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Practice, Practice, Practice

practicing is the key point for improving your game. You know the saying among dart players: "Three rules for becoming a good player? practice, practice, practice!"

But practicing is not only tossing darts on a dartboard for several hours with an automatic getting-better result. Athletes may gain muscle power from repeating the same brain-killing exercises over and over, but darts is not some martial art; it's skill and touch that matters. So dart practice is a different matter, and I want to give you some tips here on how you should do it.

Frequency and awareness before quantity
General notes on how you should plan and handle your practicing sessions
How often, how much? This is one of the standard questions I get from players. The general answer is of course not surprising: As often as possible, as much as possible.

But how many people have 8 hours or more per day they can use for practicing darts? Answer: Maybe the pros and some of the unemployed, but hardly anyone else. So you get your personal answer - use as much time as you can or are willing to afford. If this is 8 hours per day, great. If this is 1 hour, okay.

However long this time is, you should use it right. 1 hour of intense, aware and motivated practice is better than 8 hours of boredom and so-so arrow tossing. And, as in the headline of this paragraph, frequency is more important than quantity. An example: Player A does 7 or more hours of practicing each Sunday and nothing during the rest of the week. Player B practices half an hour on workdays, 2 hours on Saturday and then enjoys a lazy Sunday. Guess who uses his time better... yes, frequency is more important than quantity, so player B's regime is much better.

Try to practice each day of the week, with not more than 1 or two days off. Even if you can only spend 20 minutes on workdays this is good practice, although you should then plan at least one longer practice session on weekends, let's say more than 2 hours if you are serious about improving your game. The frequency postulate can also be used for doing two or more short practice sessions on one day. E.g. play for 15 minutes during lunch hour if you have the chance to, and for another 15 minutes when you come home. German top player Andre Welge used to get up 20 minutes earlier in the morning to get some additional practicing before he went to work. Not anybody's strategy (at least not mine, I REALLY hate getting up early), but a good one.

Then, not only is frequency better than quantity, intensity also is. Do your practice sessions on a concentration level similar to your matchplay level. If you find your concentration or motivation dropping during a longer session, go for a pause. Again 15 minutes up to half an hour are okay for such pausing. You can and should also pause if your motivation drops during a practice session, and also when you are unhappy with your game. Better stop and try again a while later with new motivation and awareness. Unconcentrated and unmotivated practice is bad practice. Pro Rod Harrington told me he doesn't practice when he has no fun doing it. In darts there is no use for forcing oneselve to practicing. If you don't want to, don't do. But of course, if you aren't eaeger to get to the board again after one or two lazy days you will hardly have the personality to become a strong player. In many other sports self-torment (mostly to gain muscle power) is a necessity, but not in darts. Darts is touch and coordination, not physical suffering.

Why it should be solitare
practicing alone is the best way
solitare practicing is much more valuable than practicing with friends or practicing only by playing as much matches as possible. Mathplay is of course also very important, but if I should give a ratio I'd say a good one is one third matchplay, two thirds (or even more) solitare.

The reasons behind this are not really obvious, especially because many players experience that they are doing well in solitare and (relatively) suck in matchplay, so they are thinking it's the lack of matchplay practice that causes that. That is, however, wrong.

As a matter of fact every player plays worse in matchplay than he does in practice. It is of course hard to believe, but even the pros do. And this not only in darts, it is valid for any other sport. To increase our matchplay performance to NEARLY (exactly of course would be great but it is in fact impossible!) the level of our practice performance we must mainly use sports psychology, because the mental aspects of matchplay are the reason for this phenomenon (if you are a regular reader of TDT you know that the mental aspect is the most important issue in this project). And note - if you are one of these rare players who say they do better in matchplay than they do in practice, the reason (and the ONLY reason!) is the following: You don't practice enough, period.

But it is still not clear why solitare practicing is that important. As a personal summary, I'd say this: "Practicing with partners, no matter if they are better or worse than you, forces you to raise your limit above theirs. Practicing alone constantly forces you to raise your limit above yourself, and this limit is higher than you might dream of!" So you can nearly infinitely improve your game only by always trying to beat your limit. No matter how good you are, you can always be better. No friendly or rivalry matchplay practice can do this when your opponents stick to their level. To say it literally - the only way to make your current personal limit your future standard is practicing alone.

The right games to play
which practicing games to play and why
Whenever discussion comes to practicing this is an almost immediate question. The answer mainly depends on your personal weaknesses.

Many player's practice is mainly hammering 60s, then going arund a few doubles or bulls and then back to 60s. This is of course nonsense. In many X01 leagues or tournaments you will see players scoring great but missing on the double. Unless you play on pro levels, most games will be decided on the double, not on score. So the main weakness of 'normal' players is hitting doubles. This means the most important practice for all kinds of players below pro level is practicing doubles in any form, and for beginners additional practice on singles is required.

A good practicing game must be:

  • Generally improving your accuracy all over the board,
  • Suitable for solitare,
  • Focussing on doubles and singles for x01 and on trebles and singles for cricket,
  • Challenging and demanding to your level of play, but not awkward difficult or frustrating but
  • Encouraging, fun and competitive and
  • At best not require chalking to keep you in rhythm.
So we can discard any '60 hammering' right from the scratch, and we can discard 501 itself as 501 practice because it focusses too much on scoring.

I will give you some nice games later, but at the moment I want to give you some more notes on the 'encouraging, fun and competitive' point. This is very important, because as stated above your practicing sessions should be motivating. So you have to give yourself some aims in practice, especially for your longer practice sessions. This is done best by monitoring your progress in some way. Monitoring of course requires that one thing few of us are able to keep when they are monitoring themselves: OBJECTIVITY.

