Role models can be positive and negative, writes Greg Cary.

I visited the University of Queensland a couple of weeks back to watch a young friend in a tennis tournament. What struck me — apart from the high quality of the tennis — was the influence of the game’s top players on the new generation.

Caps on backwards were common and suggested Lleyton Hewitt’s impact has been much wider than his never-say-die attitude. The power game of the boys and girls owed plenty to Novak and Serena whilst the occasional “grunts” were a reminder that Martina Sharapova is embraced not just for her wonderful talent.

Sadly there were examples, too, of youngsters questioning calls, aggressively applauding their own winners and swearing audibly enough for casual observers to notice. Nick Kyrgios’ recent efforts at Wimbledon have had an impact.

To be fair, it’s always been the case that youngsters will follow their idols — for good or ill — and this is the wider point about role models. Nick and the current generation are nothing new in this regard.

Much has been said about the importance of role models and how high-profile athletes should remember the role they play in forming attitudes.

Well, yes and no. I’ve always favoured athletes who play hard but fair and understand that there is more to life (and their particular game) than winning. That doesn’t mean others need to hold the same view. Whilst many have cheered the often ugly behaviour of the Australian cricket team over the last 20 years or so, for instance, some of us have found it boorish and unsportsmanlike and have occasionally cheered their opponents.

We can learn from all types of behaviour and it can be unfair and perhaps unwise to place too great a burden on our athletes. They are usually young people learning about themselves under intense pressure.

The key is to make sure our children are discerning in the lessons learned.

Let’s take Nick Kyrgios, who has been the subject of so much recent scrutiny. It is entirely possible to admire the hard work and sacrifice that has taken him to the elite level in his sport at such a tender age whilst rejecting the behaviour that will hopefully disappear with a bit more maturity.

Our children are smart enough to take the wheat from the chaff. Applaud the good stuff, dismiss the bad. You could emphasise, as well, Nick’s passion for his craft, self-belief and relentless hard work. And the courage to bring your talents to a very public test — and risk failure.

Nick is just one example of the hundreds you can find in sport, family or business who are role models on how to do things — and how not to.

As a broadcaster, for instance, I was fortunate enough to work with a large number of hugely talented people. From each I took a little (and left a lot) as I sought to define my own style.
And so it was when I’ve counselled younger people: take from me and others what you think works for you and leave the rest.

There is nobody — nobody — from whom we can’t take positive and negative lessons both professionally and personally and it can be a mistake to characterise a person according to one or two traits at the expense of all others.

I can find plenty to admire, for example, in every one of our Prime Ministers and cricket captains over the last 40 years. I can also find much to reject. The choices we make are up to us and will ultimately determine who we become.

It’s a powerful lesson and makes the role of negative role models vital.