Many players have asked for a follow-up to the dart tips that provide an edge article I wrote a year ago. It was a snippet of FAQS that I receive on the fly while playing in the pubs of NYC, or queries on social media. I know that everyone wants the quick-fix institutional knowledge as though it were a download of software from the Matrix, alas, this game does not work that way. There are no tricks, just tactics. Writing this column is the closest thing to that download I can provide, because if it doesn’t sink in the first time, you can go back and reread it until it does. I promise if/when you do, you will eventually have that “lightbulb moment”, and gain that edge on your opponent. Enjoy the second series of questions dart players ask hoping to gain an edge:
What are your thoughts about changing darts in the middle of a match to gAIN AN EDGE?
I have gotten this question often recently, in light of Peter Wright not only changing dart models during his recent Championship run, but different levels of wear in the same model. Red Dragon issued a press release saying that he changed 7 times during the two week tournament. Far be it from me to say what Peter Wright did was wrong. It obviously worked out in the end as he won his 2nd World Championship.
However, there are a few layers to dissect as a case study for you to learn from. Peter Wright is not new to change. He changes his hair and outfits more than any other, and out of all the professionals you would be hard pressed to find one that has his/her name on more models of a dart. He has prided himself on it more than most, and I don’t believe it is simply to sell product. He, admittedly looks for reasons to focus and refocus in order to gain an edge. That is a fair reason for any of us to want to change barrels. Boredom can take over at times, to the point that we get lazy in our form and grip, and then fast with our action. One can afford to experiment with darts when their form is locked in, succinct and has produced world class play.
The irony is, had anyone us had won our first world championship, we would have likely stayed with the dart that got us there. As you get better and become more comfortable and confident with your form, you can quickly learn to control any barrel. So much more of it has to do with a consistent setup of shafts and flights, and maintaining an overall dart length regardless of barrel length. At the level most of us play at (meaning not professional) it is great to have a collection of darts that are different to experiment with as you fine-tune your grip, draw and action. There are few players that are attuned to what they need from a barrel. It is important to know what is comfortable and go with it before fully understanding why it is comfortable.
From a learning and growing perspective I advise to not pack a second, different set to go out to league night or a tournament. You will tip off your opponent that something is not right. An observant opponent will notice the change and take it as a sign of discomfort and use that to fuel themselves. You will also build in an excuse should your performance not go as planned. It is seldom the arrow, and most often the archer that is to blame. If you are thinking about making a barrel change, obviously you want to have practiced with them for a bit, but there is no need to over do it. Make the mental commitment, and one night, just do it. It is important to deploy your new set with a level of pressure to experience that level of focus. Multiple times in the past I have taken out new sets during a league playoff night as way to embrace the pressure and hone the focus. I like displaying to anyone that is quietly observant that I can perform at a high level with whatever darts I bring out that night (That being said, I am designing another barrel for Colonial.) Whatever the results were, the successes and failures had nothing to do with the darts or my decision to use them.
Why do my darts veer into the 5/T5 so often with my flight blocking the T20?
This is specific to right-handed players, but would have the same logic for lefties asking about the 1/T1. This is a very common occurrence and question. Most often it is seen early on in a match or towards the end. A fair hypothesis is an incomplete lean over the oche due to tightness/fatigue in the obliques in conjunction with an incomplete draw of the dart due to tightness/fatigue specifically in the tricep. In the beginning of a match we may not be fully loose, and at the end of match the lactic acid has built up from repetitively pushing the dart forward so many times. In both cases your range of motion is impeded and your draw does not come fully back. A tight lower back and obliques prohibit your lean over the oche. It might only be an inch of lean difference, but an inch can make a huge difference.
The really challenging part to this is that in both cases you don’t think you are physically doing anything differently. You don’t feel pain, you don’t feel tired, you don’t think anything is wrong, you think your form is on point, but you are coming across the target into the 5, and sometimes a bit low. Why? When the tricep doesn’t allow the dart to come back fully, the point ends up level or slightly low at the point of release plus the inch lean differential makes the dart travel a slightly longer distance. Lower point + more distance to the board = the dart pulls across the target into the 5. Now that you know the issue, it is up to you to recognize these consistent misses as evidence of the problem. To address it, make sure you are getting enough warmups prior to a match, and as a match wears on, make sure you are drinking plenty of water and doing some tricep and oblique stretches in order to gain an edge in terms of stamina. If you have any injuries or range-of-motion issues, it is worth talking to your doctor or physical therapist before proceeding with any stretching you are not comfortable with.
How often should I Replace worn flights/shafts?
This can be a confusing topic to talk about with friends because it is spoken about as a function of time. A friend might say, “These flights last me three months”. What gets lost in that data point is how many hours of play might get put in by that player in three months and is that player of the same skill level. Players of equal skill level can, in theory, group darts in a similar fashion. Grouping tighter and more often obviously means more wear and tear of equipment. The thing to remember about your equipment is that ultimately it is all made to be replaced. That includes points and barrels. The two things to consider in answering this question for yourself is: Are you effecting the flight of any one of your darts and, is the overall aesthetic of the tattered equipment getting in your head?