The best way to remain objective is writing down your achievements in a notebook (or, as we are living in so-called modern times, keep a spreadsheet or database). To do this the results of the games you are choosing must be available in the form of measurable quantities (thanks to Galilei's view of science: measure what's measurable, and make measurable what isn't at present) - less sophisticated this reads: your games must have a point system or you must invent one for them. For more information on how to run such 'scorebooks', and for additional practice games, read alt.sport.darts Games FAQ.

And finally here are my suggestions for practice games:

Good for any playing strength, this is just a shortened version of 501, and most of you will know it. Just like 501 it is 170 straight start, finish on a double. The game focusses on finishing (doubles!) and a bit of score. It is encouraging because 170 is that big outshot you are looking for, and the result can be measured perfectly by the amount of darts needed to finish. Play a couple of 170s in your practice sessions and write down the darts you needed for each of them. You can watch progress by calculating averages for each day.

Round the board (many alterations possible!)
For the beginner this is a perfect basic game. Throw for singles from 1 to 20 plus bull. Throw for each number until you hit it and count the darts you needed.

Round the board can be played in exactly this form with doubles and trebles. If you don't find it boring, it is a perfect game for practicing.

One alteration I was using heavily is this: shoot 3 darts at each number's treble from 1 to 20 and bull. Hitting the number's single scores 1 point, hitting the treble 3 points. This game is simple but very good, because it lets you go round the board, lets you group darts around trebles and lets you always aim at a new highsocre. If you are beginner - average you will find your high score first around or beyond the 60 region. When you get better you will have 70+. 80+ is great, and above 100 is expert/pro level. This game is a good practice for trebles (cricket), but unfortunately doesn't do anything for doubles (except generally improving your accuracy).

This game is a bit more demanding. You start from 60 points and try to shoot it out with 3 darts. If you miss to shoot out with 3, then you go down 1 point for the next throw. If you hit it, you go up 10 points, and so on as long as you like or until you reach more than can be shot out with 3 darts (let me know if you get that far...).

throw 1: 60 - not finished

throw 2: 59 - finished

throw 3: 69 - not finished

      4: 68 - not finished 

      5: 67 - finished

      6: 77 - not finshed
and so on. Just see how far you can get. This game is less worthy for your scorebook, but it is encouraging and demanding. A danger is it may lead you to frustration, so if this happens play a different game. Very good practice for X01 and doubles.
 This is a very tough game suitable for good players. You start from 25 points and shoot 3 darts at each double from 1 to 20 + bull. Add hit double's values, and substract the double's value once if you fail to hit with 3. If you fall below 0 the game is over (lesser players can play with minus points allowed or start with more than 25 points to avoid frustration). If you reach bull and have a considerable score afterwards this is very good. I think there is an old world record above 600 points or so for this game.

Throw 1: D1 hit once,   27 points (25 + D1 = 27 + 2)

      2: D2 missed,     23 points (27 - D2 = 27 - 4)

      3: D3 missed,     17 points (23 - D3 = 23 - 6)

      4: D4 hit twice,  33 points (17 + 2xD4 = 17 + 2x8 = 17 + 16)
and so on.

Great game for good players, very good double practice and very competitive.

And of course, any other game you like that meets the requirements is great.

The above games are mainly meant for your longer practice sessions (1 hour and more), with 170 being an exception. This game is also very good for your short term practice. You can also play just one or two round the board variations in short term practice, but generally it is better to get for some often needed doubles, then going for some score and then go back to doubles or trebles just as long as you get some 'feeling' for the dart and your throw. In a short term practice session it is not so important how much you actually hit. Concentrating and getting the right feeling are much more important.

how to get prepared for a match
Warming up before league play and tournaments is very important and worth a special paragraph. You should at least do half an hour of concentrated warmup before important league matches or tournaments. E.g. the pros playing the World Championship are warming up for several hours (!) before the match. Eric Bristow used to feel ready for battle only when he got 4 or 5 hours of practice before one single match (which then lasted even shorter than his practice session before). He won the title five times so he seemed to know what he did. Of course such extreme warmup is rarely possible with tournament starts at AM and league nights right after work.

Once you know your most common problems you will develop your own warmup routines, like hitting each double at least once or twice or playing round the boards and so on. Of course warmup is also a situation where you may and should go for increased scoring practice, but still doubles (or trebles for cricket) are more important. If diddle for middle is the rule or if cricket will be played of course bull is important, too.

Remember before the tournament or league it still is solitare that rules! It is especially dangerous here to stick too much to matchplay for warmup because warmup is a situation where you need to get rid of possible technical problems as soon as possible. This requires your full concentration, and warmup matches are very likely to put your concentration on winning them instead of fighting your problems! You can of course switch to playing them once your feeling and technique are set for the day, but not earlier.

There is one routine I have developed for occasions where I don't have much time to warm up for some reason. I start with throwing my darts on D20 or even above D20. This because the high darts require a good follow-through, and usually this is my main technical problem. When I then have a good feeling on D20 I go for some score only to get back on the D20 shortly after. When D20 sucks then I repeat this until it works (which usually means the follow-through is there and working), and then I finally go for some rounds on D3 with the first, Bull with the second and D20 with the third dart. This develops my height feeling for going around the board. Followed by some darts on doubles I'm, say "emergency-ready".

Karlheinz Zöchling, October 15, 1998