Practice is a tricky subject. We all approach it differently, but we shouldn’t. That is not to say we should all be doing the exact same things, but if you are driven you really need to think about practice before you do it. Our routines may be different, but approach is what getting better is about. Too many get caught in the mundane cycle of throwing at the T20 until we get bored, lazy and unfocused. I’m here to tell you if you do that too often the only thing you will get good at is being bored, lazy and unfocused. Make no mistake, putting the work in with deliberate, rigorous practice is the key to improvement. While some fall into good habits more easily than others, most of us fall into bad habits or no habits at all. You must approach practice properly if you hope to get anything out of it. When you ask yourself “why do I practice?”, too many people think, “I want to get better”. Not only is the answer poorly defined, I’m here to tell you, you’re starting with the wrong question. The first question should be a ‘What’. What are you looking to accomplish? What are you willing to do to accomplish it? Starting with What, (then When, Where and Who) will lead you to Why.
Here is the way to approach practice to get the most out of whatever you put in, and start accomplishing what you set out to do.
First, what is practice? We need to know succinctly what it is, and what we are to do (if we are even willing to do it).
As defined by Oxford Languages, Practice: “To perform an activity or exercise a skill repeatedly and regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency.”
It doesn’t get more basic. The challenge comes with these questions: How often do we practice repeatedly and regularly? Is, what we are doing repeatedly and regularly, improving or maintaining proficiency. There is an element of time to this definition. (more on that below)
What are we actually doing to practice?
If you are looking for a pre-made practice routines, you are reading the wrong article. You don’t need another article regurgitating practice routines that you can find with an internet search. This is about what makes practice routines worth doing. They are worth doing if they have defined, challenging goals that keep you engaged. They should be created as a way to motivate the mind; it is the mind keeps the body moving. If they are not keeping you engaged, they are not right for you. What many of them do is create an artificial goal. They give you a score to attain or a bar to set. Goal setting is the important part. It is the secret ingredient baked into canned routines. Too often you do the routine because you’ve read about it numerous times. The routine itself might not be right for the goal you’d like to set. The goal comes first, the routine comes out of the goal.
The result or achievement toward which effort is directed
Goals need to be specific and challenging, yet attainable. It is helpful to have short and long term goals so that there can be positive reinforcement and incremental success. It is foolish to say you want to be World Champion without first having smaller, more attainable goals. You deserve that level of satisfaction for the work you put in.
So, what are your goals? If a goal is to be the best player on a team, in a division, in a league, the bar has been set for you. There is data. Now, what are you going to do with it? Start with the person who embodies those stats. Whatever it is that they do, you’ll need to do a little bit more.
Approach to Goal Setting:
Perhaps you’ve heard (or said) this one before:
“I beat them to the double in every leg, but I couldn’t get out.”
Question: How far does 100 meter sprinter run in order to win a race? The answer is not 100 meters. They are comfortably 150 meters down the track before their momentum stops. The goal is not to run to the finish line, it is to run through the finish line. In the same vain, you are not racing to the double, you are racing through the double. This is how you need to think about setting and accomplishing goals. When sprinters train (practice) they do more than run 100 meters. They push themselves above and beyond (running, strength training, diet etc.) for the bar to be reached and the opponents to overcome.
Think of dart players like runners. There are sprinters, there are marathon runners, there are recreational runners, there are weekend warriors. There are those that look to have a good time, and there are those that look to compete on various levels. Runners run, and competitive runners train to compete. Dart players play, competitive dart players train to compete. Taking it further, sprinters and marathoners train differently because they have different goals. Whatever goals you set for yourself you need to train specifically for them. Not everyone has the same goals, so they shouldn’t be expected to practice the same way.
For example: In the past, I set three separate goals in the top division in the New York Dart League: 1. To captain a championship team. 2. To win the MVP. 3. To be on top of the all-star list. I based my training specifically around those goals. It started with breaking down the data of what needed to actually happen in order to accomplish such things. To captain a championship team you have to train your mind to organize, lead and manage a skilled group of players. To win MVP you have to train to win more legs than the next best opponent. To get the most all-star points you need to train to score heavily in 501 and Cricket. Remember: Practice routines need to be set to run through goals, not to them. The finish line for some goals is an end date (ie. by the end of a season). Looking at historical data to see what others have done in those time constraints gives you a starting point for goal setting.