Guidelines I use for shafts: For plastic/poly shafts – If a tine breaks off I replace it. Aluminum shafts should be checked often to see if they are bent. Take the flights off and give them a roll to see if they wobble. When it comes to flights the guidelines are a little more specific. If a flight frays enough that you can’t refit it to an aluminum shaft or if a chunk of the surface area of the flight is torn off in a deflection then replace it. When it comes to molded flights, although they are thicker and in theory last longer they get chewed up too after a while. If by chance you crimp or bend a flight, and can’t square it off back to a 90 degree angle, then replace it. Generally speaking when it comes to flights of any kind if I choose to replace one, I choose to replace all three; for the consistency of flight and look. When you take care of your equipment regularly you not only gain a slight edge with consistency of dart flight, but also make a statement to the players around you about the commitment you have to the game. Ironically, you can make a just as potent a statement if you use tattered and/or mismatched equipment and still blast.
I really enjoyed your last book suggestions. What other books do you recommend to gain an edge?
There are a lot of great books that tangentially relate to the game of darts and can still help you to gain an edge. I actually seek these books out. I read incessantly and improve upon my game even when I am not on the board because of it. While I like a handful of “How To” video content providers, I find so much more of the content “downloads” when I am taking the time to read it.
Mastery by Robert Greene.
This is a thick book that goes to great depths in examining the lives of historical figures and what it took for them to become successful. It then breaks down the behaviors. This book took a while but I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Winning Ugly: Mental Warfare in Tennis by Brad Gilbert.
Former professional tennis player and current TV analyst talks about ways to outthink and outplay opponents. A thoughtful read into thinking the game; your game, better. The title of this book really got me before even getting into it. In order to win any league night, match, tournament, one must win the ugly legs that get out of hand that no one wants to win. You MUST learn how to win, to learn “how to win” the ugly legs.
The Archer by Paulo Coelho.
A man famous for his gift with a bow and arrow who has since retired from public life meets a boy who comes searching for him. This book is talks about the tenets of leading a meaningful life. This is a quick, easy read with memorable adages and wisdom.
Tools For Titans by Tim Ferriss.
From the writer of the 4-Hour Work Week, Ferriss interviews major figures in a variety of fields and asks them about tactics and habits to excel. This is another massive book that is more like a reference book. It does not need to be read cover to cover.
Is there a preferred angle that my darts should lay in the board?
This is a question more specifically for steel tip players but there is something that soft players can take away from this as well. Soft tip players are used to seeing darts stick in level and sometimes hang below level based on the length/weight/tips they use.They are also used to the fact that the darts don’t have to stay in the board for them to count. There are many soft tip players that would be surprised to see the lie of their dart in a steel tip board would be different, and still a smaller handful that might realize their darts don’t stick at all based on how they are throwing the dart. For that, it is certainly worth the experimentation to hone grip and action. For the steel tip players, the lesson to take from the soft tip game is that technological innovation in the board is what dictates how the darts lay/stay in a soft tip board. To understand it better, first a bit of history. Had this been asked years ago, before the spiders (the wire skeletons) were embedded within the sisal (fibers) of the board I would have said a high angle with the flights up would be best. When the wires were stapled to the boards, a dart coming in hard, at a high angle actually widened the triple section by prying that top wire up. In pulling your darts you could actually manipulate the wires open or closed with great ease using the points like a crow bar.
Just like in any sport as technology and innovation take hold, and the playing field changes, it necessitates the equipment and approach to do the same. Not only are the wires no longer stapled on top of the board, they are no longer round wires. The wires first changed to V or diamond cut, then embedded thin razor wires. The thing to remember is that these wires are only thin staring at them face-on. Approaching the wires (or board for that matter) from an extreme high angle, the embedded wire is essentially flat metal about ½ inch deep into the fiber. Catching the wires at a high angle now is like your point hitting a flat, ½ inch face of metal, especially if the board is not pristine. A fair, logical-based argument can be made that the closer to level, the better for your darts sticking in the board. Conversely in looking at the pros who have extremely high angled lies in the board, not only do they have greater deflections and darts that seemingly don’t stick in the fibers very well, they try to combat this with incredibly aggressive-grip points. Sometimes it is helpful, sometimes it is not, but the boards often wear much more quickly.
What is even more interesting to think about is younger throwers never got to experience round or diamond cut wires stapled on top of boards so they have grown up playing on boards that necessitated angles that were closer to level. I touched on this in my article that discussed covers and markers. Based on this, +/- 20 degrees is a sizable window towards making sure your darts stick. To get a point of reference for your own darts’ angle, many smartphones come with a Measure App that has a level function. With this function open, place the long side of your phone on top of a thrown dart that is in the board. It will give you the degrees off of level that your darts are at.
In thinking about common outs and setups, a fair argument can be made that players who have darts that are more level lend themselves well to 60, 80, 100 and 120. All very common shots that if you darts lay with a high angle will likely block your target on the D20 are require you to move your feet and find a tricky angle to fit the dart in cleanly. Conversely, setups and outs for D16 such as 48 and 64 lend themselves better for darts that lay high because the flights will stay out of the way.
If your darts come in at an extremely high or low angle, and you are getting more fallouts than most, it is first worth experimenting with a different setup of flights and/or shafts. If there is no change there, then you want to experiment with a different barrel type with your standard setup, and then different setups. Finally, if you haven’t started to level off the angle of your darts, it is worth taking the plunge and fully examining your grip style and release of your darts in order to gain an edge.
Keep reaching out to me on social media with your questions. I enjoy being able to help you in your darting endeavors. I want you to gain, and keep that edge.
“All the decisive blows are struck left-handed” – Walter Benjamin The thing I love most about our game is that it doesn’t discriminate. Color, race,