I have been getting a few e-mails lately asking about the Big “D” word…Dartitis. I have known many great players (Eric Bristow, Mark Walsh, Richie Burnett) who have gotten it and some players who only thought they were great that got it.(Hint Hint at the cause) When I was in University, I was very interested in Sports Psychology and took a few classes before I switched over to Athletic Therapy and I have used a Sports Psychologist along the way so I have a good grasp on what I am about to share.
So what is Dartitis? A good definition I found is: Dartitis is a condition which can affect dart players, and severely damage their performance and results. It can be compared to the yips, an expression used to describe apparent loss of fine motor skills without any explanation. The term is used in reference to players who struggle with some kind of psychological problem with their technique and/or release of their darts. Basically, you can’t let go of the dart.
The “why” is basically that the player has become so focused on “OUTCOME” that the brain views failure as too great of a risk so prevents it. It says “If you don’t throw the dart you can’t fail” so your brain says “ALL STOP” when you go to throw. The players view of the game has become so much about winning or should I say about “not losing” that they built up way too much anxiety. I once had a guy who had it say to me “You will get it. It’s just a matter of time” and I replied “no I won’t because I do not care about winning. I care about my performance” If you have read other articles from me you have heard this line before…”you can never control winning but you can control how well you play. Just because you play very well does not mean you will win.”. Crazy thought I know but very true. If go up and throw 140, 180, 160 you may say I am about to win, right? Maybe, but what if I happen to be playing Taylor and he just went 180, 180, 141 finish? Did I not just have a great performance? Yes I did. Did I win? Nope…but I was successful in doing my job so it was a positive outcome for me. A player that puts too much emphasis on winning would say he failed so he has a negative outcome for the same game. An extreme example but none the less it shows my point.
I just started playing again about a year ago after functionally a year off of no competitive darts of any kind yet my game was better then it every was! I was practicing with an old cagey veteran and he was so frustrated because he couldn’t get to be as good as he was. He asked for advice so I gave him two things to do: FORGET HOW GOOD YOU USED TO BE - because you are not that guy today and the second was : DO ALL THE THINGS THAT MADE YOU GOOD. Develop a smooth stroke and then practice your stroke hours a day again. I had my game back so fast the same way I developed it, I WORKED REALLY HARD. I am not a good dart player, I am a player that works very hard to be good. I don’t go “two years ago I would have won this shoot easy” because no one cares about yesterday, only what you do today.
So how do you fix it? Stop worrying about winning and accept that you are now a beginner again. The good news is you have already learned some lessons so you are not starting at zero again but you are a beginner, so do what beginners do: focus on developing a smooth stroke, learn how to get your eye and hand to start talking to each other again. Easy right? yes and no.
You need to become PERFORMANCE based and not OUTCOME based. You can have great performance and lose as well as have bad performances and win…this is why you may see me be upset after a win because I did not perform to my ability. You need to forget about throwing at “20” and change your thought to be throwing at a target. The first thing I would have you do is grab as many darts as you can – like house darts, mixed match sets etc – and throw the lot of them at the board. When I developed my throw I had 50 darts of all different weight, sizes and lengths because it did not matter. I want to make changes to my throw and that takes doing it over and over until it is the same. Until the throw is the same every time you can not hit any target. Just throw! What I used to do is throw one dart then throw every other dart at the one before it. So if one went 3 inches away, that became the new place to look. I did this for hours, days and weeks until I started to hit that other dart all the time. Once you have a smooth throw again then you can then begin to look for a real target like a big pie segment. You have to hit it 2/3 a time before you go to another segment on the board and until you can go around the board. As you progress, then you can go for small segments, then on to triples. I only throw at segments, sometimes its a big segment or maybe its a little one called a triple. I know when I deliver a smooth dart, that I will hit the segment I am looking at. When I need a game shot, I do not say “ Hit the double 16 and you win” because that is an outcome statement. The mere thought of winning makes my brain also consider losing. I say “throw this dart as smooth as you can at the green part right there” Can you somehow turn that mental statement into a negative? No way.
The bottom line is you have to start over because you now are a beginner again so do what you did to get good in the first place. You need to start over and change how you think and view the GAME of darts. People that have DARTITIS usually have developed a self image that is tied to winning. When they win they are great and when they lose they suck. If you lost every dart game you played you may not be a good dart player but it hardly reflects who you are as a person.
There is way more on the road to recovery and tons of ideas but this is a start. I heard people say they throw in the dark or they cover the board but what is this really doing? It is taking the perceived value of where the dart landed away and just having you throw. So is just throwing darts at another dart and learning that performance is much more important than winning or hitting every shot. The last thing I have to offer is this: “STOP SAYING YOU HAVE IT!” Start saying positive statements such as “I am taking some time to rebuild my throw to be much smoother” “ I am taking time to become a better target hitter”.
Good luck…. Do what makes Champions be Champions and you will become a Champion.