Hitting the Bull Part II: The Game of Darts – Technique

by Bryan Schatz on January 7, 2011 · 10 comments

in Blog

In Part I we discussed a few different dart games you can play. Today we’ll cover dart throwing technique so more of your darts will find their target, allowing you to buy less rounds of beer for your buddies.

Stance

There are four basic elements to a successful dart stance. They include lining up properly, consistency with the angle of your stance, shoulder position, and having a firm footing.

When lining up for a throw, ignore the center marker on the dart throwing line on the floor. The lines may be inaccurate. Draw an imaginary line from the center of the dartboard to the floor and then to your foot. Find a part of the dart throwing line (or a mark or scuff on the carpet) to mark that imaginary line, and make sure that you line up in that exact spot every time you throw. Consistency with your technique is key for a successful throw.

The angle with which you align yourself to the board can be either sideways or forward facing. According to NiceDarts.com, a sideways stance encourages a more accurate throw because it aligns your eyes and your throwing arm on the same line and reduces the possibility of your elbow drifting away from your body. This seems to work best for me, but others prefer to face the board with their front foot pointing at the bull’s eye.

Your footing should be arranged for balance and comfort. Place your feet shoulder width apart with your front foot flat and carrying the majority of your weight. Your back foot may lift slightly. Your back foot maintains your balance.

Shoulder position will vary from player to player based on what they find most comfortable. Ideally, your shoulders remain as close to parallel with the floor as possible. Keep your shoulders, spine, and legs fixed when throwing, but let your throwing arm be loose and relaxed yet in control.

Aiming

As with the stance, there are four things to keep in mind when aiming your darts, according to the darts experts at NiceDarts.com and DartBase.com. They are: leading with your elbow, finding a sight line on your throwing hand, aiming directly at your target, and knowing and using your dominant eye while aiming.

Position your elbow so that it points directly at the dartboard, and if possible, slightly upwards. My arm mechanics can’t quite accomplish this, so I simply point my elbow at the dartboard and don’t worry as much about it pointing upwards. For me it’s just too uncomfortable.

Find a sight line from your throwing hand to a precise target on the board. Some use the point of the dart for this; others use a knuckle on their thumb. The main point here is that once you find what works for you, keep it consistent.

One problem that many dart novices struggle with is not aiming directly at the target they want. If you are looking to hit a triple nineteen, aim for the center of the triple nineteen, not the general area. Also, avoid overcompensating for a poor throw. For example, say you aim for the triple twenty but hit the five to its left instead; refrain from aiming to the right of the twenty to overcompensate for your previous throw. Aim for the triple twenty again. This all builds consistency.

Lastly, aim with your dominant eye. To find out which eye of yours is dominant, practice a few throws with one eye closed. Whichever eye struggles to stay closed is your dominant eye.

Grip

Your grip is dependent on two elements: the type of dart barrel you use and the finger placement that is most comfortable for you. What you should make sure of is making the point of the dart face slightly upward and that your grip is relaxed but also firm. Your fingers should only hold the barrel of the dart, not the shaft or flight, and any fingers that are not touching the barrel should remain in an open, relaxed position, not curled up into your palm. Play with it and see what feels most comfortable for you and then stick with it.

The Throw

Darts travel along a parabolic curve, similar to a rock being thrown or the bullet from a shotgun. According to Karlheinz Zochling at Dart Base, “a decent throwing technique must guide the dart exactly along this parabolic curve when accelerating the dart, and must guarantee that the dart can continue this curve when it has left the hand.”

To achieve this parabolic curve, the first thing to be aware of is the movement of your body and shoulder. Do not move your body or shoulder! The only thing that should move in your throw is your arm, while your shoulder and body remain fixed. Some suggest that your elbow remain fixed during the throw as well, however, in order to aid in a parabolic curve, the elbow will remain fixed only when you bring your hand backwards, but it should rise up slightly during the acceleration of the dart.

