Sibling rivalry is as natural as peanut butter and jelly.
You are always going to see your kids compete whether it is grades, games, athletics, or even just racing to the car at the end of a family outing.
Grayce and Kenny Olson may be taking it to the next level. To say the twins, who are seniors at Foothill High School in Pleasanton, might be the one of the top sister-brother athletic combos ever in the East Bay Athletic League could be considered a tremendous understatement.
Grayce is a four-year starter for the always strong Falcons girls’ volleyball team and will be moving on to play for UCLA next year, while Kenny is one of the top overall football players in the EBAL this year – whose college plans have yet to be determined.
The athletic bloodlines of the duo run deep, as their mother Lissa is a former Division I track and field athlete, then coach. Greg, their father, is the offensive coordinator for the Las Vegas Raiders.
Greg and Lissa put the kids in a variety of youth sports growing up, but at no point did the parents push the kids into playing – they just let the competitiveness of the kids take over.
“Their success in sports has taken a natural progression,” said Lissa. “I think Greg and I have always tried to encourage them. I don’t feel we’ve pressured them into competing in anything they didn’t want to do.”
Greg and Lissa gave them a base of sports at an early age and let the chips fall where they may.
“Starting at 4 or 5 (years old), we were in Tampa - the kids participated in many sports – soccer, t-ball, basketball, flag football, and volleyball,” said Lissa, who was the Associate Head Coach of the Men’s and Women’s Track and Field teams at the University of South Florida, while Greg was on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers staff. “We wanted to give them to a variety of sports to see what they might like and have some success.”
It didn’t take long for Greg to recognize the kids had some serious skills.
“It was actually pretty early because Lissa had them involved in youth sports in Florida,” Greg said. “Grayce was always playing volleyball with the older girls and doing quite well. Kenny was doing AAU track and football and holding his own against good competition in the Tampa area.”
And thus, their competitive nature was born, and it carries on to today.
“Absolutely,” said Lissa when asked if Grayce and Kenny were competitive growing up. “And they still are! They compete in everything – grades, sports, awards, etc. You name it – they compete in it.”
There’s one difference, though, and it’s something that may set the two apart from other sibling combinations.
“They are also very proud of each other and are each other’s biggest fans,” said Lissa.
Kenny knows their competitive nature has paid off.
“Grayce and I have been competitive since we started to play sports in kindergarten,” said Kenny. “She pushes me to be better, and I push her to do the same.”
Even if the two wouldn’t admit they are each other’s biggest fans, it was evident when I pressed each to ask who the better athlete was.
“Hahaha,” said Grayce when asked the question. “We are both more athletic in our respective sports.”
“I would like to say I am the better athlete, but we are both very athletic,” added Kenny.
Simply, both are great kids and the two rely on each other regularly. And with the foundation Greg and Lissa have supplied, it is no surprise.
“The main topic of conversation between Kenny and I is sports,” said Grayce. “At the end of the day we each update the other on how we are feeling about our personal and team performances.”
“I talk with her after her volleyball games and she talks to me after my football games,” said Kenny. “We give each other advice when we need it. It’s great to have someone like her that is an elite athlete and knows how to help.”
The competitions around the house were not limited to just the kids.
“When I’m home we have had some family sporting events,” said Greg. “They started when we were in Tampa when the kids were young. Now that they are older, Lissa and I don’t want to be embarrassed by them, so we usually match up with one of the twins. You’d have to ask the kids who wins, but I don’t think I have ever lost at basketball.”
Given that Lissa competed collegiately in track and field at Washington State, where she competed in the high jump in the NCAA Championships, it would seem like a natural for Grayce to give the sport a chance.
“I did not push or even encourage Grayce into track and field,” said Lissa. “She was exposed and around track and field meets at an early age. In fact, they were at their first Olympic Trials as 3-month-olds. There wasn’t much opportunity for Grayce in track at an early age, and once she was an age she could compete in track, she was 100 percent committed to volleyball.”
“Being able to play all those sports helped me decide which one I liked the most,” said Grayce. “From the start I always had a passion for volleyball. I’m not sure why I never thought of doing track, but I am glad I stuck with volleyball as it has given me a number of opportunities.”
Greg has the football pipeline, starting as a graduate assistant at Washington State with Dennis Erikson and Mike Price, coaching in the college ranks for 15 years, finishing as the quarterback coach at Purdue for the entirety of Drew Brees' college career.
That opened the door for NFL jobs. Greg was hired by the San Francisco 49ers initially, then Tampa Bay, and finally the Raiders.
While Greg never pushed Kenny to play football, Kenny knew it was a sport he wanted to play.
“Given my dad’s background, I definitely felt like I needed to try football at a young age,” explained Kenny. “When I was young, I tried every sport from soccer to tennis to baseball. I loved the sport of football from the first time I tried it. It really became my primary sport in my sophomore year over track and field.”
Once Kenny and Grayce were born, Lissa started to cut back on coaching (she still coaches track and field at Foothill) -- or as Greg likes to say, Lissa has been on a “sabbatical,” the last five years so she can support and watch the twins sporting activities.
That leaves Greg trying to watch the kids compete when he can squeeze it in, as girls’ volleyball and football both take place in the fall, the same time as the NFL.
“Unfortunately, during their teenage years, only the last two years in Oakland, was I able to watch their events with any regularity, and even then, it was difficult during our season,” said Greg. “I was able to get to Grayce’s National Volleyball tournament that was in June. Kenny’s football schedule has made it more difficult because our seasons are at the same time. I am hoping I can fly in from Vegas to watch a few of his games on Friday night, then catch an early plane back on Saturday morning for our meetings and practices.”
Having a father that is a coordinator for NFL team is a tremendous resource for Kenny, who says, “I talk football with my dad almost every day.”
Talking with both kids about sports and life is something Greg enjoys.
“Unfortunately, too often,” said Greg with a laugh about when he talks sports with the kids. “Most of our conversations center around sports and school. They would probably tell you I have hard time not trying to teach them lessons revolving around athletics. But I think they appreciate the conversations, and they feel the passion and energy I have for my job.”