I personally have had three bad bouts with the dreaded dartitist. I had to do a lot of soul searching just to stay in the game, and I feel I have some of the answers about what dartitist feels like. I have some personal theories on what causes dartitist. And I have some theories on what you can do to get rid of it.
In regards to the feelings, many people will describe to you the physical feelings and motions involved in the bad cases of dartitist. To me it felt like my back, chest, shoulder and most of my entire arm were having an uncontrollable muscle convulsion. I would set up as I had done a million times before. I would start the dart back, and as I transferred to the forward motion to propel the dart to the board, my hand, arm, shoulder, upper back and chest would tighten up so much that I could not continue my stroke to the dartboard. My arm felt very much like it hit an invisible force field that prevented me from following through.
Imagine pulling you arm back a couple of inches and trying to push it through 18 inches of mud, and in the process hit a target on the dartboard. Imagine a rope being tied to your throwing hand and somebody holding it behind you resisting your efforts to throw the dart. You start falling over the toe line towards the dartboard in an effort to force the dart out of your hand and towards the dartboard. You feel it's a small victory just to get the dart in the general area of the target. You hope that you can hit the board period. this is some of the physical feelings you have with dartitist.
Because of the physical feelings you get when you contract dartitist, we associate the problem with the way we throw the dart, though we know it's mostly mental. We start doubting what had worked for us for sometimes years. With each throw, our mind drifts from what worked for us to “What am I doing wrong?” With each throw our muscles tighten, our confidence waivers, our mind drifts to past bad throws, and our mind drifts to the future of each shot. All we want to do is get the dart out of our hand and somewhere on the board. We do this knowing we have become the center of attention to everybody that is watching.
We start looking at our mechanics, thinking that it has to be a physical problem because it feels physical. We look to others for some magical cure or help. We hit the practice board with vengeance only to find that when we are faced with any competitive or non-competitive situation, the dartitist is still there.
Another possible cause of dartitist is the seekers of perfection; seek excellence (Perfection doesn't exist, ask the Lord). This is the over thinker that is never satisfied with what works and always finds something wrong with their mechanics. These people don't trust their stroke. These are the people out there that are looking for that magical secret. These are also the people that take longer at the line to throw than most darters. You have to have extremely great concentration to throw this way. It is also why I believe that you don't see many rhythm shooters having a problem with dartitist, they don't give their minds enough time to over think.
The physical problem, or in other words, the genuine problems that started out as a sore shoulder or elbow or a pinched nerve or an accident, and ended up as a bad hitch and finally dartitist.
The person that hasn't realistically set their goals for darts versus what they have faced, underestimating and or overestimating ones own ability. These are the people that have aspirations of being the best without a plan. They run into several setbacks that severely ruin their confidence. Men have a dual problem of being taught that you have to win at all costs and allow themselves to be demoralized thinking winning has something to do with acceptance, or how well liked they will be. 99% of us started playing darts because it's fun. Somewhere along the line we took the game and ourselves so seriously that we locked up.
Here is a plan that could break you out of dartitist for good.
- You must retrain yourself to release the dart smoothly. A lot of people with dartitist find they can turn their head away from the board, close their eyes, or throw with the opposite hand without a problem at all. This verifies the mental problems of dartitist.
- I believe we, the dartitist inflicted, have lost so much confidence in our game that we develop a fear. Don't under estimate the power of the mind. I don't claim to know what that fear is, but I know in my case, it pumped a tremendous amount of adrenaline through my system when I set up to throw the dart. It might be a fear of competition or the board. If it is the board or target, then that would explain why you could turn your head away or close your eyes and throw without a problem.
- I'm no pro but I do know one basic fundamental to all sports is a great follow through. Notice I said great and not well. I say this because in every sport I have ever participated in, the better the follow through the better your control. Try and throw a baseball without a follow through. Won't go very far and won't be accurate. Try and kick a football without a great follow through. No distance and no accuracy. Try and lag coins at a wall without a follow through. You'll get beat most of the time. All sports require a follow through in some form or another. In darts, a great follow through is what gives you a consistent feel for the distance and a good trajectory. It will help you throw through the target and not at the target. This will help developing your accuracy. (Thanks again Paul Lim.)
- Another problem is our search for perfection. When developing your dart stroke just start with the basics. You will automatically develop your own style. A lot of people copy styles and change them every time they see one that works for some pro or good player. Every teacher has his or her own ideas on what is the best way to play. Take the basics from any good book or video and develop your own style and stick with it.
- Cover your practice board with a solid towel and spend days, if need be, retraining your muscle memory to release the dart without a hitch. Do not put any value on any throw. Just throw in the direction of the board for now. If you miss the whole board, it is ok for now. Just keep chucking the darts at the board without worrying where they are landing. Your goal right now is to release the darts in a relaxed manner, smoothly, and without a hitch. Keep doing this for days until this goal is achieved. Be patient and do not move on until you can release the dart smoothly. (I would like to acknowledge Andy Green for this tip.) Play a game called Chase, Jerry Umberger quote, “Throw one dart for the bull and try to hit it.
