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Playing Darts – Mental and Physical Preparation

Building a Strong Technical Foundation

Your stance in darts is one of the most important aspects of good form. After all, we aren’t baseball players they can miss by half a foot and still be a hall of famer.

Nope, darts is a game of millimeters and accuracy at that level requires highly tuned fine motor skills.

A proper darts stance is the foundation of your entire game. And it literally starts by putting one foot in front of the other. Right foot forward for right handers and left foot forward for left handers.

Your lead foot should be somewhere between 45 and 90 degrees in relation to the toe line.

Your shoulders should be aligned with your hips. The elbow of your throwing arm should be toward the board, we are throwing darts not javelins.

Everything should be in perfect vertical alignment from your ankle to your wrist. So working from the floor up you should have your ankle, knee, hip, shoulder, elbow, and wrist all on the same vertical plane.

The majority of your weight should be resting on the heel of your front foot. Pretend you are a tree and roots have sprouted from your lead foot into the ground.

And remember to stay off of those toes!

Your back foot should follow the natural angle of your hips and lead foot angle. This foot should remain on the ground but not bearing near the weight of the front foot. A good ratio is 80/20 with the lead foot carrying the majority of the load.

Lean in a comfortable amount. Remember don’t bend at the waist. Your spine should be on the same diagonal plane as your lead foot. Keep your back straight and concentrate on feeling a solid base.

You are in position.

Make slight adjustments to accommodate your body type and center of balance. The main aspects of a solid darts stance are balance and alignment.

If done properly, when you deliver a dart throw there should be no lower body movement.

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Preparing Yourself Mentally for a Game of Darts

The Visualization Approach

I first started really using visualization techniques while participating in martial arts competitions. This consisted of meditation, breathing techniques, and visualization prior to a competition or a big match. Meditation is a common technique used to center and calm the mind. This has provided real benefit to me when applied to darts.

Obviously having a calm and centered mind is a great benefit when competiting in any stressful situation. Proper breathing techniques can help create a even energy balance throughout the competition, which is essential when playing over the long haul. It really helps to avoid those hot one match cold the next type scenerios.

Visualization adds another benefit. I like to think of it and convey the idea as practice for the mind. Everyone seems to focus so much on mechanics that they tend to lose track of their mental training. The human mind has a very difficult time distinguishing between what is real and what is imagined. Visualization is a great technique to train your mind to accept positive and successful outcomes. In short, you are training yourself to be a winner.

I like to concentrate on “seeing” winning shots, overcoming situations that have been difficult for me in the past. Winning the particular tournament or event I will be involved in. Visualization will be a much more powerful tool for you if you take it past the level of just imagining yourself hitting a target.

 

Entering the Zone

One thing to remember when discussing “the zone” is that we are dealing with the brain, emotions, and personality. As with any other time you deal with these types of variables it is very difficult to accurately teach and explain for all audiences. Everyone thinks a bit different, feels a bit different, and learns a bit different.

I first developed a technique to create “the zone” through martial arts training, specifically kata training. For those not familiar kata is a sequence of predefined moves similiar to a dance.

The movements are actually fighting techniques and to truely embrace kata is to be able to visualize combat within the sequence. At higher levels, kata performance is meditation in motion, an exercise to unite mind and body with the goal of killing ego. This isn’t a martial arts article so I’ll end it there but I thought some background was needed.

The zone created is best illustrated through kumite or sparring however. The fact is if you tried to consciously think about each block or punch or kick you would be very ineffective. If you react its too late, you need to be able to meld into the combat, to act without thinking.

In essence, to truly express yourself by letting go of thought and expectation. If you allow distraction, anger, ego, expectation, or doubt into your mind you simply will not be able to preform.

The idea in all of this is you have to let yourself go to be who you are. I always reference letting oneself win rather then making it happen. Like a sculptor that starts with a block of granite and chisels away to the statue, so we must strip the excess off to find our true selves.

Darts is the same thing. We have to eliminate all of those thoughts that hold us back. The idea is to create a tranquil mental state. Once the mind is free from distraction we are able to operate on a different level, often achieving goals we wouldn’t think possible.

