Dartitis - a possible cure

by Bob Johnson

This article, writes Bob Johnson, is for all darts players who have suffered from, or, may be suffering from the dreaded dartitis, which is, for those who do not know, not being able to let go of your darts when throwing at the dartboard.
I would like to share my experiences with you in the hope that, if you are suffering from dartitis, what I have to say may help you to overcome the problem. This is my story of how I developed dartitis and how I overcame it. I wish you good luck for a speedy recovery.

How it all started
In my early twenties I played darts for about four years in a village league in the Haverhill area of Suffolk, England. I had a reputation for being a good club player in the area. One night the match was closely fought and I went up to play my game. It went to one game each and it all rested on the third leg. You could have heard a pin drop in the bar; all focus was on the game.
My opponent and I had both missed our double on the first attempt and I went up to the oche for my next throw. My first two darts were close but not in. I was known for a steady last dart. I paused to focus my concentration and drew back my arm to throw my dart. At that precise moment I heard some murmured words of my opponent who was standing just behind me.
"You see, he will get it now". I paused, turning to give a "Do you mind?" look at him. I collected myself once more and drew back my dart arm again. "He will get it" the murmured voice said, again at the critical time. I could not believe it and, this time I looked at him and said, "Do you mind?" and he apologised, saying, "Sorry mate."
I collected my thoughts again for my third dart. I drew my arm back and, in that split second prior to throwing, I hesitated before clumsily lurching myself into my final throw in the most ungainly manner.

Of course, I missed and my opponent took the game and the match was lost. I did not know it then but this was only the start of a problem that was to dog me for many years to come.

My decline
After that match, when it came to a critical stage in a game, my arm would lock up and the dart would not release from my hand. I would always end up lurching to get rid of the dart. Soon I was in a hopeless state, sometimes standing for what seemed an eternity just to throw a dart at the board.
Being posted abroad, I thought a rest from darts would do me the world of good; I scarcely played for two and a half years. But on trying to play again it was still the same. The yearning was still there to play when I left the Royal Air Force and moved to Havant in Hampshire. There was a handy pub around the corner with a darts team that played in thePortsmouth area so despite the dartitis I signed on.
I was still able to throw a reasonable dart but alas when under pressure the infuriating not letting it go would return. Soon I found that any dart in any throw was being affected. I set up a board indoors at home. I was not going to let the condition beat me.
I can recall the sheer frustration of just me, the board and an empty room and not being able to throw even the first dart of three darts in the direction of the board. My confidence was as low as it could get but I was determined that it would not beat me.

So, where do you start?
I was at rock bottom; my confidence non-existent; unable to throw a dart.
Who knows why some players reach this stage? Many do, and not necessarily via the cause or path that I took. For whatever reason you are affected it develops into the situation when your mind says throw and your hand will not release the dart, then there is a problem.
Believe me, there is no magical overnight cure to this problem. I wish there was. However, follow the steps that I describe below and the rate of your recovery will be largely up to you. As long as you have the will to beat it!

You must appreciate that your confidence is low and it has to be rebuilt. If you are still competing, you must be prepared to go back to basics. The ultimate aim is to restore or maintain the style you are most happy with and be able to release all your darts even under pressure.
You will need somewhere quiet to practice, especially if you are at low ebb. Get a dartboard set up at home. If that's not possible then find a pub or club with a dartboard and practice on that at times when there are few customers and only a small number of potential onlookers. Earlier I said that I had got to the stage where I could not throw any dart. "What did you do?" I hear you ask. I will tell you. Simply stand in front of the dartboard with your darts in your hand and do the following.

FORGET that the dartboard has specific areas that you aim for.
LOOK AT IT as merely an object that protects the wall.
THINK CAVEMAN-LIKE, that is that you are going to hurl something at that object.
DON'T WORRY about missing or the technique of your throw.
PRETEND your dart is a dagger and throwing it from over your shoulder.
JUST simply throw it with no aim in mind.
Try it.

Have you done it?
I recollect my first attempt was a little ungainly. Should your attempt be the same, don't worry. It is a start.
If it was easy for you to do, you were at a lower desperation level than I was. I remember the feeling of elation was great when I threw and it should be for you too, especially if you started from rock bottom. You will find it easier to throw your next dart in the same manner and then the third one.