- If you are lunging or falling towards the board to release the dart, then stand on your forward leg only, and balance yourself on one leg. Now throw the dart to the dartboard. Try and make your throw an arm only throw without using any of your legs or body. This is a very important practice because you must re-convince yourself that it doesn't take your whole body to get that 14 to 35 gram dart to the board. It also teaches you balance again. You know the balance you had before dartitist. (I'd like to acknowledge Steve Brown for this tip.)
- Try practicing with a minimal amount of light. Light a candle, turn out all the other lights and put the candle in an area where you can barely see the dartboard. For some reason, again I'm not sure why, I believe we become board bound or target bound. (I would like to thank Paul Lim for this tip.)
- Buy a set of nails, or spikes. They look just like an oversize nail with a dart point in it. They are a special dart that forces you to follow through to make them stick into the board. If you are throwing them correctly they flip over once and stick into the board. (Thanks Jack Speer.)
- If you are still having a problem performing a smooth dart stroke, then buy some ping-pong balls and throw those at the dartboard with your dart stroke until you develop some smoothness. (Thanks Stacy Bromberg.)
- If you can't get your mind off of dartitist when you are trying to recover, then try distracting your mind while you are throwing. Count backwards from 100 by 2's. (100, 98, 96, etc. or 99, 97 95 etc.)
- Find a friend to practice with. Not just any friend, but one that understands what you are going through and their role in helping you cure your dartitist. Their role is total support. They will on all shots and all practice games give you unconditional encouragement. No matter what the shot is or no matter who wins. Your objective is to play darts without feeling threatened and to have fun again. Your friend needs to play their normal dart game because if they don't, we know. Give genuine support, not sympathy. This step will start the confidence rebuilding again. You should play the game more and more without feeling threatened.
- Don't avoid playing darts. You must get out and play. This will hasten the cure. What happens if you don't get out and play is that you think you have gotten rid of dartitis at home, but when you play in league or a tournament it comes back. You must test it. That is why it is so important to have a friend to practice with. That person will get you used to gradually getting your mind off of dartitist and back on having fun and targeting.
How to keep dartitis away for good
- You must stay in the here and the now with your thinking. You cannot think about the past or the future while you are throwing darts. This is a very important step. Do not let yourself think about the past or what might be, the future.
- Keep yourself locked on one shot at a time. Have a one-shot mentality.
- If you make a bad shot, forget it, it's history and you cannot take it back. Leave your bad darts at the board.
- Your friends will still be your friends no matter what shot you make. It is not the shots you make that make the person. So don't put the do or die attitude on each shot.
If your arm starts to lock up again, pull it down, shake the tenseness out of it, and forget it. Re-target and follow through.
- Develop a routine. All great players have a set routine that helps them deal with pressure. Avoid shooting from a dead start without some little movement to get you muscles relaxed. All great players have a little movement that starts their stroke and helps relax those muscles. Call it a trigger. Having a routine you can use with each throw will help keep dartitist away and make you a more consistent player.
Sometimes dartitist is so bad that the only really physical part of it is retraining the mind to believe certain truisms. For example:
- That you can throw the dart to the board, period.
- That the target, the board, competition, is nothing to be afraid of.
- That the dart only weighs grams, not pounds, and it doesn't take the whole body to propel it a few feet.
- Forget perfection in the dart stroke, it doesn't exist.
- Don't put so much value on the game. Don't put so much value on each throw. This value attitude, the do or die attitude, can start the process of your muscles tightening, causing dartitist. So start your recovery by not putting so much value on each throw.
- Pressure exists because you make it exist. Don't look at a shot as pressure, and yes, some of us say there is no pressure in hitting a single 20, well, others of us say there is pressure in hitting a single 20. Look at each shot as a challenge or an opportunity. The next time you are shooting at a game shot, tell yourself, I have the opportunity to hit this double 20.
- If you are an analytical person then you need to learn to quiet that part of your mind while you are playing and practicing darts. I think this would answer part of the question of why men have more of a problem with dartitist than women do. I also believe it's because of some of the programs we were taught growing up like winnning at all costs, winning is the only thing, winning gains you respect, etc.
- Knowing that there are other dart players out there with dartitist, some great ones at that, is a world of relief, that you are not the only one that is afflicted with dartitist. Read the Bull's-Eye News articles on dartitist by Steve Brown and Stacy Bromberg (and hopefully Jim Imes).
- Practice smart, and not too long. Practicing too long can cause problems from fatigue.
- The pros make it look so easy, don't they? They have a rhythm, try and develop a rhythm.
- Find a dart that feels good and keep it. Your magical answer is not in the darts.
If this article helps even one person with dartitist then my time was well spent.
Published with the kind permission of Jay Tomlinson, BEN, where this article first appeared.