I know this article is alot of philosophy rather then technique. But I really think its most important to control your inner mind before trying to deal with your external enviroment. Blocking out secondary distractions is actually pretty easy once you have conquered that noisy beast inside your head.

 

Basic Warm-up Routine – Introduction

One aspect of practice that is often overlooked is a proper warm-up period. Many people assume because its just practice they will warm-up as they go. Because I believe in building as much realism into practice sessions as possible a good warm-up period is essential for me.

My idea is to actually practice warming up. Sounds weird right? Well not really. The concept is to practice the exact same routine you will use to loosen up prior to competition. As with everything in darts consistency is key. And by becoming comfortable with the methods and time required to prepare, you will much more confident and ready at the start of each tournament day.

My warm-up routine takes me through a progression of steps until I feel both my mind and body are ready for the day. I never time or count darts for any stage, but rely on how I feel to tell me when its time to move to the next step in the chain.

Next lets take a look at the specific steps. Keep in mind, these are things that work for me personally. As we all function differently you may want to tailor the routine to better fit your personal needs.

 

Basic Warm-up Routine – Steps

Step One – Stretching

I like to perform basic stretches to loosen up the major muscles and tendons associated with the dart throw. This greatly reduces the time required throwing aimless darts at the board in order to get loose or “feel the dart”. Stretching is also a great way to relax and ease any performance anxiety you may experience. This is a widely overlooked important step, but believe me if you get in the habit of stretching you will warm-up faster, more accurately, and with more confidence.

Step Two – The Loosen Up

In this phase I generally just throw darts at the bullseye or 20 wedge. Im not pushing to throw great darts. Basically, all I am lconcentrating on is getting the proper feel of my throw. I don’t move from this phase until my stroke feels loose and fluid.

Step Three – Grouping

After I feel loose and everything is meshing properly physically I work on grouping darts. Again I am not stressing to hit strategic targets only to get the darts close to each other.

Generally, I throw the first dart at the 20 wedge and no matter where it lands I then attempt to land the next two darts as close as possible to the first. Once I feel good about my ability to repeat my stroke in this manner I move on to step four.

Step Four – Targets

During this step I concentrate on increasing my focus and picking off targets. The specific target priority changes according to the next event. But for 501 I will generally throw at the common doubles, bullseye, and the 20 wedge. I have no real set goal, but I will generally hit all the targets multiple times in random order. Again I dont move to the next step until I feel comfortable and confident with this phase.

Step Five – Game Situations

I rarely will play other players competitive games during my warm-up period. Instead I like to focus on specific shot combinations during this time. My goal is to simulate crucial situations in matches.

I mentally draw a scenerio for myself before each shot and shoot with all the intensity of an actual match. As my accuracy and confidence grow I gradually increase the difficulty on the scenerios. I stay on this step until I feel confident I can overcome any shot that may be presented through the day.

Step Six- The Psych Up

At this point my stroke feels loose and fluid, and I am confident I can hit any target and shot required. This is the time I use to take a mental inventory.

I use alot of positive self-talk and set my mind to the competitive mode. In competition, I try to time this to peak immediately before my first match. In practice, Im going to move directly into more advanced routines depending on the day.

 

Stretching for Darts?

Why in the world would anyone need to stretch before playing darts? Its not like we are running a 100 yard dash or competing in Olympic gymnastics. If that was your first reaction, your not alone. But lets take a closer look…

Piano players stretch their fingers before performing, and singers warm up their vocal chords, so why wouldn’t dart players stretch their arms/hands? Stretching only makes good sense and provides many benefits to darters of all ages and levels.

First lets take a look at some of the benefits of stretching, various types of stretching, and then dive into some specific exercises for dart players.

Benefits

  1. By stretching and loosening up muscles prior to throwing darts we can reduce our warm-up period. In addition, because we are no longer starting out cold we will warm up with more accuracy which leads to increased confidence and a superior state of mind. Wave goodbye to those early morning blues where you feel like you’ve never thrown a dart before!
  2. Stretching reduces stress, anxiety and fatigue. If your a tournament dart player you know well the effects those factors can have on your game. The physical and mental demands of a weekend long dart tournament can wear down even the more seasoned pros.
  3. Stretching helps create a better awareness of one’s body. The more we understand our individual physical makeup the better we can prepare and train for competition. Darts is a fine motor skill activity, being able to create and maintain a consistant and repeatable motion is paramount to success.

