In the second of her two-part blog, Dr Linda Duffy, once the number one ranked women’s darts player in the world and current sports psychology at Middlesex University and the London Sport Institute, talks to Harrows about the psychology of our sport…

When I sit down with a player, I will always try to understand their psychological strengths and weaknesses: when did the issues start? Was it a catastrophic/sudden breakdown in their throwing movement or a slow burner? What are their ultimate aspirations? What about their dart-throwing history? And of course any issues that need tackling away from the sport: has there been a divorce? A bereavement? A new baby in the household? A change of job? A change of environment? When you understand the person behind the disorder then you can put the necessary steps in place to help. You become a sounding board, a form of therapist in most cases.

I like to think that as a former world number one, my own also credibility helps in these one-to-one situations. When a professional sports person – regardless of their chosen profession – comes to see me, I’m someone they can relate to, who’s dealt with a highly-pressurised environment myself, and I’ve sampled success and indeed failure.

It’s about building relationships with my clients and many of the dart players I’ve worked with down the years have come out of the other side still able to play at a very competitive level. Some have put that coping mechanism in place to help them maintain their competitive edge while others have had real success to the point where often they feel they are free from dartitis, but rarely 100 per cent of the time.

Yet we should also be aware that everybody’s throw changes over time anyway; it’s an evolution. Humans simply adapt to get the result they need, streamlining a skill to get the desired result. We shouldn’t simply focus on dartitis either when we look at the psychology of darts…

Competitive anxiety, low state and trait self-confidence, lack of motivation, low resilience, an absence of realistic goal-setting and a generally poor attitude are all psychological constructs that will affect a dart player’s performance.

It is evident to many darts fans that certain players down the years have lost the desire to compete. Compare and contrast with Phil Taylor; you can see why ‘The Power’ went on and on and on. Mentally he had the desire and the strength to maintain his position at the very top of the game.

It’s interesting to note that up until this point, darts is one of the few sports without the regular use of coaches, technical or psychological, which is surprising – certainly at professional level when there is so much financial reward these days. There are many inside the sport who still feel it’s not relevant but I would argue to the contrary; if a player can find that extra five or ten per cent to enhance their performance, this could translate into huge rewards.

In my opinion, at the very highest level of dart-playing performance, 95 per cent of that performance is psychological; this is evident when witnessing shifts in momentum during long championship matches. Furthermore, we often see the same winners, meaning those with the greater levels of psychological resilience and who have less competitive anxiety are those that generally come out on top. But if we had more trained psychologists and coaches involved then we could well see other names winning the most coveted top prizes. 

With the sport making rapid strides, with greater professionalism undertaken and technology constantly advancing, I can see a time when there is a sea change, where, due to the nature of darts, players will require more support from a personal perspective. There are less coaching points in dart throwing compared to many other sports; it’s less dynamic, played in the same close environment, requires opponents to take turns to throw, and there is no opportunity to affect your opponents’ execution of the skill… but from a psychological standpoint, there is definitely scope for greater input in our sport.

 

• Dr Linda Duffy is a former World No.1 dart player, England captain, World Cup singles champion, two-time British Open champion, European Champion and is now a consultant sport psychologist at Middlesex University. 

Follow her on Twitter @sportspsycoach

Linda was talking to Luke Nicoli