Paul Nicholson discusses the three-dart average and the dangers of focusing too much on them when trying to improve your game.
Reaching an average of 100 has been widely regarded as a benchmark for a world-class performance in recent times, but are we guilty of obsessing over these statistics too much when analysing players of all levels?
Former major winner and commentator Paul Nicholson, who is also a leading coach in the game, assesses when and why we should use averages but also when they can do far more harm than good.
The Asset also comes up with a potential alternative average that would potentially be more useful when measuring player performance...
If you walked up to the top 10 players in the world and asked them what they think about averages, they would give you the same answer.
They don’t care. There’s no bonus or incentive for registering a big average. All they care about is winning.
We talk about averages in the same way we’d talk about different key statistics in any other sport, and that will never change.
They are a brilliant guide for us to discuss and analyse how well someone is playing but as far as improving your own game is concerned, you shouldn’t focus on them.
The BDO way of measuring averages was for one dart. The PDC brought in the three-dart average because they wanted to give fans something fresh to reflect on.
Now that has become the norm but if you speak to anyone in my generation, the golden goose used to be the 30 average. Now it’s 90-100 for the three-dart average.
Back in the old days, the BDO system had one-dart averages for everyone who played county darts.
But there was also a ‘dynamic average’, which was your one-dart average added to how many games you’d won. So if you’d won nine games that season, your dynamic average would be your one-dart average plus nine points.
Collectively this would create a league table that helped them establish who they thought was the best county player in a season. So it was effectively average-led rather than results-led – and this table selected the national teams!
During the recent World Seniors Championship, viewers will probably have noticed that the scoreline graphic on the screen also included both players’ live in-running average throughout the entire match.
This stat only appears sporadically during PDC tournaments on Sky Sports and ITV but is referenced more regularly by the commentators to give viewers a statistical guide of how well the players are performing.
However, if the TV networks include averages constantly on their graphics then the players will notice them via the monitors on the stage which help them keep track of the scores. The last thing they’d want to know is their average.
It’s a widely held belief that players who put in their best statistical performances will have no clue what their average is during the match. They get themselves in this incredible zone where they focus on taking each leg at a time. That’s all that matters.
When Peter Wright broke the world average record for a broadcast match of 123.5 back in 2019, he had no clue until Krzysztof Ratajski pointed it out to him after the stat flashed up on the screen following the match.
Michael van Gerwen had an inkling he’d done something special when he averaged 123.40 against Michael Smith during the Premier League in Aberdeen back in 2016 but he didn’t know exactly.
Nowadays even local, county and Super League competition will use apps that show averages – but no matter what standard you’re operating at, the minute you get an inkling that you might average a PB or reach a new milestone like a 90, your game will probably fall apart.
All of a sudden you go from focused to having a wobbly hand. It’s a bit like trying to break 80 in golf for the first time. If you know you need a par on the 18th to do it, you’ll probably bogey it!
The difference with golf is that it’s much easier to naturally work out what you might be on without thinking too much about it, whereas with darts it can virtually be impossible to know exactly, especially over plenty of legs.
However, I remember a time when I was playing county darts for Northumberland at the Marlborough Club in Newcastle and had never averaged over 90 before – or 30 per dart as we referred to it back then. I knew in my head that if I hit double eight – with three darts in hand - to win the match 3-0 I’d finally do it. Not only did I miss the lot, I even lost the match!
The mind was too focused on the average. I’d thrown 32 darts for the first two legs and I had 16 left after 15 darts in leg three. I knew a 16, 17 or 18 darter would mean a 30 average.
When I eventually broke 90 I was in Australia in a longer match when it would have been too hard to work it out. And pretty soon after that, I broke through the 100 barrier without realising!
Ignorance is bliss. The less you know, the better you play.
Young players will come up to me weekly and say they want to reach a certain average – or tell me what they’ve averaged to show what level they’re at. But I just reply with ‘How many matches have you won?”
It’s all about winning. The average is just a reflection of what you’ve done, not a reflection of what you can do. Nobody’s goal should be a certain average. It will naturally go up with more practice and winning matches.
There’s no difference between an 18 darter and a 16 darter: They both win the leg in the same visit. But in an average sense, one of them is a 94 average and the other is an 84.
James Wade is a master at winning legs with his last dart in hand, and that’s one of the reasons why his averages aren’t always as high as the other world-class players.
Whereas the likes of Phil Taylor, Michael van Gerwen and Gary Anderson were masterful at getting 13-darters instead of 15-darters. The difference between the two is 15 points!
Heavy scorers give themselves more chances to polish off 13 darters whereas those particularly known for being clinical on the 100+ checkouts will be getting more of the 15s.
It’s not just the ability to score heavily – it’s also an ability to use the dart board better to give you more chances of completing legs in the least time. This is something the younger ‘counting’ generation like Dimitri Van den Bergh and Luke Humphries are so much smarter at.
James Wade has been an elite player for almost 20 years which is an incredible feat, especially when you think how often people question his scoring power and averages in comparison to those around him.
Being a heavy scorer is an incredible benefit but he’s proved it’s not the be all and end all if you can be an amazing finisher.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s had some big averages down the years but he’s not one to have a cluster of back-to-back 100+ averages over a long period of time.
Just imagine if he was a bit more accurate on the treble 20s?! His darts sit slightly differently to how they did many years ago, when he hit more 180s. They used to go in at a lovely upright angle that gave him more room but now they are much flatter. He hasn’t changed any of his kit in all these years so maybe he needs to tinker a tiny bit to get those darts landing more upright.
If he figures it out, everyone has problems.
When I was 19, I was told by Graham Stoddart: “Averages lie and don’t forget it.” I never have.
We generally assume a high average reflects how powerfully someone is scoring while a low one suggests the opposite – but obviously this can be affected if they are struggling with doubles. The ‘First Nine’ Average isn’t a lot more accurate for measuring scoring power as there are plenty of cases when someone gets off to a slow start in a leg and then hits a 180 with their fourth visit.
Players can lose with a much higher average than their opponents and this statistic therefore doesn’t really tell you exactly where the flaw in the performance lies. Not that there always has to be a flaw.
For example, in this year’s Players Championship 1 final, Luke Humphries takes out 161 for a 12 darter and Ryan Searle is waiting on 16 after nine darters. Searle has a much bigger average and loses the leg! More legs like those completely skews the match stats and doesn’t explain where it was won or lost.
I would therefore love to see a statistic, if possible, of how many darts it takes you to get to your first double in a leg.
So imagine over three legs you’ve scored 461 in 12 darts to leave yourself double top, 469 in 13 to leave double 16 and 465 in 18 darts to leave double then whatever you call this statistic – Average To Arrive At A Double (ATA) for example – would be 97.3.
Obviously if you’ve not reached a double, the points you have scored still get included in this average because it's trying to solely measure the scoring phase of your game.