I was chatting to an ex-Socceroo recently when talk turned to how his son was going with his football. "Given it away," he replied. "He got into his surfing and loves it. No one can compare him to me when he's in the water."
I recalled that conversation this past week after three famous Australian sporting surnames – Waugh, Hewitt and Johns - returned to the headlines under very different circumstances. Fifteen-year-old Cruz Hewitt attracted a capacity crowd when he debuted in the Australian Open boys' singles at Melbourne Park on Sunday, going down in straight sets on the same court where his old man made his first main-draw appearance at the same age.
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Every report made mention of Cruz's similarities to Lleyton, right down to the backward Nike cap, necklace and trademark wind-up before each forehand or backhand stroke. Young Cruz seemed to revel in the attention and own it.
The day before, Austin Waugh's low-key return to cricket continued when he turned out for club side Sutherland in the Sydney grade competition. The gifted all-rounder quit three years ago, burnt out and disillusioned with a sport that made his dad a household name.
He denied the inevitable comparisons to famous father Steve wore him down, but inevitably it sapped some of his affection for cricket. Older and wiser at 24, Austin is back in the middle but understandably taking things slowly and away from the spotlight.
Cooper Johns, who has quit rugby league at 24 to launch a full-time radio career, claimed being the son and nephew of famous rugby league names (Matt and Andrew Johns) actually inspired him at the start. "It's a little bit tough as there are a lot of people out there who will judge me on (my name) but I don't let it faze me," Johns said. "I like the burden. I'd never wish that I didn't have that burden. I like the expectation to live up to. That's what keeps driving me to try to be the best player I can be."
Those comments are five years old. Since then, Johns says he fell out of love with the game and has been thinking of quitting for some time.
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Leading sports psychologist Alan Mantle has worked with members of famous sporting families and has clear advice for those treading its potentially treacherous path. "Don’t let other people's expectations define you. They're external factors you have no control over," he told Yahoo Sport Australia.
"The name and people's comparisons to your famous mother or father is not going to go away – it’s how you choose to handle it. Use your father or mother's ability and talent to help model you as an individual but don’t copy.
"It's about finding what works best for you as an individual and doing something you love rather than doing something others would love you to do." Hewitt, Waugh and Johns all seem to have done just that.
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