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Practice With A Purpose



Practice can be one of the most boring things you can do or a very fulfilling and enjoyable experience.  Few players if any can perform at their peak without a long term practice routine.  Dedicated practice achieves  two goals for a player, muscle memory and mental confidence.  The muscle memory will allow you to hit your target time and time again.  The mental confidence enables you to hit your target when under pressure because you’ve done it so many times before.  But to achieve muscle memory and mental confidence practice must have a purpose and to have a purpose it must have routine.

If succeeding in ranked tournaments, the Provincials or Nationals is your goal then setting out a dedicated practice routine should be part of your future.  Practice has to be more than mindlessly throwing darts at the board for hours.  There should be some kind of goal to your practice.  This article will explore some guiding principles of a good practice routine.

There are two kinds of practice a player can perform by themselves.  The first is what most people do.  They practice to sharpen their game and prepare for competitive play.  The other is to practice, or a better term would be to perfect, ones form.  Form is how you throw your dart in a consistent repetitive manner.

The only way to practice your form is with repetition putting the emphasis on how your dart is leaving your hand and the level of confidence you have in your throw.  This kind of practice builds muscle memory.  Consistent form is the trademark of all top players.  To be able to throw your dart in the same manner every time will always pay dividends in tournament play.  To practice your form is very easy.  Only you know how you want to throw your dart so pick a target on the board, either a triple or a double and start throwing and throwing and throwing.  You’ll know when you’re satisfied with you throw.   But it is always good to practice your form for at least a few minutes during every practice session, usually at the beginning of the session as a warm up.  Sometimes you will find that your form breaks down when throwing at certain numbers or at doubles.  Take the time to practice your form throwing at doubles as well as triples to ensure you are making a consistent throw regardless of the target.  As a side note, when warming up at a tournament throwing to ensure the mechanics of your throw are correct is always a good way to prepare yourself for action.  But don’t try to introduce anything new, just reinforce what you’ve been practicing.

Practicing to sharpen your skills can take many forms.  One of the first principles of a good practice is challenging yourself.  You have to practice the things you’re not good at!  This may appear obvious but it is very easy to just work on the things you’re comfortable with.  Another part of challenging yourself is to set goals for whatever you are practicing at that time. 

There are two main objectives when playing darts.  Hitting high scores and doubling out.  So those are the areas you should be concentrating on when practicing.  Here are a couple of  simple routines for scoring:

Twenty Twenties

This can be a very challenging game.  The object is to hit twenty twenties without missing.  Three single twenties count as three, three triple twenties count as nine, a triple, double and single twenty counts as six, you get the idea.  If you hit a number other than a twenty before you have get twenty of them then you have to start over again at zero.

Ten 140’s

Start by dividing your chalk board into three horizontal sections.  The top section will be where you record 140’s, the middle 100’s, and the bottom 60’s.  The goal is to hit ten 140’s before you hit fifteen 100’s or twenty 60’s.  Once you’ve filled you quota of 140’s or100’s or 60’s then the game is over.  You can determine the criteria for winning.  It could be fifteen 100’s and five 140’s, it’s up to you.  One thing for sure . . . if you hit twenty 60’s then you’ve lost.  (The quotas and numbers can be changed, especially if you’re a 19 shooter,  to your liking but the lower scores should always have a higher number of required hits)

Solo Cricket

It’s all about counting darts.  Play a game of cricket by yourself concentrating on closing numbers, there is no scoring points when playing alone.  A perfect game would be would be 8 darts, hitting all singles would be 21 darts.  Choose a dart limit that fits your skill level.  Playing solo cricket also gets you moving around the board hitting numbers that you use quite often in combinations but you seldom practice them.

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The most common practice routine is to play games of 501 by yourself.  But to just play the games to the end without any kind of win/loss criteria serves no purpose.  Set a limit on the number of darts you can throw in a game.  Let’s say you’ve set a limit of  21 darts per game.  Once you have thrown 21 darts and haven’t finished the game then you’ve lost.  Keep track of your wins and losses to gauge how you’re doing.  If you never seem to win then up the limit by three darts until you find a number where you can win at least 50% of the time.  You want to work with a limit that allows you to practice all parts of the game, scoring, combinations and finishing.  As you improve reduce the number of darts in your limit.  Using this method of practice will also reinforce the fact that every dart counts and you can not give up on a game.  If you can find software for your computer that you can record your shots on and gives you a virtual opponent then it will really add to your practice routine.

Practicing doubles is just as important as shooting big scores.  There are ways to challenge  yourself with doubles as well.  One easy game is to start with double one but only allow yourself 6 darts to hit it.  After you’ve hit it or thrown 6 darts move on to double two and so on through to double bull.  After you’ve thrown at a double record the number of darts you took to hit it or record a six if you didn’t hit it at all.  If you hit everything with your first dart then it will take 21 darts to complete the game.  If you hit nothing you would record 126.  You can determine what total number you consider good or bad.  This is a favorite practice routine of Bonnie LaPierre, two time ladies Canadian Champion.

Another doubles game was developed by one time Provincial Champion Brian Gatin.  On your chalk board mark the numbers 1 to 20 and DB.  Start the game by throwing three darts at double one.  If you hit it with the first or second dart then you throw your third dart at the largest number available which would be double bull.  For your next throw you go after double two, whether you hit double one or not.  If you hit double two with your first or second dart then you throw your second or third at largest double that you missed which is a lower number than the one you’ve just hit or the largest number available that you haven’t hit yet.  This all sounds a little complicated so here’s an example.  You’ve missed double one with all three darts.   On your next shot you hit double two with your first dart.  Since you missed double one you can now throw at it with your remaining two darts, lets say you hit it with the second dart.  Now you can throw the third dart at the largest double that’s available which hasn’t yet been hit, in this case it would be double bull, and you hit it as well.  On your next throw you shoot at double three and hit it with your second dart.  There are no doubles that you’ve missed which are smaller than double three so throw your third dart at the largest number that is available.  You hit double bull on your previous throw so the next largest number is double twenty.  The goal is to erase the list of doubles by attacking it form both ends.  The game is over when you’ve either erased all the doubles or you have shot at all the doubles in ascending order.  Hopefully this explanation will be enough for you to use this practice routine, it is very challenging.

The best way to practice your game is to play against your peers.  But always keep in mind that the goal of practice is game improvement.  If you’re opponents aren’t pushing you then you’re probably not getting a lot of benefit from the games.  There’s nothing wrong with an evening of casual darts but don’t think you’re going to get better by continually pummeling your friends.  Try to practice against players at or better than your own skill level.  Competing against better players will develop more than just your aim.  There is  always something that can be learnt from a successful player that will improve your game.  

Sometimes your practice will go well sometimes it won’t.  But in either case always finish your session on a positive note.  Do something at the end of your session that lets you leave the board feeling good about yourself even if you’ve played really bad.  It can be something as simple as not quitting until you hit 100.  Or a certain double with all three darts.  Or hitting three singles.  It doesn’t really matter what you pick to end your session as long as it makes you feel good.  It’s like putting a period at the end of a sentence.  It signals the end.  It also helps you mentally with your game.  When you’re playing bad in a tournament situation you can always look back at your practice and remember that even when you are having difficulty you can still make a good shot when required.

Practice is essential to your development into an elite player.  But there is one place you should never practice.  At a tournament.  Whether you’re playing good or bad the only thing you should do at a tournament is warm up by reinforcing everything that you’ve practiced.  Trying new things should be kept to your board at home.  The practicing you’ve done on your own should reinforce what you want to do at a tournament.  By the time the shooting is for real everything should come naturally.