Remember the identical twin Harvard rowers Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss from the 2010 movie The Social Network about the founding of Facebook? The six-foot-five-inch “Winklevii” are the popular example for any coach who has been blessed with guiding the athletic performance of twins.
While only 2% of the world’s population are twins, only 10% of those, or 0.2% are identical twins. Famous sports twins in recent years included NFL stars Ronde and Tiki Barber, seven-foot hoopsters Brook and Robin Lopez and tennis pros Bob and Mike Bryan. Some have even made it as NFL coaches, such as fraternal (not identical) twins Rob and Rex Ryan.
But it’s the Winklevii who made the largest impression on a matched pair of athletes who are rising high school seniors in New Jersey. “We looked up to the Winklevoss brothers, they were an inspiration,” says 18-year-old Shane McGeehan, sitting beside his identical six-foot-three, 235-pound brother Brennan. “In fact, in eighth grade we started rowing because they rowed.”
The McGeehans both bench press 290 pounds, squat lift 350 pounds and dead lift 450. Befitting their impressive physical dimensions and skills, they now play football and rugby, in nearly mirror positions. In football, Brennan and Shane play inside and outside linebacker on defense, tight end and fullback on offense, respectively. And in rugby, Brennan is a loosehead prop and Shane a tighthead prop, the two outside positions in the three-person front row of a rugby squad. “We’ve always played sports together on the same team,” says Brennan. “Basketball, baseball, flag football and soccer, tackle football, rugby and crew from 8th grade to 11th grade.”
Coaches and opponents of identical twins will testify about the unique challenges presented by two athletes who are each other’s body-double. Mistaken identity is only the first problem. Shane McGeehan knows. “We found out the hard way that we had to make sure coach knew which one of us was which. So in practice, if we were wearing the same shirt, we’d have to do things to wear different clothes or colors.” Brennan adds, “We also confuse the opposing team a lot, sometimes on purpose.”
There are other, more vexing problems. “The hardest thing about coaching twins,” Shane explains, “is that you expect them to be exactly the same. But we have different strengths.” Each agrees that Brennan, for example, is more physical. Shane is faster. And which one is easier to coach, you ask? “In terms of coaching difficulty level, we’re probably the same,” Brennan claims. “While we each have different skills, we’re both pretty good listeners and learners. And we each have equal respect for our coaches.”
And while the McGeehan twins acknowledge they present a unique puzzle to their sideline guides, they argue that the advantages of having twins on your team out-weigh the disadvantages.
“I’ll give you an example,” says Shane McGeehan. “In our first rugby tournament, I looked up the field and saw the field as if I was seeing it through (my brother’s) eyes. I saw an easy lane for him and I just instinctively gave him the ball and he scored a tri easily.” Brennan joins in, “Yes, in that game we both gave each other an assist. It helped that I didn’t see anyone on the field as big as Shane.”
Shane adds some advice for parents of twins. “Have them play the same sports and on the same teams, because you’ll never have a better connection than with your twin. We have the best connection of any two we’ve ever seen.”
The McGeehan twins credit their father as their inspiration for driving them to aspire to be the best on their teams, and both parents for helping them appreciate the value of good citizenship. The twins, for example, now volunteer at a local clinic for aids patients in Asbury Park, NJ.
For college, the pair want to go to the same school. “After all, the longest we’ve ever been apart is the two minutes between our births,” quips Shane. The two want to play rugby in college. Schools on their short list include Lafayette College, Boston College and Fairfield University.
As a reminder for spectators of games involving twins, the duo have some savvy advice. “Keep your eyes on the twins,” Brennan says. “Brothers like us have a crazy connection. You’ll see some amazing plays. We’re two people, but sometimes we play as one.”