The Next Big Thing… Or is it?

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There is a young man called Max Verstappen making waves in Formula 1. Not only is he a very good racing driver and a dream for any marketing team, he is also only 17 years old. People are already calling him a future world champion. He even has a new, if completely unsuitable, nickname. They’re calling him “Mad Max” because of an accident caused by a Frenchman called Grosjean. He is the next big thing! I think it is a bit early to tell really. Sure he’s definately talented, but his temperament is yet to be truly tested. He’s off to a good start though. At 17 I was still sneaking out to smoke Chesterfields and falling off my 50cc-popcorn-machine-with-wheels-motorbike.

England cricket are also thrilled to have a new star in Ben Stokes. He isn’t 17 but he is still quite young, and they are calling him the next, next, next Ian Botham, after Fred Flintoff (the first next Ian Botham) and a few others. He is their new hero after playing a large role in winning a test match against the might cricketing nation of New Zealand!

In South Africa we’ve had a few “next big things!”

Derrick Hougaard was the next Naas Botha.

Daryll Cullinan was the next Graham Pollock.

Guthro Steenkamp was the next Os du Rant.

Mfuneko Ngam was the next Alan Donald.

Eben Etzebeth is the next Bakkies Botha.

Butch James was, well, Butch James was the first Butch James and I doubt his like will be seen again anytime soon.

Why is that whenever a sparkling young talent comes along we feel the need to label him or her “the next (Insert name of famous ex sportsperson here). Why can’t they just be themselves!

Ian Botham was a legendary English cricketer. Why do anyone the disservice of calling them “The Next Ian Botham?”

So often these young stars get these labels and then fade from prominence under the weight of undue pressure and media scrutiny, instead of just being allowed to develop into the player that they were destined to be in the first place.

Derrick Hougaard springs to mind as a great example. He had all the tools to be the next Naas Botha, except one. He wasn’t Naas Botha. Naas Botha had, and still has, unshakeable belief in Naas Botha. In his mind Naas Botha is invincible; Naas can do anything, knows everything and will win everything simply because that is what Naas Botha does. Derrick was young and, by all accounts, a remarkably humble nice young lad. He was thrown head first into a rugby world cup, and then thrown a hospital pass that brought upon him the wrath of a man known as the chiropractor because of his ability to re-arrange spines in tackles. Brian Lima tackled Derrick so hard he’s probably still go bruises ten years later. Derrick wasn’t the next Naas Botha, nobody can be the next Naas Botha.

Similarly, nobody can be the next Bakkies Botha. Off the field he is a humble Christian man who lives his faith as well he can. I’ve had friends approach him for photos and he is always accommodating. On the field though, he is an uncompromising force of sheer brutality. He is the enforcer and will step back for no man. Eben Etzebeth, again, has all the tools to emulate the great Bakkies. He is big and strong and also plays lock. But that is where the similarity ends. They’re different players with different personalities. It is unfair to compare one to the other, because it does their unique talents and traits the ultimate disservice.

I say let the young players be themselves. Handre Pollard is the next Handre Pollard. He is not the next Dan Carter for heaven sakes. Just let them play the game they love without the pressure of trying to be the next whoever. I suspect they will surprise us all. I suspect people will say. “That Handre Pollard is something hey. I bet if a young Dan Carter saw him play he’d want to be just like him!”

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