Paul Nicholson has revealed five of his favourite practice drills on Sporting Life this week to help players of all abilities improve their game during lockdown - and afterwards!
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As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to prevent normal life from resuming - not to mention the world of competitive sport - many of those in isolation are either taking up a new hobby or honing their skills in one they strive to excel in.
Darts is a perfect example of this, with online darts retailers reporting a huge surge of interest for boards and equipment since the coronavirus crisis began while the sales of the electronic boards that allow players to compete online from the comfort of their own homes are also increasing.
Therefore, major winner and leading pundit Paul Nicholson, who is also one of the leading coaches in the game, is using the latest edition of his Sporting Life column to give players at novice, intermediate and advanced levels some pointers on how to keep their practice varied, enjoyable and challenging. Although the last one would even test Michael van Gerwen!
PRACTICE DRILL ONE: ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK
- Beginners and those who have mastered normal 'round the clock'
- Get from one to the bullseye in ascending numerical order but...
- You have three darts to hit each number
- If you hit the number you're aiming at, move to the next
- If you miss all three, you go back a number
- To make it harder, you can send yourself all the way back to one after three misses
- Hit two of your three at the same number to move on
- Hit one and you stay where you are
- Miss all three, you go back
Paul Says: "Like in every sport, if you have a one-dimensional approach to how you practice, it’ll get very boring, very quickly. For example, just throwing darts at 20s will have a similar outcome to your overall improvement as a golfer who just practices his putting.
Obviously they are all important parts of the game but you have to break all the components down to become a complete competitor in whatever you’re trying to do.
You have to change things up and keep your practice routines varied as much as you can – preferably weekly or even daily depending on what level you reach.
If you’re a beginner you might want to think about ‘shrinking’ the board gradually to get more accurate and feeling like you have control over where the darts are going. Start my aiming at one half of the board, then after mastering that, practice on all of the quarters.
When you feel confident, that’s when you move onto something like ‘Rock Around The Clock’ which will help you more consistent on hitting all segments of the board.
If you get really good at this game and find yourself getting round to 20 without hardly incurring any penalties, then you might want to up the pressure by saying that any time you miss all three darts at a target, you go all the way to the beginning.
PRACTICE DRILL TWO: BOGEY DOUBLE AND SPLIT
- Intermediate players who need to brush up on their pressure finishing...although even the pros can improve on this!
- Improving on your least favourite odd-numbered doubles, such as double nine, double seven, double 17 etc. If you go inside, you have to follow up by hitting those pressure singles to get back on a finish.
- Pick your least favourite odd-numbered doubles
- If you go inside, practice hitting the single and then the next double
- These 'transition shots' are crucial to practice for pressure situations
Paul says: "This is a really underused practiced area of the game because how many times have we seen professionals – let alone intermediate players – have a score like 34 left and want to go straight for it with double 17 but their first dart goes inside, leaving themselves an odd number.
One of the things we don’t practice enough, myself included, is the transitions of getting to the next double or hitting single under pressure.
Let’s say you’ve got 14 left and go inside of double seven to leave seven, if you then miss single three with your next through then you’ll bust your score. It’s the same aiming at double nine when trying to take out 18. Go inside and you’ll need to hit single one for double four.
The more you practice this game, the better prepared and ready you’ll be with those pressure shots at doubles and singles in match situations.
There’s also a school of thought that when you’re aiming at the odd numbered doubles, the first dart should always be ‘aimed high’ and work your way in with the second.
However, that puts a lot of pressure on dart two because if you go inside with this one then you’ll be left with a dart that you can’t use to win the leg and you end up feeling helpless."
PRACTICE DRILL THREE: DOUBLES, SNAKES AND LADDERS
- Intermediate players but even those of higher standard will find it a challenge
- Go round the clock on your doubles from double one to the bullseye in ascending numerical order but...
- You have three darts to hit each double
- If you hit the double you're aiming at in your three darts, move to the next
- If you miss all three, you go back a number
Paul says: "I love this game and have been playing it for many, many years. Even professionals would get something from this because ultimately, you do have to practice every double.