Just before releasing the dart, many professional players let their wrist snap slightly to increase acceleration. Allowing the wrist to snap, and therefore increasing your dart’s acceleration, it makes it so that the rest of your arm can be more relaxed during the throw, thus resulting in a more accurate and consistent throw.

Lastly, make sure you have some follow through. After you release the dart, your arm should continue in the throwing motion so that it stops once it is pointing at the target you are aiming at. Let it hover there for a moment rather than falling to your side immediately after releasing the dart.

You’re now ready to start throwing your mini-arrows with a little more confidence and know-how. I find that a game of darts washed down with a delicious, frothy beer at my favorite pub is the perfect remedy to a long week, and quite simply, just a great pastime. If you haven’t played darts in a good long while, give it a try this week.

Some of the techniques described here are debatable. As with any sport, people develop their own ways of adjusting technique to what feels comfortable for them. Do you have any additional tips for the beginning dart player? Share your tips and advice with us in the comments.

Miss Part I? Read it here.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bruce Williamson January 11, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Stance: I stand with my right foot along the line. My shoulders are perpendicular to the board.
Aim: I never aim and that’s probably part of my problem. I thorw a dart like I would a ball. I LOOK where I want the dart to go and throw it there. I do line up the shot as I draw back.
Grips there are several grips and each one is a trade off. e.g. a four finger grip gives more accuracy but is more difficult to release. The five finger grip give the most but is very difficult to release. Conversely the two finger grip is easy to release but is very inaccurate (I’ve never seen a darter use the two finger grip but I have seen it mentioned in books and web sites). The three finger grip shown is the most common. It’s a midpoint on the tradeoff.
Throw is just as varied as the grip some darters actually spin the dart in their finger as they draw their arm back. The important part is to be consistent and use a throw that is conforatble to you. some fellow think that only the forearm should move but an almost full extension of the arm in the follow through gives the best results. Most darters snapo the wrist. It provides more speed and gets the hand away from the dart for a clean release.

2 Curt January 11, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Great continuation of the series! I think you should follow it up with the manly art of dry wall repair. You could showcase different techniques to fix all the tiny holes in the walls, ceiling, floor….cat….

3 Kyle January 11, 2011 at 3:56 pm

I am really enjoying this column. Darts seems to be one of those games with long plateus. You can get to be “pretty OK” after a few weeks, but it takes a whole lot of time to get “good”. It is definately a manly way kill time, generate friendly competition, and supplement having a few cold beverages with friends.

4 Marc January 11, 2011 at 6:10 pm

When I moved to Boston, I started playing in the Minute Men Dart League. After switching back and forth between MMDL and CDL, we’re finally sort of back to a unified league. Anyway, it has been a great way to explore different parts of the city and meet new people, not to mention a great way to unwind. Here are my notes and responses to above.

1) Repetition – Throw at the 20 wedge for 10 rounds by yourself then take a break, repeat until totally bored. A lot people only throw darts when they play with a group and so there is a long pause between throws. Doing the same mechanics over and over with no wait really helps you get the feel for the throw.
2) Snapping the wrist – Don’t… yet. Professionals do it. You are not a professional. Many new players who snap their wrist introduce motion into the dart that is not part of that parabolic path. Once you get the mechanics of the arm down, go ahead and introduce the hand.
2.5) Letting go. Open your hand all the way when throwing. You are setting the dart in motion with your arm. You hand is just “deploying” the dart. Many people don’t open their hand enough. As a result the flights and nick the fingers, introducing motion you don’t want. Opening my hand all the way really helps. I recommend being obnoxious about this at first. Open it all the way as if you were waving to the board afterwords. Once you get the feeling, go ahead and reign in that motion. I often offer the metaphor of a fighter jet letting go of a missile. Deploy the dart; Not throw.
3) Throwing speed / style – I wholeheartedly agree with the follow through comment above. I would like to extend that to the aim. Mentally aim so that the parabolic path you have in mind goes through the target you want, rather than stopping there. Some people throw to land in the target; they often have darts that fall out and they tend to “lob” the dart and use heavier darts (lawn darts). I have definitely seen some throwers who “lob” the dart and do very well. It often baffles me, but then I look at them and realize that they have been doing it for long enough to figure it out the personal style. Personally I recommend throwing with a flatter arc but not to the point that zipping it at the board. If someone says “easy Legolas”, you are throwing to hard.
4) Big hands? If you are like me and you have big hands, you should get longer stems.. I like nylon ones. A longer stem will give you a little more room to hold the dart and not touch the flight with your knuckle.

