Sean Van Staden
Columnist
3 minute read
1 Feb 2014
11:00 am

Safety net spurs risk-takers of the world

Sean Van Staden

What would happen if you knew that you were going to be a great and prosperous sportsman?

Sean van Staden

There was only one condition, your success is guaranteed but you will have to move mountains at a cost of blood, sweat and no tears in reaching stardom.

Possible for some but an equally impossible dream for the weak. What would your choice be?

If you love playing sport and not afraid to get your hands dirty then the obvious answer would be: “Where would you like me to shovel the mountain, Coach.” But according to new research, your answer might, just not be good enough.

A recent article by the The Economist shared some interesting facts about research from Ulrike Malmendier of the University of California at Berkeley and Stefan Nagel of Stanford University, explains that in times of depression, poorer people become more risk adverse and wealthy people tend to go shopping for shares.

You would think two of America’s richest men Bill Gates (son of a wealthy attorney) and Warren Buffet (son of a stock broker and congressman) were rags to riches stories, but in fact they had a safety net to explore and take bigger risks.

There was never the worry of not having a roof over their heads, food to eat and money to support a family. Even if both men were down and out, they could still run back to mommy and daddy who would inevitably lend a helping hand after a good tongue lashing.

Poorer people have it harder because risk means that if that money is gone, a whole family and extended family would go hungry or worse hungry and with no home to go to. There is quite frankly, no support system to fall back on and hence the wiser choice is to play it safe.

In understanding only a portion of this science and relating it to sport, what would happen if your dad owned Kaizer Chiefs and had practically unlimited funds, a network linked to many powerful clubs both local and abroad and most importantly, access to some of the best coaches, managers and football tacticians from all over the world? What do you think your chances are of being a half decent footballer would be if your passion lay there?

Kaizer Montaung Jnr is possibly a product of this research thinking. He attended Harrow in north-west London, a school whose alumni include Sir Winston Churchill and James Blunt. His youth football career started out at Wits University and Kaizer Chiefs in South Africa and Chelsea youth academy in the late Nineties where he played alongside players like Dean Furman, John Terry and Robert Huth.

His promotion to the TSV 1860 Munich senior team was short lived, but he then signed for his father’s team where, on August 27, 2006, he made his debut. He went on later that season to win Player-of-the-Year and top goal scorer with 12 goals.

Is this perhaps an anomaly and a once off, or are we starting to see outlines pointing out that success favours people who have a safety net to fall back on? The research further suggests that people who come from wealthier backgrounds develop psychologically better in dealing and coping with taking more risks.

Ultimately, it is still up to the individual to want the dream and succeed. Montaung Jnr could have been a bookworm and pure academic having access to best modern philosophers, poets and musicians, but instead he took the leap and risk and decided to work hard and play for one of the greatest football clubs in Africa and follow in his dad’s footsteps.

If research is saying success favours the risk-taker, then best you take more calculated risks – and only take it if you can afford to lose it.