Simon Whitlock, for example, has said on many occasions that 75%-80% of his practice time is spent on doubles and it’s essential you improve your range finding on all of these, including the bullseye.
It’s an intermediate game purely because there’s not a lot of punishment involved – not because it isn’t difficult or challenging. You only go back one step if you miss your double with three darts, although it will become increasingly frustrating if you keep going back!
Not only will it improve your doubles accuracy, but it’ll make you extremely tenacious to complete it. If you are one of those players who doesn’t like to stop practicing until a challenge is finished then this is the one for you.
Don’t start it too late at night…but if you can get it finished before bed then you’ll definitely feel a sense of accomplishment and that’s what practice is all about.
With certain practice games – like this one and the last one in this series – it’s not so much about completing it but also how far you can take it, and improving on it the following day.
However, you will get so frustrated about not finishing it – that you probably won’t stop until you do.
When I was younger – around 15-years-old – I wouldn’t go to bed after my practice until I’d done one more 15-dart leg, even if it meant staying up until two in the morning! Hopefully, this isn’t quite as difficult for you to achieve!"
PRACTICE DRILL THREE: ADVANCED 201
- Those reaching advanced level - but even pros will attempt this
- Finish 201 in six darts on six occasions in a best of 11 match against yourself
- Start on 201 and you have six darts to finish
- If you do it, you win the leg
- If you don't, you lose the leg
- Play a best of 11 match against yourself
- If you like the concept but don't feel you're at this standard, then give yourself nine darts
- Or start from 101 with six darts
Paul Says: "You can tailor this to whatever your standard is, so giving yourself nine darts to finish 201 is fine if you’re not quite at advanced level.
But if you are, this is where you’d want to be hitting 177 to leave yourself 24 as the ideal – or at least getting to the sub 101 category after three darts. Professionals will be looking to get rid of 201 on six out of 10 occasions if they’re to be competitive at a high level.
Even the top local players will be doing this so that’s why I say play it as best-of-11. It’s an easy format to keep on top of and it doesn’t take very long either.
If you constantly find yourself on the same finishes after three darts, try using the board a bit differently, like the 17s. So if you hit two single 20s, try and hit treble 17 to leave 110.
Or use the 25s a bit more to leave finishes that won’t require a bullseye. There are different ways to construct a winning leg from 201 and this is what I want to leave to you all.
After lockdown you can even play 201 against someone else instead of 501, to make it more of a Twenty20 style format of the game. "
PRACTICE DRILL FIVE: ADVANCED DOUBLES, NO SPLITS
- Advanced! Even Michael van Gerwen will struggle to complete it!
- Hit all the doubles in sequence but you're not allowed to ever go inside and hit the single.
- Start on double one and try and hit it without going inside.
- When you hit it, move on to double two and so on
- Going outside the double incurs no punishment
- But go inside at any point and you have to go all the way back to one
- There is no punishment for taking multiple throws at a double and missing on the outside
- Go back one step for going inside
Paul says: "This is a game I invented about three years ago. I wondered how difficult it would be to go all the way around the board on doubles without going inside – and I failed to complete it for days. Actually, it was more like weeks!
It’s the peak of the mountain practice game because if you can accomplish it, you’ll feel about 10 feet tall.
This drill will really focus your mind on not going inside the double and – just like some of the earlier practice games – concentrates you on the outside wire.
If you can do this then you get my praise because this is as hard as it gets. It will frustrate you and test you mentally, more than anything else.
Michael van Gerwen would really relish the challenge of trying to finish this game inside a practice session – but it would frustrate him, even as world number one. He is human, and who’s to say he wouldn’t pop one inside of double 18 and go all the way back to the start."
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- Paul Nicholson: Column nine
- Paul Nicholson: Column eight
- Paul Nicholson: Column seven
- Paul Nicholson: Column six
- Paul Nicholson: Column five
- Paul Nicholson: Column four
- Paul Nicholson: Column three
- Paul Nicholson: Column two
- Paul Nicholson: Column one
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