I mentioned in my last post that on the pub darts circuit I mainly played with or against men, writes Lee Sulby.

However, there were a handful of women who played and they were at least if not better than the average bloke. They tended to drink sensibly and were more determined to prove themselves. They certainly received less teasing than the men if they did happen to throw a bag of rusty nails. I never once witnessed any negative or inappropriate behaviour towards the female players, only respect and genuine acceptance.

For me these were gutsy women stepping into what has traditionally always been a working man’s sanctuary simply because they loved the darts and refused to be stigmatised. It’s not surprising that the women competed at the same level as the men. Unlike other sports darts doesn’t rely on size, speed or strength. Instead skill, consistency and mental toughness are the ingredients that make a decent darts player; capabilities that cross the gender divide. Darts is truly one of the great sporting levellers, so why is darts still dominated by men?

The pipeline of female darts players is less obvious than other more mainstream sports. It certainly isn’t school or weekend clubs and I’m willing to bet that frequenters of the local boozer and memberships at snooker clubs or pool halls that tend to have darts facilities are predominantly male. Besides, I doubt these are the sort of places the Instagram generation want to hang-out and document for the internet trolls to pass judgement on.

The answer to the pipeline problem may lie with the unexpected but welcomed success of the Flight Club franchise. The original Shoreditch venue which opened at the end of 2015 has been hugely successful in creating a new breed of social darts fan. I’ve been a number of times with friends, many of whom have never played darts and they have always enjoyed the experience. The vibrancy of the venues, the party atmosphere, the flow of cocktails and prosecco opens up the game of darts in all its varieties (there are a surprising amount of games you can play on a dartboard) to a younger crowd made up of women and partygoers. No longer is darts the creature of salubrious back ally haunts, it’s now Instagram credible and if this encourages young people of both sexes to gives darts a try then it should be applauded by the wider darting establishment.

One of the interesting things about watching people new to darts, as well as more experienced players and professionals, is the variety of throwing techniques. A lot is made of the different kinds of grip, stance, and release but for me it was more about comfort, consistency and most importantly practice. I was more focussed on trying to hold my nerve (and drink!) and less worried about how I held my darts. My throw was unique/weird in that it was flat and hard. It didn’t feel that way to me but other players would often comment on it and automatically assume when they saw me throw my first few darts that I didn’t know what I was doing. When I first started playing I attempted to modify my action so that the flight of the dart was loopier, which was more common and according to my team mates more aesthetically pleasing. It didn’t work. I quickly reverted back to what felt natural to me and instead worked hard on the aspects of my throw that I knew I could improve such as foot placement and keeping my shoulder and head as still as possible.

Other than a bit of friendly banter about my throw, I generally found that the behaviour and sportsmanship of amateur darts players to be of a higher calibre and more refined than other amateur sports I’ve been involved with such as football or cricket. Don’t get me wrong it was always competitive but never aggressive. If anything opposition players tended to be supportive if you were having an off day, nobody revelled in your misery. There is a natural comradeship amongst the darts community probably born out of a sense of historically being seen as outcasts operating in the shadows. As darts emerges from the darkness thanks to Flight Club, the growing popularity of televised darts, and the Christmas World Championships at Ally Pally, it can do so with its head held up.

Darts isn’t perfect but it has a lot to be proud of.

 

Read more from Lee Sulby – Is It A Game Or A Sport

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