When do we practice? When we have the ability to practice, helps dictate what we can do in that amount of time.
When we practice, and how much time we devote to practicing are the most challenging. As I have written before, time is our most precious commodity. We all only have so many hours in a day. We need to make use of time in our schedules that isn’t very long. The 20 minutes before heading out to work, or the 20 minutes while the kids are in the bath can and should be used, but used properly. As a result I want you to look at practice as a function of time: When your time is limited versus when you (theoretically) have unlimited time. Here is the way to look at it:
Limited time = Form oriented, decision driven practice
Unlimited time = Goal oriented practice
With limited time, the worst thing we can do is rush to “get through” a routine that has a goal. We start rushing to get more darts in at the goal, and we sacrifice form and decision-making as a result. This is why it is best to focus these moments on form instead. This is the time to pick a target (Triple 20) and pay attention to your body as you throw. Pay attention to your elbow height, follow-through, lean, off-hand (The 4 Keys of Dart Form That No One Tells You). Are they all doing what you want them to be doing? After each dart, take that extra second to assess, “Is that a marker or a cover shot?- (The Easiest Way to Improve Scoring in 501). This trains your decision-making, and gets you the valuable reps at recognizing when to switch targets.
With unlimited time you need to have a set goal and work hard to attain it. You need to step out of your analyzing mind and focus on the targets for the task at hand. Because you have unlimited time it has nothing to do with how long it takes you. You are not there to beat a time, you are there to run through the finish line and complete the course you set out for yourself. YOU MUST FINISH. That doesn’t mean don’t go to the bathroom, or eat lunch- it means take care of yourself, then get back to work on the board. This trains you not to be satisfied until you get the job done.
The goals you set should be specific and test your mental and physical endurance and, in turn, fatigue. If they do not, they are not challenging enough. You need to go a little bit insane trying to attain them. It will lead to a greater level of satisfaction when you do.
“Goals should never be easy, they should force you to work, even if they are uncomfortable at the time.” – Michael Phelps
On the grand scale one goal of Phil Taylor’s back in the day was that he had to hit 5 – 180s before he went to bed each night. At the time his board was next to his bed and his wife was sleeping while he threw.
On a more realistic level, when local league players would ask, “What’s the secret? What do you have to do to become MVP and the all-star leader?” I would happily give my practice routine away; as I will now…
:: Hitting 6 doubles of every number, including bull, and a Round of 6 or better on each cricket number to move on, finishing on 4 corks or better. EVERYDAY::
(A player in NYC coined it the “Dax Prax”). It was grueling at first, but like anything you do repeatedly and regularly, I made my routine, routine.
Many would say, “Woah, I can’t do that.” To which I would reply, “Well, you can, but you may not want to.”
Consequently, I would love for someone in NYC to do this (or more) everyday. Selfishly I want to help create a league of masterful players. I want someone to blow my stats away, to reset the bar, so I have something else to aim for. The routine wasn’t given to me by another player. It is not a lot conceptually, but it is far more than anyone was/is willing to do EVERYDAY. If anyone were, it would be evident in the stats.
Which leads me to another, very important function of time: Sacrifice.
Time is not just about what we put in, time is also about what we are not doing when we are practicing. That is different for everyone and it is not for anyone to put a price tag on your time. Some have families, some have a demanding job or two, some have other hobbies that take up time, some have relatives that need to be cared for. What are you willing/able to sacrifice, for what amount of maintenance or improvement in your game? It is all part of the equation.
Time x Goals = Practice Routines
Time = Time In for repeated, regular practice – Time sacrificed
Goals = Specific, challenging yet attainable benchmarks
Practice Routines = The way we engage our mind to get our body through the finish line
It is fair to assume that the loftier your goals, the more often, the longer, and the more grueling (mentally and physically) your practice routines should be.
