Darts tips: Paul Nicholson's five pet hates that players must avoid to improve at darts

Paul Nicholson reveals his five golden rules of what not to do in darts

Paul Nicholson takes you through his five pet hates that players of all abilities must stop doing if they're to improve at darts during lockdown - and afterwards!

The major winner, leading pundit and top coach gave you five drills to practice during one of his recent Sporting Life columns but now he turns the attention to a collection of bad habits and mindsets that creep their way into our games.

The Asset has revealed his "what not to do" tips this week and there's more than a handful of the world's top players who might even want to take notice!


DON'T...WASTE A DART

There are many games and even careers that could have taken very different tracks if it wasn't for one dart. So just imagine if somewhere along that path, there had been an unnecessary wasted dart thrown?

This habit is perhaps a trait of someone who is susceptible to a little bit of anger or frustration when things aren't going so well and they've flung one away in annoyance.

I wrote about this in a column earlier in the season when Jonny Clayton wasted a dart in his UK Open quarter-final against Jamie Hughes when he assumed he wouldn't get another chance.

You must always use that third dart - rather than flippantly throwing it away - to ensure that you'll have three clear attempts at a double if you get another visit because this is sport - anything can happen.

If you get that second chance, the last thing you'll want is to hit a single first. Not only because it's using up one of your three, but it's not even a guarantee that you'll hit it! In the last few weeks during the Modus Legends of Darts Live League, even I've bust my score on a few occasions by missing my required big single.

I've seen Rob Cross a few times in the Premier League this year - missing what should be an 'easy' shot because of a lackadaisical approach. You need to give every shot 100% concentration.

At the World Championship 16 months ago, there was a crucial leg where I had 31 left and I automatically thought going for single 15 for double eight was an easy shot. I hit double 15 instead!

It taught me a valuable lesson and I thought from then on I decided to make it a key lesson to teach people about.

We live in a generation where players think very quickly about their shots - much faster than I do - and sometimes they've thrown before they've actually thought properly.

Despite the ridiculous standards of today, we're still all human playing a a very intricate game made of millimetres - sometimes even less - so that's why never to waste a dart.


DON'T...DO THE THIRD DART WALK!

I've been commentating for around four years and this is one of my pet hates when watching other players.

Although it’s something I witnessed before this, I do feel it’s a habit that’s become more prevalent over the past couple of years especially because of the increase in faster players.

In the past people used to model themselves on players like Raymond van Barneveld and James Wade, who are both rhythmic and metronomic, and obviously neither had this problem.

But if you look at players who tend to be more forward in their stance like Michael Smith and Chris Dobey, their heads and lead shoulder can lean over before they’ve thrown the third dart. It drives me up the wall!

If these type of guys could pin themselves to the floor with a bit more stability before they throw that final dart, particularly in the scoring phase of a leg, then they’d hit even more 180s.

When you lean forward – even slightly – your head, chin and elbow height drops which means it’s harder to get that same, consistent purchase on the final dart.

The player to ‘copy’ right now is Gary Anderson because if you look at the way he’s stood throughout his career, I don’t think there’s a player who has put the same focus into their three darts as him.

Mervyn King is also a good example because his body on all three darts will stay still, whereas Anderson looks as though he’s fighting to stop that forward motion before he throws it. This shows he has a good mental technique as well as physical.


DON'T...GET SWEPT UP IN NEGATIVITY

Most of this is to do with social media, because the negativity towards players has got worse over the years.

But it also applies to what goes on at events – professional or amateur - if another player is trying to get into your head and knock your confidence.

In either case, the key is to be able to walk away from the negative influences and create your own positive bubble. These are the type of players who thrive.

Phil Taylor, Raymond van Barneveld, Michael van Gerwen, Colin Lloyd and Peter Manley are all good examples of players who were impervious to what anyone else thinks so if you can do the same with your mentality then you’ll become untouchable at your level.

It’s why my career wasn’t as successful as it could have been because I was often surrounded by negative influences and for some reason listened to these people – whether it was on social media or in tournament atmospheres.

That was the wrong thing to do, so I implore anyone surrounded by these voices to walk away and surround themselves with positive people.


DON'T...MAKE EXCUSES

I know there will be some people will talk to me about the Kim Huybrechts incident in 2012 when I said Sky Sports were showing his girlfriend on the screens every time I was throwing!

That was true, but they were only trying to put a production together and it was me who used it as an excuse for losing four sets to one.

There’s been other occasions when I’ve thought someone has done something intentionally to put me off but really it’s me looking for an excuse to ensure there’s something to fall back on if I lose.

I’ve noticed other players using excuses like there being a draft in the room, the temperature and the atmosphere – to name just three – but really it’s the same for both players.

I admit that I have been an excuse driven player because I want all conditions to be perfect – but I implore people not to be like that because you’ll become thicker skinned.

Most of the time we should only be blaming ourselves for bad performances.

During one day of the Modus Icons of Darts Live League a couple of weeks ago, I had four darts fall out of the bullseye!

Over the course of that day I was stubborn enough to leave that dartboard on the wall rather than change it even though I knew in my gut something was not right about it.

I think that decision cost me at least two points so the next day I changed it and everything seemed to be better. It was my fault for not changing it sooner and testing a new one, rather than the board’s fault!

If you find an excuse you think is applicable and run with it, you’ll only be seen as a sore loser. So suck it up, move forward and find a positive resolution like I did about a new board.

In this age of social media people are too quick to react and say something they might later regret and effectively tarnish their image.

Steve Beaton has never been quoted badly in all his years and is the poster child in this regard. Whether he wins, loses, plays well or badly, he just shakes his opponent’s hand and focuses on the next game.

If we could be like him there would be no controversy in the sport!


DON'T...NEVER WORK ON SOMETHING

If you want to really improve as a dart player and be the best you can be, then this is really important.

You should always be aware that something has to be looked at – nobody has ever cracked the game. We’ve never seen the perfect throw, although we are getting closer with the rise in clinics, academies and expert coaching for the next generation.

Now Michael van Gerwen is a stickler for keeping things the same, which is why it was such a big thing for him to change darts manufacturer to Winmau in January, but throughout his career he’ll have been working on the smallest things to get even better.

This could include tiny things like moving a thumb back a fraction on the grip, pushing your middle finger further forward or using different types of flights and stems.

Professional dart players work on these things day in day out, and will find out if there’s something positive in the changes.

Several years ago towards the end of a European Tour event in Holland, I was working on my game and came across an idea that a dart that flies slower in the air is better for grouping.

If you look players like MVG, Gary Anderson and Dave Chisnall, if there was an mph gage through the air I think they would be throwing their darts slower than anyone else.

I wanted to test this theory and change my grip to figure out if this was true. It seemed to work so I put all my energy into these small changes to improve my game.

Sometimes it’s just about changes you can ‘feel’ rather than ‘see’, which makes it very difficult to quantify the results but this doesn’t mean you should always be thinking.

When you try new things – whether it’s a five-minute experiment of a five-week one – you may stumble across that Eureka moment that takes you to a new level.

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