Superstitions in darts: Paul Nicholson reveals a number of rituals players have and if they help bring success

Paul Nicholson reveals some darting superstitions in this week's column

Many top sports stars are known to be superstitious in their pursuit of greatness and darts players are no different.

Whether it's their equipment, diets, favourite clothing, footwear, lucky mascots, timekeeping, walk-on choices or random routines when up on stage, there's seemingly 100s of different rituals and habits that various players will cling onto throughout their careers.

In this week's column, former major winner, commentator and coach Paul Nicholson explores various superstitions in the world of darts and whether they can help improve performances even if there's no scientific method behind the madness.

I think a lot of superstitions in life – not just sport - are born from something you did on a day when you succeeded and from that point on it becomes a ritual.

Human beings, especially sportspeople, are creatures of habit and continually search for the right formula to keep winning.

I’ve seen loads of darts players behave like clockwork in terms of the exact times they arrive at venues as well as their unique behaviours, so anything that disrupts those habits can completely throw them. They are perhaps more regimented than many people expect.

Some habits can be so innocuous that players might not put it down to superstition, whereas other players will be very aware of what they’re doing – even if they don’t want to talk about it.

Mascots, towels and finger blowing

Many sports stars have lucky mascots or something they treasure, but in Robert Thornton’s case it’s a little teddy bear that fits inside his darts shirt pocket. I believe it belonged to one of his grandchildren and he believes taking a part of his family with him will bring good fortune.

Like many other players, Robert has a small towel to go with his darts case. But myself, Keegan Brown and Steve West all noticed he folded it in a certain way every time like a ritual. The one time we tried to mess it up as a practical joke, he got defensive to put it politely!

I’ve been told I have certain mannerism when I play – whether it’s on stage or during the recent online tournaments in my own home!

One of them is blowing on my fingers, which I think started out as some kind of nervous thing many years ago and then became a habit.

However, I get the feeling if I stopped doing it then something wouldn’t feel quite right and therefore it’s become a necessity for me.

Breaking fasts

I do pride myself on routine and I’m probably regarded as one of the most regimented players out there because of it. I’m quite ritualistic when it comes to eating certain foods before tournaments and Mervyn King even noticed I’d eat a specific cereal bar at exactly 10.17am every day!

I didn’t actually realise that until he revealed his findings – which he’d secretly collated with other players over a couple of months – so maybe habits can be subconscious.

After that it became more of a superstition because I made sure I’d eat my bar at 10.17 on tournament mornings!

If you fail to stick to these types of superstitions, you easily can fall into the trap of creating a predisposed excuse or talk yourself into expecting a bad day because of it, so you’ve got to be strong minded enough to realise they shouldn’t realistically affect you.

Staying on the breakfast theme, Kevin Painter never ate it!

He used to, but on one particular day when he’d performed well he realised he’d accidentally skipped his breakfast.

Obviously this doesn’t mean not eating breakfast might scientifically be beneficial to darts players, but for Kevin he linked the two events together and it became a superstition of sorts.

Jeff Smith has an unbelievable love for chicken wings and if he doesn’t get them, he gets flustered! You get the feeling that when he can’t hunt them down before a tournament, he might just have a bad day at the oche!

Budget shopping

Ian White always turns up to events carrying a cheap shopping bag. Even if you bought him a nice sports bag to bring to tournaments instead, I doubt he’d use it even though neither should have any impact on his performances.

At the start of Simon Whitlock’s PDC career he always used to wear these chunky Nike trainers because he wanted to be comfortable and didn’t like shiny, smart shoes.

Simon had two pairs and they were within the rules because they were all black. One of them, however, started to tear not long after he won the European Championship in 2012 which forced him to wear the spare pair and at that point he went searching the shops for another as a back-up.

At this point he discovered Nike had stopped making them and this was like crisis for Simon! His superstition was broken by forces out of his control and it subsequently took him over a year for him to find a different pair that were equally as comfortable in his own mind.

Keeping up appearances

Wayne Mardle obviously made a name for himself due to his loud shirts and extravagant walk-ons, but in his last World Championship he shied away from it.

I don’t think he looked or felt like the player of old but this is an example of someone trying to break their habits, image or superstitions to try and perform better.

He had so much more comfort on the oche by playing up to his character and the same can be said of Dimitri van den Bergh and Devon Peterson.

If you told either they couldn’t dance on stage, they’d be gutted. It’s not just to entertain the crowd, but also their ritual to relax them and get them mentally prepared to play to their best.

These boots are made for walking

James Wade is a very complex person but he’s very uncomplicated on the dart board. He’s the same in that regard now as he’s always been.

But even he has his own little foibles such as not ever playing in shoes that cost less than £200! When he told me this, I wasn’t sure if he was showing off that he had more money than me, but I started to monitor it whenever I watched him play.

And sure enough, if you look at his feet, he’ll always wear top of the range fabulous shoes. Even the terrible looking ones will be expensive!

Time keeping

If you went to a Pro Tour event in Barnsley, for example, I could tell you five players who’d be in the venue at 9.05am and five who wouldn’t.

Being late to venues can disrupt pre-tournament routines more than anything else and that’s why many players will arrive early to ensure they can stick to all their various rituals from practice regimes to diets.

Not everyone is, however. Jonny Clayton isn’t superstitious at all about his times and quite often rocks up very close to the sign-up time around 11am.

Equipment changes

Peter Wright once said he likes to change his darts all the time because it keeps him on his toes. When you change equipment, you have to reconnect your action with the dart and you can therefore take nothing for granted.

When he put it like that, you could see some some method behind that madness!

Changing darts can be such small adjustments, such as a millimetre or two on the length of a point or half a gram of weight difference.

Mervyn King always takes a minimum of six pre-made darts with him to tournaments – with all the stems and flights already attached. Both sets all look identical, even to me, but Mervyn assured me there are tiny differences.

If he’s not playing well enough with one set, he’ll switch to the other set, so I think having this kind of security blanket is another kind of superstition.

By contrast, Michael van Gerwen’s same set of darts brought him so much success that it was like he’d found the holy grail and he wanted to protect them.

Endorsement deals aside, if he could have used those ones forever, he would have because he had such an emotional connection with that set of darts.

Chalk up the wins

When Phil Taylor and Mensur Suljovic go back to the table on stage, you might have noticed they dab their fingers in chalk.

Keith Deller did so too, although he took it to max and almost coated the board with chalk every time he threw!

The chalk is rubbed onto a part of their case, which they rub their fingers on for grip. But I don’t really think it’s about that – I think it’s become more about the ritual of going to the table and having something to do when they’re not throwing.

It could be when they want to delay throwing for a few extra seconds to bring the heart rate down or compose themselves.

If you were to take the chalk away, they’d probably still go to the table and rub their fingers on the case in the same way like a comfort blanket.

Two left feet

I once went to Barnsley for a tournament and took two left shoes! I had to rush into the town centre and buy a suitable par just to get me through the day.

I went on to play badly but what would have happened had I won the tournament?! Would I have made a link between the two events and created a ridiculous superstition about it?

Since then I ritualistically check my shoes about five or six times – it’s become silly.

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