You have just learnt to throw again.

Alas it is not with the degree of skill that you once cherished so much, but you can throw and you have just proved it! The next thing to do is steer clear of putting yourself under needless pressure for now. Just enjoy throwing. Limit your practice to a few throws or a few minutes at a time in the early stages of recovery. Go away and come back later, maybe several times to reinforce in your own mind, "You can throw."
Once you have established in your own mind that you can throw, it lifts a great weight from your shoulders and then you can concentrate on the next step.

Developing a fallback throw
You have just rediscovered the ability to throw albeit at a fairly large area on your wall. You will want to hit areas of the dartboard again with a degree of accuracy. Avoid serious practice at this stage, as there is a danger of becoming self-critical with your performance.
You will find that you may be able to group darts fairly closely even without seeming to try. This is because you have taught your body to relax when throwing and also you may not be so consciously trying to hit a small area.
Look on this new technique as being your fallback throw.
You can do better; you will try to and that is natural but do not forget why you are here in the first place. Try not to concentrate too much or let other factors such as (if you are still playing) what your opponent is doing, interfere with your newly found throw. At moments of stress be prepared to relax enough to enable you to return to a state of 'Just throwing' and develop this as your standby method of throwing or your 'fallback throw'.
To 'just throw a dart' is an important stake in the ground for any dartitis sufferer mentally but this is rarely appreciated by any player who has not suffered from dartitis!
At some stage you will not just want to throw. I didn't. I wanted to return to my former throwing style and capability. It is important to realise that, when you do this, especially if you are a competitive player or if you wish to improve your game, you are imposing a pressure on yourself, pressure which was the primary cause of the problem in the first place.

You are now in a dangerous situation because, in trying, there is a definite danger that dartitis will return and it will unless you recognise the symptoms and correct it straightaway. When you establish your regular style of play again, you need to relax sufficiently and not worry when playing, especially about missing what you want. But that is what it boils down to. It is the fear (in the brain) of not being able to hit what you want. In that split second of drawing back your arm to throw, the brain stops the throwing action through fear of missing. So, you have to grow confidence in your own ability and practice to hopefully boost that confidence and develop your fallback throw.
How often do you see the person who is under pressure in a competitive situation suddenly buckle and go under? It is nature's way of saying 'Enough is enough. I cannot maintain this standard of play.' For the perfectionist who doesn't wish to buckle and go under, dartitis is likely to occur because every dart played has to be the perfect one - and we all know that there is not yet a perfect dart player; just damn good ones.
So, completing the circle, you have to be prepared to accept that you may miss what you want although you are doing your best to get it. You have to balance effort and concentration with sufficient relaxation to maintain your form and your fallback throw just like you do in practice. This is not easy to achieve when you are under pressure. It may take a couple of throws of erratic darts to regain it but that will improve as you develop so, again, maintain your natural style. Don't forget it. Eventually your fallback throw will merge with your normal throw and that is when you can say I have beaten the dreaded dartitis.

Writing my story brought out a lot of bad old memories for me, yet I am still playing!! From the time I set up the board at home to tackle the problem I played for two good teams in the Portsmouth area for over ten years. During this time I thought I had cracked the problem a few times only for it to re-emerge in a pressure situation.
I then played in Gosport for four years and found fairly quickly that I had nailed the problem once and for all. During that time I played a couple of seasons in the Super League, won the South East Area RAFA Individuals and reached the semi-finals of the Gosport Individuals just before coming to Cyprus twelve years ago. In 2000 I set up the Larnaca Friendly Darts League with only five teams. We now have twelve teams. The Personality Pub Team, Larnaca, Cyprus (Bob Johnson is on far left)

Nowadays I reflect on the problem I had but now appreciate that, when I decided to set up my dartboard at home to try and combat the condition, it was not the end of my darts career; it was the beginning!

I hope that my story is of some use to you in regaining your confidence to play darts after an attack of dartitis. If any sufferer would like to contact me for further advice, please e-mail me at robertjohns@cytanet.com.cy


Dr. Patrick Chaplin kindly allowed to use this article

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