Darts Coach - 5 Tips for Overcoming Dartitis
The below information relates to methods I have used to assist players with dartitis. As I have had a lot of success doing so, I put these "opinions" in the public forum.
Please note, the following post is opinion only. Only a sports psychologist is qualified to make statements to be taken as facts.
Just like every bit of advice you review in life, take it with a grain of salt. There is never a singularly definitive answer on "how to".
Golfers have spent millions of dollars trying to figure out the "yips" over an extensive period, so when it comes to "yips" or the darting equivalent "dartitis" there is no real answer for how or why it occurs.
In my teenage years, I had issues with stuttering whenever I was forced to speak in a public setting. Be it classes or speech for awards, I could think of a spiel relevant to the situation that demonstrated gratitude and knowledge of my craft, however, when it came to delivering the words, I would stutter and mix the words around.
This is a similar feeling to what people who have had dartitis have said they feel when trying to play.
The more questions I asked, the more frustrated they got because they didn't know what it was happening.
In reality, a lot changed.
I have seen a lot of people try to explain how to "cure" dartitis, however like stuttering, if you don't understand why it's happening, you won't be able to get rid of it. Even then the "cure" is a place most people arrive at themselves without intervention.
Hopefully, this article explains a bit of why and what is happening and can lead you to understand dartitis a bit better to wrestle back control of your game!
For the record, I have a pretty good success rate with eliminating dartitis. However, I have been lucky enough to work with people in the very early stages.
The first thing is to try to understand what brought on the episode in the first instance. It a majority of cases, the major contributing factors are;
- Exposure to a match or environment where the player pushed their limit physically and emotionally.
- The result will have sparked a fight or flight response where the player had to push through a comfort barrier.
- The outcome or expectation wasn't met.
- An over-sensitive appraisal of the events, including doubting your body mechanics.
- A desire to physically (consciously) control the dart throw.
These scenarios put players in a state of conflict.
In our previous mental training posts, we discuss conscious vs subconscious mindsets. Dartitis starts when the conscious state assumes too much control over the throw.
What I see dartitis as
The conscious mind establishes a series of markers the bodies mechanics need to hit in the delivery of the dart. From elbow hight to arm speed, the conscious mind is trying to make decisions that can't deviate from what is perceived as required.
If you deviate a fraction from the conscious mind's plan, the conscious mind will force a mental reset. Like the instructor that wants to you to do something perfectly / identical 10 times in a row, the throw doesn't meet expectations, the instructor demands a stop to everything and start again.
The conscious mind becomes overbearing in a bid to perfect technique until it is mechanical.
While this is happening, the subconscious minds natural calculator has been overridden by conscious suggestion, although the conscious mind can't make all the calculations required to deliver the dart (due to the number of muscles and actions required) and the body is forced into a state of confusion and conflict. The end result is indecision on which part of the mind is driving what Process.
So how do we deal with it?
Step 1 is to understand it. It is an over expectation of perfection, which is unachievable!
When recording players, it is obvious the body moves differently every time. If I look hard enough, I will guarantee there won't be 2 darts the same in a set.
When you walk from point A to point B, you aren't going to make the same step every time, though you can walk for miles without your eyes ever leaving your phone in a total state of distraction.
As long as you have gait, you can walk as long as you want without falling over.
Walking is an important part of life. But in the grand schemes of things, the Process is something you have been doing for most of your life, why should you focus on it?
You have all the faith in the world your body knows what to do in order to get you from A to B, without needing to pay attention to your terrain. Your steps automatically compensate for natural variations, such as slope, depressions and steps. You allow your body to do these things naturally because you have no reason to doubt your ability / internal calculator.
Darts is something we do later in life, although the outcomes are attributed to strong desires the throw itself is something we have to physically and mentally prepare for.
Tips to try
Tip 1: Challenge your mindset.
When coaching dartitis, I give the person a highlighter with a wide tip and ask them to draw 2 identical parallel lines.
Lines must be the same length, exact same width apart and exact same thickness of line.
No rulers or supporting materials to help, including folding paper. 1 highlighter on a page, freehand draw 2 identical lines.
