goal setting
sports science

The first of a series of 
articles that explain how 
we look at darts

The Three Phases of Play

Posted: 10.09.11 in Darts Performance Centre Blog category

The first of a series of articles that explain how we look at darts


Welcome to The Darts Performance Centre Darts Blog
Darts does not need sports science! It is a straight-forward game; you throw a dart at a board a few metres away and add up your score and write it on a board, simple!
However, when you take the time to consider this you realise that all sports are simple. The most popular involve getting a ball over, in or through a net, in a hole, or touched down or over a line on the pitch. All these sports have embraced sports science methods to the benefit of the participants, not only the elite players but anyone who takes part no matter what their age or standard. For example children under the supervision of a FA qualified coach are encouraged to set goals and targets, as are all tennis players. Golfers of all ages and standards spend substantial amounts of money on training aids with some sort of scientific method utilised to make them effective and saleable.
In general sports science has been ignored by darts. Maybe it is because dart players need proof that sports science can help them. Theory is great, but does it work when you are up on the oche or practising?  To give players an idea of how looking at darts from a “scientific “viewpoint could help, we have taken a look at how, in general, a darts match is broken down. It is generally accepted and it has been discussed before that a leg of darts is split into three distinct phases. Some players still mastering the game may argue that phase 1 and 2 could, for them anyway, join forces in a sort of darting coalition. Nevertheless, the principles we will discuss remain the same.
The Three Phases of Play
Phase 1           The first 9 darts thrown
Phase 2       Preparing for a checkout by reaching a score of 170 or below (being aware of bogeynumbers). The majority of checkouts happen, even with elite players (75% in last year’s Premier League) are in the “checkout zone” this is when they require 80 points or fewer.
Phase 3           Checking out by hitting any one of the doubles.    
There are a number of benefits for players by breaking down and separating into separate phases the process involved in winning a leg of darts. For the benefit of this article we will focus on the scenario of a player struggling in the third phase of the game, a common occurrence. Whether you regularly complete a bull finish or invariably end up “in the madhouse” this is the phase of the game where it surely cannot be disputed that sports science can help? A player who is struggling with his doubles has lots of help; they just need the right advice.
From an analytical viewpoint we would be interested to know at what point of the game the problems start. For example, is there a significant dip in form when a player is going for a double to win a match and their opponent is also on a finish, as opposed to being a long way behind in the scoring,? It would be helpful to know at what point the anxiety of successfully hitting the double starts. One reason for this is that players could develop an early warning system of feelings of stress and anxiety if they were aware of when they are most likely to suffer from the symptoms.
We would encourage players to practice relaxation techniques and breathing exercises that promote a feeling of calm. Self talk could also assist. Players could work out key words to remind them to carry out the relaxation exercises and breathing techniques when they are closing in on a finish, these trigger words can be practised until they are a normal part of a player’s game.  Relaxing the mind by thinking of something that is seemingly un-related to popping a dart into a double segment can also help. A player we work with uses Eric Cantona as his inspiration, but what he does is our secret! If whatever you do makes you smile and relax then that is the same outcome that any more conventional intervention desires, and thinking about King Eric is much more fun!
Finally of course there is practice. We have created a checkout game at the dartsperformancecentre.com where players can keep track of their progress in completing a variety of checkout scores. The feedback that keeping track of your progress produces is vital, it is impossible to improve without feedback.
Do these suggestions sound like a foreign language? Actually, most of them are fairly easy to master; they unfortunately need patience, commitment and practice. Just like mastering darts really, patience, commitment, practice and some sports science, simple!            
copyright: Paul Gillings 2010 No reproduction without written consent

The Darts Performance Centre is a resource to assist dart players of all standards play better darts. The site is arranged as an on-line coaching manual. There is advice on technique, nerves, psychology, goal setting, practice games, an area to log your statistics and an interactive area where your darting questions are answered by two sports scientists, one with 30 years dart playing experience! Membership is just £25.00 per annum.

Author: Paul Gillings ( paul@dartsperformancecentre.com )

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