of relationships. You see, most of us don't know who the Dassler brothers were, but we know their legacy…Adidas and Puma.

Yes, the founders of both Adidas and Pumawere brothers;and here's a brief recount of their story:

During the 1920s, Adolf (Adi) and Rudolph (Rudi) were partners in the Dassler Brothers Sports Shoe Company, a business operated out of their mother's laundry room in Herzogenaurach, Germany. Adi was known for his creativity and craftsmanship and Rudi was the salesman. In the early 1930's the brothers joined the Nazi party, but still devoted time to their company. In fact, one of the people that helped catapult the business was American Olympic legendary Jesse Owens who wore a pair of their shoes as he won four gold track medals in the 1936 Olympics.

Where most people would celebrate the growth of the company, the Dassler's turned their success into jealousy and bitterness and a family feud spawned out of their strained relationship. Rudi was drafted to fight in WWII and was captured by Allied forces. American soldiers suspected him of being a member of the SchutzStaffel or SS, and Rudi believed that his brother played a role in his arrests. Meanwhile, with Rudi away, Adi continue to build the shoe business.

In 1948, the brothers parted ways and developed their own companies. Adi named his business "Adidas," a combination "Adi" and "Das" (short for Dassler). Rudi named his business "Ruda," but later changed it to what we now know as "Puma." The brothers built competing factories on opposite sides of the Aurach River. With both companies employing the majority of the residents, the town got immersed into the family feud. As a matter of fact, the town of Herzogenaurach became known as "the town of bent necks" because people looked to see which shoes others were wearing to see where their allegiance fell. Rudi and Adi were so wrapped up in their fierce competition with each other that they didn't see powerhouse Nike entering into the shoe industry, coincidentally Nike still dominates the athletic shoe industry.

Was the Dassler family feud a bad case of sibling rivalry? Was it merely decades of sibling competition, or did the roots of this dispute run much deeper? How could two brothers detest each other so much?

As parents how can we prevent history from repeating itself? What can we do to help our children work through differences and still like/love each other? Of course siblings are going to compete and battles are going to happen, but they don't have to last well over a life-time.

Here are some ways that you can help your children work through their differences:

1. Teach and model respect.

Teach your children to respect each other. Don't let their life be a competition, but rather a celebration of their individuality.

2. Teach proper ways to resolve conflict.

If children aren't taught how to communicate properly, they aren't going to learn it on their own. If your children are constantly battling with one another don't let them continue using the same broken method to resolve it. Intervene and teach them how to work out their differences.

3. Reward positive behavior

So often it's the negative behavior that warrants our attention, but shouldn't positive behavior equally receive our attention? Children thrive on being rewarded for doing the right thing. Take time to acknowledge when your child does something good. The reward of doing something good will last much longer than a punishment for doing something bad.

4. When disciplining focus on the behavior not the person.

 I have heard parents mention how "bad" their child was in a given situation. I find myself more often than not re-directing them to the behavior that was bad or their child made a bad choice. Be careful not to fall into labeling the person instead of the behavior.

5. Encourage activities that promote teamwork and togetherness.

Teach your children to work cooperatively together. Help them communicate and express their ideas. Also encourage your children to be accepting of their brother's or sister's ideas; for as the saying goes, "two heads are better than one!"

 We can learn a lot from history. As parents, we can help our children develop strong bonds when they are young. We can give them all of the tools they need to foster a healthy relationship and then hope that they'll use them later in life.

While both Adidas and Puma are still thriving today, the story of their existence is marred with anger and pain. As I finished telling the youth of how the shoes on their feet came into existence, I looked at their mesmerized faces and wondered "what are they thinking?" Within seconds, I had my answer. "Man that's messed up" one said. Following the statement was a wonderful thought engaging conversation about sibling rivalry, broken relationships, stereotyping, discrimination and prejudice. The youth even discussed how the brothers’ competition and jealousy blind-sided them and allowed Nike to sneak into the industry.

So does the feud still exist? No, fortunately in 2009 the two companies reconciled in a friendly game of soccer. While the companies of Adi and Rudi were able to lay the past to rest, it's sad that the brothers weren't able to do that before they were laid to rest...

Read more about the Dassler Feud:

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