8 Jan 2019

Second generation sports stars: Blessing or a curse?

1:27 pm on 8 January 2019

Ravinder Hunia looks at just how much pressure the offspring of top flight athletes come under to succeed and asks 'how do they cope?'

St Peters winning captain Niko Jones, son of former All Black Michael Jones

St Peters winning captain Niko Jones, son of former All Black Michael Jones Photo: © Copyright Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz Photosport Ltd 2018

You enter a stadium with thousands of fans cheering, the Silver Fern sewn firmly on your chest and your name up in lights - it's a dream for many.

The children of our sporting heroes grew up watching their parents, and for some it was a dream to follow in their parental footsteps.

But being the son or daughter of a sporting hero is not easy.

There are the expectations to perform as well as, if not better, than your parent and the spotlight shines a little brighter in your direction while you battle to create your own identity.

The son of former All Black La'auli Sir Michael Jones, Niko, was recently selected for the All Black Sevens.

Now focus has shifted from the excitement of his call-up to whether or not Niko, 18, feels pressure as the son of the 'Iceman'.

The teenager assured media that while the load of his father's legacy weighs heavy on his shoulders, it's his father who helped shape the man he is today.

It's also uncharted waters for Sir Michael, who says raising a potential future All Black is all about balance.

"He's under our wing so to speak, but he is old enough to make his own calls and he does that well, but at the same time we're really trying to ensure that we can guide him.

"We can't be overprotective, and we can't keep him in a bubble, and my responsibility is to point him in the right direction, guide him and protect him from things that could trip him up along the way," Sir Michael said.

Former All Black Michael Jones during match against South Africa in 1998

Former All Black Michael Jones during match against South Africa in 1998 Photo: © PHOTOSPORT www.photosport.co.nz

Fellow world rugby hall of famer Sir Bryan Williams brought up his two rugby-playing sons before the advent of social media, which helped his children pursue their careers with less stress.

Sir Bryan, who played for the All Blacks between 1970 and 1978, raised his sons Paul and Gavin under the radar.

They both went on to represent Samoa and played out their careers in France.

Sir Bryan said there were always small battles, unavoidable expectations because of his standing in world rugby, but he was lucky to be able to nurture his son's careers as a supportive parent rather than an All Black.

"I gave them a little bit of advice, but learnt quite a few years ago that it's probably best to keep my mouth shut! On occasion they would ask me bits and pieces about what happened in our day and how best to deal with it.

"Generally though they charted their own course and they were able to earn their own income and we didn't have to keep them, so that was nice," Sir Bryan said.

Bryan Williams playing for the All Blacks

Bryan Williams playing for the All Blacks Photo: PHOTOSPORT www.photosport.co.nz

Former Silver Ferns captain - and now broadcaster - Anna Stanley's mother was more hands on.

Brenda Rowberry, a Silver Ferns defender from 1969 to 1971, held a firm grip on Stanley's playing career from school age through to adulthood.

The daughter of two physical education teachers, Stanley credits her parents for preparing her for a successful professional career.

Stanley is married to former All Black and former Samoan softball player Jeremy Stanley, who himself is the son of ex-All Black Joe Stanley.

She said supporting her three sporty children, without stealing the limelight can be a struggle.

"We keep trying to tell them we don't care where you get to because they do feel the pressure; they go to cross country and know mum always used to win and I think they know they have these parents who excelled - so does that mean they have to?

"I quite like the fact that our boys are playing football, you know they don't have to be an All Black like Dad.

"In some ways I would almost prefer Jaya [Stanley's daughter] to not play netball because then she won't be in my shadow."

Former Silver Fern Anna Stanley playing against England in 2003

Former Silver Fern Anna Stanley playing against England in 2003 Photo: © Photosport Ltd 2018 www.photosport.nz

But even those who forge their own sporting paths are never too far removed from the parental shadow.

Professional golfer Ryan Fox, the son of former All Black Grant Fox, grew up playing rugby and cricket.

His love of golf saw him become a household name, but this didn't stop golf commentators name-dropping his famous All Black father.

Grant Fox is well known for supporting his son and has served as Ryan's caddie at some smaller events on tour.

Ryan, 31, is also the grandson of former New Zealand cricket captain Merv Wallace [on his mother's side] so is accustomed to finding his own place in the world.

He said his father was a perfectionist and highly competitive, but Ryan believes he's more laid back than his father.

"There's not one way to do it. There are guys who practice hard, there are guys who play a lot, there are guys who do short-sharp and obviously Dad had his way and my way was a little bit different.

"It took a little while for both of us to work that out and thankfully now I've had a lot of advice and experience and figured out what works for me and Dad understands that, even though it might be a little different from how he approached things in his rugby day."

Ryan Fox taking advice from cadd/father Grant Fox at the trans-Tasman Cup

Ryan Fox taking advice from caddie/father Grant Fox. Photo: Photosport

Sports psychologist Karen Nimmo said it's impossible to put every sporting parent and their child in one basket with such diverse parenting styles and beliefs on offer.

She does think though that the support required on a such a unique platform is universal.

"It is more critical now, I think that's the main difference now.

"You are exposed quite quickly on the big stage and you need everything possible in your corner and that includes your parents. Being wrapped up in that supportive environment for as long as possible can be quite helpful," Dr Nimmo said.

Sir Michael has always tried to instill the principle that success doesn't fall into one's lap.

The Jones family come from a proud Samoan heritage and are involved in the church - they believe that a large part of Niko's success comes from Samoan 'It takes a village to raise a child' mentality.

"That's been a big part in shaping him and a big part of the support structures and scaffolding that's been central to getting him to where he is now.

"He'll never lose that appreciation and recognition that he is a by-product of this loving village, and I can't see him disconnecting himself from it, and that includes the role of his faith.

"We have always stressed it and he understands the fact that he's been given a gift and he has to protect it... a big part of using it well is how he can use it to give back to his community," Sir Michael said.

Ryan Fox has learnt during his professional career that the realities of competition are the same for everyone, no matter what your lineage.

"If you do everything you can, to be the best you can be, you can always live with that and if you don't succeed at that point; whether it's trying to follow in your parents footsteps or a different sport or whatever, you can always walk away with your head held high.

"Sport can be a pretty brutal thing, life can be a pretty brutal thing and sometimes failure is the only option. I know that may sound a bit harsh, but if you have done everything you can failure is not the worst thing to happen."