For example: Years ago when my goal was to get my three dart, long format average above 71.50 (21darts), I scheduled (sacrificed) 2 hours a day, 5 days a week with different self-made routines until it was achieved AND maintained.
Whether solo or with a partner, your practice needs to be about the PUSH; either giving or getting. Push in this instance can be defined as such: having drive, having impetus, having energy and determination, to surge relentlessly in continuous exertion.
Opponents create The Push for us better than we do for ourselves. A lot of players have trouble throwing by themselves for very long. For those players I ask: Does anyone else truly care if you get better if you don’t care? The Push starts with you. You have to motivate yourself if you truly want to maintain and improve proficiency. A way to embrace solo practice is in owning the mantra:
All practice is play, and all play is practice.
It sounds simplistic and philosophical but it is the ultimate mantra to remind yourself. It is a healthy way to trick the brain into being more mindful amidst practice, and more indifferent to outcome amidst competition. When you practice hard to get through a goal, you’ve created games for yourself to play, thus it feels like play. When you have prepared so well to play that it feels like you are performing solo, as if there were no opponent, it feels like practice.
When people say things like, “You make it look so easy”, the fact of the matter is, it takes hard work to make it look that easy. For those that are great that say they don’t practice (we’ve all heard a few), I offer a few plausible explanations: They are being insincere. They actually don’t practice for league play competition because they have in general trained so much more for something bigger. Or, they don’t view what they do as practice because they enjoy the challenge of their routines enough that it truly feels like play.
When you are able to practice with someone else it is important to have 3 types of practice partners as passionate as you are. One must be a step above, one must be on par, and one must be a step below. Again, It is about The Push. The Push keeps you driven. It motivates you, and it needs to be there no matter the type of opponent. In competition you will play players on all three levels. Practicing with all 3 types hones your competitive desire to succeed against all three levels. You should be motivated to beat the player below you every leg, you should be motivated to show the player that you are equal to that you are better, and you should be motivated to show the player better than you that you belong. Only playing opponents of one level trains your emotions for complacency, and that is hard to overcome in the moment. You can’t assume that you will be better than or worse than anybody perpetually. Look to prove success against each opponent, each time you practice with them.
Where do you practice?
It is not often that we get to practice where we compete. This is just a practical matter. The question of where directly correlates with our ability to focus. Focus gets glossed over too often. It is a vague term. It would do us better to call it “mental practice”. Overall, practice must be for our mental and physical game or we are shorting ourselves for the time we put in.
We don’t have many options these days. We all have different setups at home depending on space, family, pets, and work. As a result the ‘where’ in your home may dictate the ‘when’. In terms of practice, we want to eliminate as many home distractions that we wouldn’t have in competition. It is not to say everything needs to be quiet and calm, but we can’t have kids and dogs running under the board. We need to know that where we throw will be unconstrained whether our time is limited or unlimited. Sometimes that takes teamwork on the home front which can also bring us back to sacrifice.
Why do we practice? A ha! We have come full circle. ‘What’ has brought us back to ‘Why’. Now we can be more specific. We do it to maintain and improve our level of proficiency. We do it when we have the appropriate amounts of time to practice goals and form. We need to be motivated by the competitive Push on our own, or with partners. And we need a place to practice where we can practice mentally as well as physically.
Why we practice is a function of why we play. We are all fueled by different levels of allure to the game. We want to overcome an opponent. We want to win an award. We want to control the seemingly uncontrollable. We want the recognition of our peers. They are all valid. When people playfully talk about darts as an addiction, it is quite chemically true. Without getting into the deeper psychology,“intermittent reinforcement”, the thing that draws in golfers and gamblers, also applies to darters. We are flooded with dopamine when we unpredictably, randomly hit what we’d like to hit, through the repeated act of throwing (more on this in a future article). For an activity that we may be addicted to, actually “getting better” is a worthwhile endeavor so that the dopamine highs are less random and more predictable. Whether your goal is hitting 3 singles in a bed, your first 180, or winning a match in a tournament, when you give yourself tangible goals, you put yourself on the proper path to maintain and improve your skill.
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