Suggested practice game for a pair of throwers of any level. How many 20s can you hit before they hit 3 bulls? Flip. The person with the highest number of 20s wins. I love this game because it reduces what you throw at to two high value targets, and it gives you some consistency. It is very gratifying when you are learning, and then suddenly you hit a bull; your next one will be right behind it, because you’ve been consistently aiming for the same thing. This is opposed to something like Cricket or *01, which runs you all over the board. Truth be told, it is my warm up game. We often also pair 18/19 and 16/15 with the target number of 5 instead of 3. Also variations of Killer are good for consistency. Don’t worry about doubles yet. http://www.diddleforthemiddle.com/killer.php

5 Gary W January 14, 2011 at 6:59 am

These dart articles are great. They have revived my interest in throwing. I have two boards in my attic and they got little play for obvious reasons. So I brought the soft tips down (I have five kids with ten eyes and I want to keep it that way) and my wife and I have been having a blast. When we dated, we used to throw all the time. It seems now that it is very rare to find dart boards in bars anymore. What happened? Liability issues? Interest waned? Thanks again for the articles and helping me get interested in my old hobby.

6 Clay January 14, 2011 at 10:49 am

Ahhhh, bullet from Shotgun? otherwise good article.

7 Jacob January 14, 2011 at 8:36 pm

One of the biggest mistakes I see being made is when people throw. They throw like its a baseball or some other sports ball. The key is to “push it” (really hard) while aiming. Pushing it much like a giant push pin at a distance is the best way to explain it.

8 Daniel January 19, 2011 at 1:25 am

Excellent article!
I thought I’d pitch in with some of my experience.
I’ve found darts to be a (wonderfully) more mental game than it may first appear. It helped me tap back into a thing, now called The Flow I guess (wiki it) but also called The Zone, or Peak Performance. Rather than try to explain, perhaps I can illustrate it more effectively.

The last time I played darts, I’d just moved to a new city – one Thursday night I wandered into a bar down the street, got a pint & some house darts & tried to warm up on one of their 3 boards (sorry all soft-tip stories here – hard to find steel tip games in California).
Hadn’t thrown in a couple of years. A gentleman comes up to me and proposes a game of Cricket – loser buying the next round. But of course! We start out, I’m not feeling warmed up at all, but we’re both ok and it’s neck & neck until we get to the fifteen – I throw and hit the triple, and I feel IT – can’t explain if you’ve never been there.
I look at my opponent and say, “And another one,” and nail another triple 15. I look at him again and say, “And a bulls”. Hit the double.
He laughs and says, “Hustling the hustler, I like it!” I didn’t miss again and he bought the next round – then we teamed up against some other patrons & had to hold back so’s not to win so badly as to generate ill will.

I like & applaud concentrating on good form,.. though I never did. Some parts came naturally, I guess, though I’ve seen other for whom it’s not so easy. The follow through is very important, consistency is too – but I’ve never aimed to be a “machine” player.
The guy who steps up & does the same thing every time, no variation, & has drilled his way to high skill. This does work though.

When I started playing, it was meeting some friends after work in a local bar – a pitcher or two, some games of team cricket – good times. I was ok, but I didn’t care that much. At the time I’d met someone that I found very interesting, and it seemed mutual, call her X – well in one game we got down to the bullseye & no one could hit it, it seemed. My turn again, a friend said, “Hey, pretend it’s X.” Well a double and 2 singles ended the game in victory right there, And brought me back to The Zone.

