Not long ago, with the help of George Silberzahn, author of the book "How to Master the Sport of Darts." I discovered a new way of practicing; well new to me anyway. I imagine many of the dart players out there are thinking, "Duh! What took this guy so long?" Ok, I can take a good ribbing now and again, no problem. Setting all that stuff aside, I have found the following information very useful and so I thought I would share.
For the past two years I have been hitting the oche fairly hard. I've been throwing darts 3 to 5 hours daily. Throughout this time, I have been playing two types of practice games, games against the board and statistic gathering games. Little did I know, but there was a third way to do it.
In games against the board, a player simply assigns a specific number of marks in cricket or points in 01 to the board for each round. This is a bit like playing an imaginary opponent who might score 4-marks per round in cricket or 85 points per round in the game of 501. The goal of the game, besides getting better at darts, is to beat your imaginary opponent (the board).
In statistic gathering games, the goals are a bit different. In these games the goal is to improve your statistical averages and when possible top your high score. An excellent statistic gathering game is "100 Darts at the 20." In this game a player simply throws 100 darts at the number twenty (any target can be used) and then adds up the hits and misses. Triples count for three points and doubles count for two. Write down you finishing score and then try to beat it the next time you play.
Around the World is another good "Statistic Gathering Game." Throw three darts at each of the numbers 1 through 20, counting triples as three and doubles as two, and then the bull. Add up the number of hits, get an average score, and then try to do better the next time you shoot.
It was my urge to "do better the next time I shot," that drove me to SEWA Darts.com, a dart site created by Erik McVay and my online meeting with George Silberzahn. (I hate to just plug George here because there are a lot of great players over at SEWA and loads of excellent practice advice. Unicorn Darts is a sponsor of the site and I have received assistance with my game from people like John Part, Bob Anderson, Steve Brown, and more.) There is always someone at SEWA who can answer my questions or tell me to stop thinking so much and just throw more darts!
As it happened this time, George S. and I were discussing practice routines; actually, I was describing mine when George made the following suggestion. "Using the cricket numbers, 20 through 15, go around the board and hit a 7-mark in each number and then finish with a 4-mark on the bull. Once you start a game, you must stay at the oche until you finish it."
Ok, that was easy enough. The first game took me about 45 minutes. These days I can finish the game in 10 to 12 minutes. There is improvement. But more than improvement, there is a new way of thinking about being at the oche. A new way of practicing! I enjoyed this way of practicing so much that it has bled into all my other practice games. I have dubbed it, "Performance Based Practice."
Performance Based Practice (PBP) is the third way. It is about expecting a specific level of performance from your mind and body as you play. Once a goal is set and a dart player steps to the oche, he or she may not leave the oche until the goal is achieved. (Setting a realistic goal is quite obviously important or a player might starve to death at the oche.)
This is my understanding of George's advice. Tell yourself that you will hit 7-marks in each of the cricket numbers and then do it. Do not leave the oche until you have accomplished the task and this way of thinking has absolutely changed the way I practice has now found its way into all of my practice games.
Here is how PBP works with games against the board. Let's say I am playing 501 and I know I can throw a 15-dart game but I don't do it that often. I decide I will throw a 15-dart game (or three 15 dart games if I'm feeling particularly brave) before I leave the oche. (Obviously one may choose his or her own objective.) Then I throw as I normally would. My imaginary opponent is still someone I want to beat he helps to keep me involved in the game, but I must keep playing until I hit that magic 15-darter. I would do the same with 100 at the 20, around the world and any other game I chose to play. Set a goal and do not stop playing until that goal is achieved. In cricket, I give the board 4-marks per round. I play until I have won three times. These days I am winning 1 or 2 out of five. Nevertheless, if I have not warmed up properly or I am a bit off my stride, I can spend hours at the oche knowing that I am capable of beating the board and not doing it until I dig down deep and force myself into throwing the darts I know I am capable of throwing.
Nothing is more frustrating than missing shots and wanting practice to end when you have made the commitment to remain at the oche until the desired behavior is achieved. Statistics and high scores are fun to talk about but it sure is easy to throw a lot of off games when the expectation of performance is missing from practice. If pain is gain, there is no better way of torturing yourself at the oche than by expecting a specific level of performance. Missing games by a single shot can cause waves of frustration mirroring that of missing an important shot in a game. Expecting performance that does not easily come can carry a darter to the point of physical and mental exhaustion. And when the goals are met! There is a flood of accomplishment and pride in Knowing a game was well thrown and that will go far to carry a darter into the next practice session.
I wish you luck and skill with your practice.