It is impossible. However, the subconscious mind will make adjustments to offset imperfections and trick you into thinking it's okay, as it engages protection protocols to promote the idea you are okay with the results.
When you become analytical and critique your work, that's when the subconscious mind will start taking a back seat.
You don't need to be perfect to get a result.
Tip 2: Understand your bodies calculator and what it does.
38 muscles to send a text message. How many of those do you think you can consciously control at once?
- Pronator teres (forearm muscle) move right a touch.
- Opponens pollicis (hand muscle) adjust 10%
- Abductor pollicis brevis (thumb muscle) open at each 1mm interval for next letter.
All that within a split second? Even then, there are 35 more muscles required to complete the text and this doesn't include the muscles in the legs, neck, back and chest we need to mobilize.
Taking one step forward uses around 200 muscles. How often do you consciously think of any of them?
Tip 3: Manage your reaction to dartitis.
We've all felt for the young player on TV as dartitis took hold mid-game.
Being aware of it is a natural thing and something you can't avoid. But controlling the emotional response can limit the impact. It is hard to win games at the best of times when dartitis sets in; you are in a mental burnout state. First thing you need to do is remove the expectation component of playing.
When in a state of internal conflict, the last thing you need is added pressure or more complexity to your thought process.
Stay calm and listen to your mind and body. Try and find out what is your triggers.
For me, it was a lot of unnecessary noise in my head.
I mentally destroyed myself during games at the best of times, often trying to find faults and errors in technique or focus too much on my surroundings. I made sure I couldn't focus on the game or what I was doing, forcing myself into a state of conflict.
I tried to force too much emphasis on technique. Without a strong mental game to back it up, I capitulated quickly.
I came up with a 3 part plan.
- Relax and focus on what my body was doing.
- Stick to my routine to set up for a dart, adding in an extra breath.
- Turn off as much internal monologue as possible.
Each dart was given to the subconscious to throw, and I wouldn't focus on the outcome. I conceded to lose the game before I started playing. (remove the expectation)
I even went as far as preparing to throw darts off the board and be okay with it.
Tip 4: Don't throw a dart for a week.
The problem with dartitis is the expectation of perfection. If you were able to deliver 3 perfect darts, exactly identical…the chances are you will only score 60 as you Robin Hood the second and third dart.
We need imperfection to get the best possible outcome. 1mm deviation means you avoid the standard grouping issues.
Understand you will never throw the same identical dart twice in a set. (if at all) There will always be subtle variations, some requiring slow-motion capture to identify. Either way, there are variations.
Your subconscious calculator can take care of the subtle variations in a split second to reach a similar result. But we need to take the expectation out of the Process.
Using a little bin or bucket (something about 10cm round), take the stem with flight off your dart.
If you can, make up 10 sets of stems and flight only arrangements.
Spend 5 minutes visualizing your throw, how it looks in your mind if everything was perfect.
Visualize the line down the 20 you are throwing at.
From how you line up your dart, to the full release, visualize what perfect looks like too you and shadow throw some darts. (do the technique without a dart in hand)
Take a video, and you may notice right away there are subtle variations, and you don't even have a dart in your hand…..
As you go through the motion, you will notice you can get through a whole motion without jerking. This shows the issues are not muscular in nature.
Once you are confident you have a good image in your mind of how your throw should look and feel, start throwing the stem and flight arrangements into the bucket from 1 meter away, focusing on the back of the bin as a target to hit.
Like putting in golf, you want the ball to hit the back of the cup and drop in.
I did this for a month by sitting a bit next to the TV, throwing 10 sets of stem/flight arrangements into the bucket, picking them up each add break and doing it over and over.
After a while, the conscious and subconscious mind will start separating ownership of your throws mechanics.
Tip 5: Positive reinforcement
When the time comes to pick the darts up after a few days recalibrating if you walk to the board worried about the dartitis. Take a step back.
Breath deep, focus on relaxing, load a positive thought in your mind and throw without thinking. Even if you throw darts off the board, the goal isn't scores - it's rhythm and release!
A lot of people recommend leaving the light off when you first throw. I do this for every practice session anyway to eliminate expectation creeping into my day early
Focus on Process, let your body do it's thinking, and back your ability.