I'd been wondering what to write for this blog, and rather unsurprisingly, the topic suddenly reared its head on Facebook. I know that there will
be those who disagree with what I am about to say, but I will say it anyway.
It is often stated that "practice makes perfect", but do we necessarily have to believe every old adage that we hear? What is interesting is that
there are many facets to the seemingly simple concept of practice.
Whenever Phil Taylor wins a major championship, the oft-repeated claim is that, "I practice more than everybody else." If only it were that
simple. Is it really conceivable that the basic quantity of practice is the key to success? Of course it isn't. There are players who hit the
board for hours every day, yet will never attain any kind of reasonable standard, and there are those who do reach a level of excellence - on
the practice board only. They simply fall apart when it comes to competition. Just remember that it's usually a lot easier in the dressing-room!
That is why it is important for us to look at the causes and effects of practice, and the differences between the various types of practice.
We invariably practice in order to improve at a particular pursuit, be it darts, golf, carpentry, or even knitting; the more we do something, the
more we become comfortable with it, and as a result, our level of ability rises. Oh, I forgot to mention - that is the theory!
With darts especially, practice can involve different goals, such as accuracy, mechanics, and an improved frame of mind.
As far as the accuracy, we are basically looking to get closer to the target. Mechanically, we are (or should be) attempting develop a much more
natural, positive, fluent, and consistent stroke. Obviously, to see some of the darters out there, you would never believe that! Seriously though,
the ideal stroke should be something that we can easily replicate. If we want to hit the target on a regular basis, it stands to reason that we
want to be able to do the same thing over and over, with minimum effort.
Finally, knowing that darts is very much a mental game, it is important to walk to the line with confidence, rather than fear or tension. Again,
that is the theory, because we ALL - at times - suffer from nerves, or a lack of confidence. The more experienced the player, the greater the
possibility of overcoming these negative thoughts, but still, we are all human.
Now we know what we are looking for, let's explore each in a little more detail. We will start with mechanics, as it is something readily dismissed,
even by some who play the game.
I'm sure you've all heard the phrase, "There's no right or wrong way to hold or throw a dart." In essence, that is true. However, there are
certainly better ways and worse ways! Another claim - particularly in the United States, from non-darters - is, "Skill; huh? A monkey can throw
a dart!" Again, that is perhaps true, although getting them to stick it point-first may be more of a challenge. That said, if a monkey can "throw
a dart", then they will also be able to "throw a baseball", and I really can't recall seeing many monkeys pitching in Major League! Mind you, the
way the Cardinals are going at the moment, it probably wouldn't hurt that much to get a couple in the bullpen.
I consider myself to have pretty good mechanics; not as good as some, I grant you - Keith Villegas, are you reading this? - but decent all the
same. What is interesting is that the vast majority of top players throw very differently, but simply looking at the basics, we all throw the
There are no right-handed, left-foot forward players (or vice versa) at the top level. Bodyweight is placed largely on the leading leg, which
remains locked. There is little or no rocking or lunging during the stroke. The dart is brought up, and then propelled forward with a simple and
positive stroke. There is a full follow-through. The stroke/follow-through is largely the result of a simple and efficient grip.
At times, we all have problems with our grip and/or stroke. Sometimes it just doesn't feel right, but it happens, and that's when we usually start
thinking and analyzing too much. That's also when we hit the practice board, and get back to basics. In this situation, we need to avoid thinking
about the grip as much as possible, and just try to throw them. Throwing quickly can work for some players, as they don't have time to think about
what they are doing, and a natural and comfortable grip just returns.
Personally, When I'm having problems like that (and even when I'm not, sometimes), I do one of two things.
Firstly, I take off my glasses. I'm really pretty blind without them, and the board is just a blur. I can't aim visually (aiming darts isn't
visual anyway, but that's a story for another day), so all I can do is just throw them without really thinking or worrying. That really helps
my stroke. This routine, I do use as regular practice.
The other thing I do is something I have suggested to many others. It sounds really weird, but as long as you just walk up there like you were
practicing normally - without thinking or fighting it - it works really well. What you do is walk to the line, and stare intently at the bull's-eye.
Keeping your eyes on the bull, simply throw at the T20! As I said, don't fight it or try to force it, and you will probably be amazed at what
happens. Do it for as long as you want, because it really isn't a bad practice routine.
The reason it works is that you are thinking about the bull's-eye more than your stroke. That sounds crazy, I know, but most of the problems we
develop with our grip and stroke are the result of "over-thinking". Then, the more we think about it, the worse it gets. Any experienced player
will tell you that.
So, there we have the mechanical practice. Next time, I'll be moving onto the specifics of target practice.