Like father, like son

Watching Stephen Myler against Worcester the other day, I was struck by his fearless hard running and eye for the killer pass, which came close to being a carbon copy of his father Anthony.

Stephen Myler is the latest member of his family to play professional rugby league.
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As a freelance journalist I have tried my hardest to dissuade my children from following a similar career. Dentistry and plumbing are two of the alternatives I have tried to steer them towards, arguing that we will always need someone to look after our teeth and pipes, but there may come a time when people will decide they can get by without another nine hundred words of sporting punditry.

In the hope that time has not yet arrived, I thought it might be fun to speculate on what plays the bigger part in forming a top sports performer; nature or nurture. I pose the question in the light of the emergence of Stephen Myler, fly-half for the Northampton rugby union team in the UK, and a strong contender for the spot in the England team. I grew up watching rugby league in Lancashire in the 1970s, and the name of a Myler was never far from team sheets in those days. Several cousins and brothers played, the most famous being Stephen Myler's great uncle Frank, the last man to captain Great Britain to Ashes triumph in Australia.

The interesting thing about the Mylers is that they all played in a similar uncompromising style, a tradition Stephen continues. Watching him against Worcester the other day, I was struck by his fearless hard running and eye for the killer pass, which came close to being a carbon copy of his father Anthony, a mainstay of the all-conquering Widnes side of the late 1980s. This has to be genetic. Sure, if your family is steeped in the tradition of a sport, there is a good chance you will want to try it yourself, and the parent might have the contacts to give you a start, but playing in such an uncannily similar style to your forebears must be inherited.

I can think of numerous examples from several sports. Around the time I was watching the several Mylers playing rugby league, a tricky winger called Mike Summerbee was outstripping defenders in football's first division for Manchester City. If I close my eyes I can picture his running style, slightly crouched over the ball, haring for the by-line, and delivering a cross when the cause seemed lost.

Spool forward 20 years, and his son Nicky was making similar runs for City and Sunderland, admittedly without the same degree of success or acclaim. The two Frank Lampards, meanwhile, definitely share a penchant for breaking from midfield and having a dig at goal, the common first name being a constant reminder of the inherited style - or possibly a lack of imagination in the naming department from Frank senior.

In cricket, too, the game is often a family business. Stuart Broad, for instance, has arguably been even more successful - especially after his performance with the ball in the fifth Test against Australia at the Oval - than his father, the England opener Chris, but the son's left-handed batting is definitely reminiscent of the elder Broad. Rohan Gavaskar, meanwhile, shares characteristics with his father, celebrated Indian opening batsman and Sunil, but has struggled to escape from his shadow.

It is not always easy for the son to try and match the father's achievements. Sometimes it might seem wise to seek fame and fortune in another field entirely. Problem is, if it is in your genes you might as well try and stop breathing or eating as following the path to which you were born to follow. I still intend to get my kids to have a look at plumbing, though.