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How Darwin's forgotten theory can set youth soccer right.

"Beauty comes first, victory is secondary. What matters is joy."

--Sócrates Brasileiro de Oliveira

We understand winning, We know how to keep score. But we also know something is missing

We don't understand how "winning" fits in development. A game recap go-to shared by coaches goes something like this.

If you win 5-0: "Good thing we were working on development"

if you lose 0-5: "That other team is not working on development like we are."

We worry about winning.

I see good, developmentally focused coaches handwringing and struggling with competition, "winning is good, right?"

Let's talk about winning.

Winning is good. Darwin said so. His theory of natural selection, survival of the fittest, sets the framework for our need for competition. Competition is an evolutionary process. As kids we play at competitions, it is our way of preparing for the more difficult and real competitions that will come as adults. We understand wining in this contest. If we win we are better, our ideas, our play will advance on.

But this has results. From U5 elite (see Manchester City), or those who want to build mental toughness for U7, or positional play for U9, or just dominate the landscape at U11. Winning controls us.

But winning alone is not enough. If simply winning was important than why play? Just flip a coin, or go direct to penalty shoot outs.

"Winning is an important thing, but to have your own style, to have people copy you, to admire you, that is the greatest gift."

--Johann Cruyff

Even Darwin struggled with winning. He struggle with ornate beauty. He could not explain the peacocks tail. Why was it present?

In 1860, Darwin wrote to his American friend, Harvard botanist Asa Gray: “The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!”

And ten years after "Origion of the species," and his theories on natural selection, he adjusted his theories.

In his excellent book "The evolution of Beauty," Richard Prum dusts off Darwin's "forgotten" theory of evolution, what Darwin termed "the taste for the beautiful," the act of choosing a mate for purely aesthetic reasons--for the mere pleasure of it--is an independent engine of evolutionary change.

"Life isn't just a dreary slog of survival. It brims with exuberance" --Prum.

Male bird of paradise displaying it's beauty for selection

Male bird of paradise displaying it's beauty for selection

"Deep in tropical jungles around the world are birds with a dizzying array of appearances and mating displays: Club-winged Manakins who sing with their wings, Great Argus Pheasants who dazzle prospective mates with a four-foot-wide cone of feathers covered in golden 3D spheres, Red-capped Manakins who moonwalk."

Beauty, art, aesthetics is important. Those old timers who watch play at the local pick up court, fanatics who fawn over 1982 Brazil, and kids wearing Messi jerseys all understand the place of beauty in the game better than most coaches.

Beauty matters.

"Winning" then is two fold. Competitive survival (score). AND Competitive beauty (Entertainment, creativity, enjoyment). Turns out beautiful soccer is just as (and in some cases more so) important Than the score.

Finally, we have some biological evidence to support nice soccer! So coaches, if you want your ideas to live on you best start paying attention to what really matters. "The Evolution of Beauty" presents a unique scientific vision for how artistic play contributes to a more complete understanding of evolution and of ourselves, and the beautiful game.


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