I’d experienced it a couple times in college playing Ultimate Frisbee – that feeling of not being able to miss or make a mistake, knowing that you couldn’t miss. It always seemed a fluke, inexplicable. In darts, after that night, I had it back, and learned to summon it fairly regularly. And no, it didn’t depend on X, lol. One of the basic triggers for it in fact had to do with not caring if you won – caring too much gets in the way, tenses you up. I guess I see why they call it The Flow now, that’s very much what it feels like.

Our group attracted another player in the bar (not that many dart players around then) who it turned out could kick all our butts blindfolded, if he chose to, But he was a gentler, more interesting man than that. Former Navy SEAL. This was a guy who could take 3 steps back from the line and throw all 3 darts at once and get at least 2 in the bulls eye, often 3. I wound up playing with him a lot and learned a few things, and for a while we had a regular darts night there that drew more good players and the bar started having tournaments.

He never really got on me about form. One of the best practices he ever shared with me, I’ll share with you: stand with your heels at the line, your back to the board. Pick a target and twist your upper body around so you can see the board & make the throw – your body won’t let you keep this twisted position for more than half a second, so you have to just go for it in that tiny window. With a little practice it becomes fluid: acquire target; fire.
All in one motion. This develops your aim like nothing else.

I had my own darts by then, & just fooling around (not caring) had several different throwing styles – and I could win games by throwing classic stance, or using overhand flip throws, underhand, or underhand flip throws. It unnerves an opponent when you can nail a triple w/ classic stance, then flip one in right next to it. Just save the showing off for friends – don’t humiliate strangers, it’s not nice. Or safe, lol.

I’m rambling a bit – for more on The Flow, I recommend a book by Rob Schultheis, “Bone Games”. One and a half more anecdotes related to this topic: the first time I threw a White Horse (3 triple twenties) I was just in the bar one afternoon flailing around when my SEAL friend shows up – we drop in the quarters for a game of Cutthroat Cricket & I hit the White Horse just because I know its on & I guess my body responded to that – we had some good games. The second time, I’d just finished a game with a casual player friend -next game I was up first & I said, “Here’s 120 points for you.” Bullshitting, I was; empty bravado; I tossed my 3 darts without trying, no really like trying a new throw, but they all landed in the triple 20. Somewhat aghast I turned to him and apologized, but he said, “No, that was amazing.”
So final point: don’t try too hard, don’t tense up; have fun. Let it happen.

9 Ken March 17, 2013 at 6:06 pm

I have learned over the years that I have better than average hand/eye coordination. As a matter of fact I must humbly say that in a very sports filled life I’ve only known one person with better. More than a decade ago I joined a dart league at a pub my boss opened as a second business. I had never thrown darts but with all my expeience in throwing being baseball football and basketball I turned my left side towards the target and stepped towards it with my right and threw. I handily won the first years trophy dedicating my last 3 throws to the regular bar trollop, all bullseyes.
I love to tell that story because I know without a doubt that was the biggest string of luck in my life, other than the one that won me my wife. I know my unorthodox style would fail me miserably sooner or later. I’m wise enough to know there’s good reason a particular way of doing things is.

10 Milt February 12, 2014 at 8:16 pm

I am a 74 yr old with a past of playing many sports. Pitched Fastball, Quarterbacked Football etc and had very good hand eye co-ordination. In my early 50s I took up darts with quite good results. As I always enjoyed practicing and seeing the resulting improvement, Darts gave me a new challenge after Fastball. Played for about 3 years and then dropped the game. Now some 20 years later I am really having a problem getting the consistency back in my game even though I will spend many hours doing a variety of practices. I am reading with interest the tips that players are putting up and I will be implementing some of them with the intent of getting back to being a player. Thank You All

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