 

Types of Stretching

  1. Relaxed Stretching – This is the most commonly known and practiced type of stretching. It consists of slowly relaxing your body into a stretch, slighty past the point of tension, and then holding the stretch for a time. This type of stretching is relaxing and does not fatigue the muscle. Perfect for those early morning aches and pains.
  2. Isometric Stretching – This is performed by stretching the muscle, applying resistance, and then holding for a short time (5seconds) before releasing. The stretch is repeated several times until maximum range of motion is achieved. Think of a ballerina stretching her leg against a bar. The major benefit to this type of exercise is it builds strength throughout the entire range of motion. For dart players this means firmer dart strokes and a more aggressive follow-through.
  3. Ballistic Stretching – This is a movement created by a muscular contraction but completed by momentum. A golfer taking a warm up swing is a perfect example of ballistic stretching. This is the type of stretch that reduces your warm-up period because it increases elasticity in the muscle. Think air darts. As tension is decreased, increase the range of motion until you’ve reached your maximum range. Take care to not fatigue the muscles as when muscles tire they lose their ability to stretch

Specific Exercises

The Shoulder Twist

(middle back)
1. Stand with yours hands on hips
2. Feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly flexed
3. Gently twist torso at waist until stretch is felt
4. Hold for 10 seconds
5. Repeat on the other side

The Push Out

(shoulder, back, arms, fingers, and wrists)
1. Interlace fingers and turn palms out
2. Extend arms in front of the body at shoulder height
3. Hold 10 seconds, relax, and repeat

The Swimmer Stretch

(tricepts, top of shoulders, and waist)
1. Feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly flexed
2. Stand with arms overhead
3. Hold your elbow with the hand of your opposite arm
4. Pull elbow behind head gently and slowly lean to the side
5. Hold for 10 seconds
6. Repeat on the other side

The One Arm Hug

(side of the shoulders, and the back of upper arms)
1. Place right hand on left shoulder
2. With left hand, pull right elbow across chest toward left shoulder
3. Hold 10 seconds, relax, and repeat on the other side

The Grip and Release

(forearms, wrists, and hands)
1. Squeeze a tight fist with your shooting hand
2. Hold for 10 seconds and release
3. Shake hand to relax and release tension
4. Repeat 3 times

 

100 Darts to Better Scoring?

The magic of this practice game lies within its simplicity. All you have to do is throw 100 darts at the twenty and count how many you hit. Triples count for three, doubles for two, and singles for one.

This is a great diversion from more popular practice formats. It helps to develop a baseline of consistency and focuses on the most important scoring area – the 20 wedge. Over a period of time you will gain a quantifiable means of tracking your progress.

Another exciting element of this simple game is setting a personal best. There is nothing more invigorating during the long hours of practice then reaching new heights in accuracy. It is this aspect that also helps to infuse an element of pressure into your practice routine.

Some interesting benchmarks have already been set. Most World Class dart players will score consistently between 150-170. The highest score I am aware of was posted by Bob Anderson with a remarkable 191.

This game is virtually guaranteed to improve both your accuracy on the 20 wedge along with your scoring average.

 

Time to Get Real

When it comes to practice I am a major proponent of infusing as much reality as possible. I firmly believe that practice does not make perfect, but rather perfect practice makes perfect.

It is important to keep in mind the ultimate goal of practice is to improve our competitive game. With that in mind, I constantly try to come up with creative ways to push the boundries of traditional practice session.

Only by mimicking the pace, pressure, intensity, and distractions of competitive tournament play are we able to get the full benefit of practice. Any training that ignores these factors will not fully prepare us for what it actually takes to win tournaments.

Here are a few suggestions to help you get the most out of your practice time.

Set the Proper Pace

A common mistake most players make is not taking time inbetween turns during solo practice. It is important to set the pace of what you would expect in competition. Allow time in between throws for an imaginary opponent to complete their turn.

