Families are like a team and a sporting team is like a family.  Each family member brings specific skills, personality and a role to the family team, just as each rower has a specific position on the team.  As a whole, the family shares a history and goals, just as the team works together to win a race.

We often look at what life skills we can learn from team sport, but it also works the other way around. There are important skills you learn from a family that can help you in team sport – especially when your family is the size of a sporting team.

One of Germany’s largest rowing family, the Staelbergs from Krefeld, have learnt the team player approach with nine siblings who have all been involved in rowing.

“Part of being a team player is to be considerate of other people, to watch out for others, while at the same time standing your ground.  That’s definitely something you learn in a big family.  Being a team player and growing up in a big family belong together”, says Michaela Staelberg, the youngest member of the family and 2016 World Rowing Under 23 Champion silver medallist in the women’s quadruple sculls.  

“Especially in the rowing boat, where you always strive for excellence and the perfect row, it is important to be able to address things openly, to speak out and express your opinion.  At the same time you have to take the other team member’s opinions seriously and be considerate with them and what they say.  That and empathy in general are definitely things we learnt in our family with different characters and opinions around you all the time,” says Michaela.

The family of eight girls and one boy are all involved in team sport, and they could have easily filled a women’s eight – with the brother coxing – if only age gaps, studies, individual interests and weight had not interfered.

“It would have been fun, but it never really worked out to all row together.  And my brother is far too heavy and stiff and just loves water polo,” Michaela laughs.  “But six of us are rowers and some of us are still rowing together.  Sport in general has always been something that was a common bond in our family and brought us together even closer as a family.”

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Nicolas (33), Melanie (30), Carina (29), Miriam (28), Manuela (26), Carolin (25), Marisa (23), Melina (23), Michaela (22) have all been active in sport and started their sporting careers in swimming, then playing water polo.  Six moved on to rowing with only Nicolas, Carina and Miriam continuing with water polo.

“Of course we get a bit of attention because there are so many of us.  People call us the ‘Staelberg clan’ and there have been comments that our Crefeld Rowing Club consists of Staelbergs only.  They are friendly comments and the club is our family as well.  It probably helps that there is always a bit of action and fun when we go somewhere together.  We are very open, a bit extroverted and most of the time get along, which is probably because there are so many of us and we always had to,” says Michaela about her family.

The Staelberg family has been a vital part of Crefeld Rowing Club with Melanie, Carolin, Manuela, Marisa, Melina and Michaela, plus their mother all having been involved with rowing.

It was always important for the Staelberg parents, Gabriele and Wilfried Staelberg, to have all their children involved in sport and both water polo as well as rowing the team aspect was most relevant to them.  

Melanie, the oldest of the sisters, started to row first.  After winning gold in the women’s four at the 2004 World Rowing Junior Championships, Melanie moved into club rowing and has been heavily involved with the RBL, the German Rowing A-league. She was the captain of the successful Crefeld Rowing Club’s women’s eight from 2009 to 2014.  Melanie and her partner Kristof Wilke, London 2012 Olympic champion in the eight, now have a one and a half-year old daughter. Whenever possible Melanie still trains with her sisters Manuela, Carolin, Melina and Marisa, who are currently rowing in the Club eight, while Michaela is continuing her national team rowing career and aiming for Tokyo 2020.

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Apart from Michaela, Marisa also followed Melanie’s footsteps as a national team rower and with four international medals has been the most successful family team member in rowing so far.  After first rowing the double sculls with her twin Melina, Marisa moved into sweep rowing and started her international rowing career with a win in the 2011 junior women’s eight.  She finished her international career after a sixth place in the women’s pair at the 2015 World Rowing Under 23 Championships  and went back to competing in the RBL.  Like Michaela, she also attributes her success to her team player approach and ‘family training’.

Respect, sharing, assertiveness and not to be jealous are aspects the Staelbergs mention as the things they have learnt on their family team.

“For all of us it comes really easy to be a team player, as we’ve always been surrounded by so many others we had to be considerate of.  I always think as a team and as being member of a wider team.  For example, when we had arguments in the boat, I always tried to make everyone take a step back and focus again on our strengths as a team.  In my family you need that every day as well.  It’s team management; things have to be working on the family team as they have to in the boat.  And I believe it’s an advantage to learn these things early in life.” – Marisa Staelberg