It was fifty years ago that I first suffered from dartitis, having played some good local league darts for about four years and it is only in recent years that I asked myself the question, "Why was I so much better when I started at eighteen and for the four years following until dartitis set in?" It took me quite a few years to recover from it and I have played reasonably well since doing so. The answer I came up with is that when I started playing, my throw was natural and uninhibited with the dart flowing freely from my hand to the target. Although I have now recovered from dartitis my throw has changed over the years; becoming slower and more deliberate and the missing ingredient was the freedom of throw that I had when I was eighteen and for the subsequent four years.
What is Dartitis?
Most players including professionals have a stress point, e.g. pace is hot; a crucial high score or out shot is required and on an important throw may hook; pull; sway; lean or tense up, causing them to miss. When composure is required at a time of stress it can be very difficult to retain a free and natural throw. Yet, it is at this time that your throw needs to be as free as possible whilst maintaining composure.
In my opinion, dartitis is the extreme way of showing any stress and occurs when you cannot release your dart due to the fear of missing what you are throwing for and the brain stops the arm from doing the throwing action.
Recovery from Dartitis and exercises
If your dartitis is very bad it may take much time and effort on your part to correct it before you can say you are cured. You should also lower your expectations for a period of time and maybe to go through re-learning the throw you previously had.
To regain your confidence I would suggest you practice only on a board at home at first and not in public until you feel your confidence returning. If no board at home, find a nice quiet pub board and practice for about 15 to 30 minutes. This is about the time it would take to complete playing for most match formats.
If you are a severely affected player and you cannot throw at the board at all.
In my original article I suggested throwing caveman like and this still applies initially.
Throw at the board with no target in mind. Forget that the board has doubles, trebles and sections. Cover it over if necessary and just use the entire board as your target. Use the most relaxed and natural throw you feel comfortable with even if it is from side of the head, as if a dagger was being thrown. Throw at the board area and just get used to the freedom of throwing.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Only when you have freed up your throw sufficiently, proceed to the next part.
If you are able to throw at the board with some difficulty at times. Or your arm cramps up as time passes.
Free up your throw as if you were just starting a pre-match warm up session. The idea behind this is to get your brain and arm accustomed to throwing freely and reinforce in your mind that you are able to throw albeit with limited accuracy. Throw without concentrating on any particular area of the board. As you warm up and the arm and shoulder muscles relax you should get more consistent with your three darts and they will group closer together automatically.
The next step is to group your darts on or near any specific area on the board. Try any large whole number first before any double, treble or bull. If dartitis occurs at any time it is best to recompose yourself. Step back if necessary and try again with your relaxed or warm up style. If unsuccessful put your darts to one side and return later.
Practice and gain confidence and consistency with private sessions. Always start a session with relaxed throwing and try to remember this action so you are able to recall it quickly because you may need to recover this style of throw should you be playing in practice, friendly or match conditions.
Do not shut yourself off from the odd friendly game. Just remember that you are likely to get a hint of competitiveness only to discover that over-trying can be detrimental and cause you to lock up suddenly. Remember composure in times of stress and don't forget to breathe.
Get your stance right. Take a good look at your target and repeat your natural throw on your 1st 2nd and 3rd darts. The chances are you will succeed in getting what you want. If not you are likely to be very close. Try not to be disappointed should you miss. Even professionals miss sometimes.
Thinking too much and over trying is at the root of the dartitis problem and it does take quite a bit of composure to maintain consistency with a throw. Do not just hammer away at the T20s. Move about the board and use 1, 2 or 3 darts at various targets. Try the occasional round the board on doubles, followed by 25 & bull with the relaxed throw. Then focus on some doubles; i.e. five relaxed doubles, then the sixth dart with focus. Note any different way that your body reacts when in the focus mode. Try to correct any twitches by being more relaxed. Your aim should be to complete all doubles with focus and relaxation without any re-occurrence of the arm locking up.
After some time you should feel confidence return to the point that you can throw your dart in a reasonable manner even when under pressure. You will however have to accept that not every throw is going to be perfect. You will get the occasions where you are on the wire and not in. At least you would have given it your best shot and you will find your consistency will improve over time.
Thinking can be a killer!
A technique I used to rid my dartitis was to walk up to the oche and with no study of the board for the usual moment. As I raised my head to look, my first dart was already in hand and being thrown. This kept the flow going and in fact improved consistency by not thinking too much about it. Give it a try and see how you get on.
Maintaining your throw
For me the biggest single cause for an erratic throw was not throwing freely enough. Over the years I had started to push the dart to the board affecting the wrist movement and release causing a drift to the right or loss of height. This can lead to over trying and more problems.
I now practice freeing up my throw more. Learn to relax more when in a pressure situation; and rely on my natural skill.
Check that your stance is balanced and that no unwanted body, arm, hand or finger movements have crept in unnoticed. Bad habits with your throwing will lead to problems after a time and cause a loss of confidence. Possibly even dartitis!
Use free practice time to hone your skills and maintain or improve your consistency and composure under relaxed conditions. You are not afforded this luxury when playing a match with someone else as it is pressure from the first throw.