Keep Your Intensity

Another common pitfall is becoming complacent in your practice. Remember one hour of intense practice will provide more benefit then 3 hours of just chucking darts at the board. When you play practice games shoot with all the focus and will to win you would at a tournament. This way you are also practicing winning rather then accuracy alone.

Practice Game Situations

Every top player will tell you that a match is decided in only a few crucial situations. Among equals, the player best equipped mentally for these situations will always have the advantage. This is why experience plays such a big part in tournament success. Practice these scenerios and do so with full focus and intensity.

Enviroment and Distractions

Try not to only practice in the perfect enviroment. Introduce elements that distract you and are commonly found in competition. The closer your practice enviroment resembles actual competition settings the more comfortable you will become.

Remember practice will improve your game. It is up to you what aspects are keyed upon. By infusing reality into your sessions you will learn to overcome distraction, deliever under pressure, and improve your mental stamina,

Normalizing Great Play

There is always alot of discussion about getting to the next level and getting the most out of practice in general. With that in mind I wanted to share something that has worked for me with some success and may work to help others improve their competitive game.

Im not sure how much value this will have to a league shooter but it may be modified in some way. Perhaps the extreme jump in caliber of competition will induce even faster results.

I had an idea that playing to the level of my competition was stunting my development. With that in mind I quit league and playing local blind draws etc. Instead I played against DVDs of the world championships, and dramatically increasing my solo practice time.

Basically, I assume the role of one of the shooters in the DVD. You will not be able to play every game to completion as the assumed role shooter may outshoot both you and the other competitor. In this case, I normally just skip ahead to the next game in the match. Although, sometimes I will credit the player with what I think he would likely shoot in that scenerio.

I keep score by games rather then matches or sets, because not all games will be eligible for a win/loss. Normally I will play approximately 20 games in a session, keeping track of my win/loss record.

What this has done is change my perception of usual scores. No longer is it normal to see alot of 45’s and 60’s. Rather scores of 100 and 140 are the standard fare. In addition, the greatest improvement I have seen is in my finishing. No longer can I subconsiously expect to get 6darts at a double.

I have to think these principles can improve everyones game. The concept of normalizing your ideal game has strength. Over time you will simply come to expect 15darters rather then hope for them. It builds confidence, increases mental stamina, and improves consistency. Plus what other game and you compete against the worlds best with even this degree of accuracy, at home, and any time you like?

The man who thinks he can and the man that thinks he cant are both correct.

 

Practice Game – Bob’s 27

This practice game was invented by World Champion Bob Anderson. It is a game focused on practicing the doubles and is invaluable in the increasing accuracy of finishing. I have enjoyed this game for many years and always find it a fun challenge.

How to play:

– Start with 27 points.
– Shoot at doubles in order 1-20 then the Double Bullseye.
– Each turn you will throw all 3 darts at the same number.
– If all 3 darts miss the target, then subtract the target
score from your total. (example: If you miss double 1
subtract 2points from 27 leaving a score of 25
)
– For every double hit add that doubles value to your total.
(example: If you hit two double 1’s, then add 4 to your
original  27 to bring your score to 31
.)
– The game ends after you shoot at the Double Bullseye
OR your score goes negative.
– A perfect score is 1437.

 

Quick Practice Game – NFL Darts

Sometimes you are in the mood for a quick practice game. This next game is extremely fast taking a maximum of 24 darts and an excellent warm-up game before league play or tournaments. It is modeled after American football and is extremely easy to learn making it a great game to play with friends.

How to play:

– You start on your own 20 yard line.
– Throw one turn of 3 darts for score.
– A score of 80 or more points is a TOUCHDOWN and
scored as 6 points.
– When a touchdown is scored one additional dart is
thrown for the point after attempt. A Single Bullseye
counts as one and a Double Bullseye as two additional
points.
– A score of 40 or more moves you into field goal range.
– A field goal is scored by hitting exactly the yardage required
using three or less additional darts. A field goal counts as 3
points. (example: You hit 40 points on your first throw, this is  added to the yardage you began with on the 20yard line. You
now need 40 yards or points to complete the field goal. Any
combination will do as long as it is exactly 40 points.)
– If you fail to score 40 points on your first attempt in any
possession you recieve 0 points for that possession.
– A game consists of 4 possessions – high score wins!
– A perfect score is 32.