OK, I can't tell you about all of them, or how to fix all of them -- check on articles in the Technique section for help on that. I am just writing about stuff that I have found to work and that I am working on to help my game. Hopefully it can help whomever else finds this!
This article became much longer than I intended, and it really needs a corresponding how to throw article. Until then, how to fix throwing is it! This document is a moving target -- as I find new things, I'll put them here.!
I make some references back to pool to try and put things in context for pool players, and since I started re-thinking dart throw as a pool stroke upside down. It helps me throw better!
As of December 2013, I'm working on bad releases and alignment as the problems affecting me the most.
Before getting into all the things that go wrong with a dart throw, lets look at what a good throw is all about.
The place to look for this isn't in the darts world, but in the pool world. Look at a pool stroke -- a dart stroke is the same thing upside down! Jerry Briesath, the guy who single-handedly fixes most of my pool shooting problems, always asks us What is a good stroke? It's a rhetorical question -- a good stroke is a beautiful throwing motion. Jerry equates the pool stroke to throwing a baseball or a golf swing, but the same is also true of disc golf and darts, just in their own way.
What are some of the elements of a good stroke or throwing motion?
Since we are throwing darts we need to add important things that pool and baseball lack -- we have to
What I can tell you from shooting projectile weapons and playing pool is that you practice at a shorter range. When you get better there you practice at a longer range. Do this again and again and pretty soon you are sniping with a .50 cal at mile ranges!
This same technique can help improve your dart game. It does so by eliminating some problems, and magnifying errors. Release problems are magnified because the dart hits the board in the release attitude. Aiming and offset problems are magnified because you are right at the board and the ballistic trajectory phase isn't happening yet. Other errors, and even consistency, also become apparent at this short range.
I recommend moving in to being 1/2 the distance (about 4 feet) from the board and planting down an imaginary throwing line there. You do this because there is still room for follow-through to happen -- unless you have Chewbacca length arms! You also do this because you are so close to the dartboard that aiming is trivial and ballistics (arcing flight) don't really take effect -- it's all line-of-sight.
I have found this a powerful tool to start addressing some of the problems in my dart game that are killing me. Good thing I shoot in multiple sports -- the techniques overlap once you correlate the sports and problems!
This is the debugging section, to sorta let you figure out what to goto right away.
Specific directions are listed as belonging to a right-handed person throwing; reverse the direction of the error if you throw left-handed.
If your darts are hitting the board sideways, you have a bad release. Fixing it is hard -- identifying the problem is easy!
If your throwing (like mine) can go from killer to completely random, a bad release might be the problem. Basically the dart comes off your fingers wrong, fights to correct, and flies to a different part of the board than you expect.
You may not see this during an ordinary throw because of your follow through and the longer time the dart has to reach the board.
To debug this problem, use my move in closer technique: The shorter throw makes it easier to see what the dart is doing. The dartboard becomes a lighted background area area that lets you view the antics of the poorly released darts -- it lets you really see how bad they go off!
A poorly released dart will fly crazy and end up going off at an angle to a weird part of the board. A great release will just leave your fingers as it flies to the board. With three great releases you should have 3 darts nestled against each other with good throwing style.
So, move in to 4 feet on a line, pick a target and throw, and see what the dart does. It's still in its early flight and you'll see the good, the bad, and the ugly of your release -- make them all great!
You'll see some wild and crazy things, and also some perfect releases where the dart leaves your fingers in the flight attitude and flies perfectly in its trajectory -- that's what you want!
Don't worry if you aren't hitting the part of the board you aimed for -- work on getting a perfect release. Do take note of where the darts go compared to where you aimed though -- it might give you an idea for working on Elbow Drop or Parallax and Offset.
Incorrect wrist flick can also lead to release errors -- but instead of a left or right error, the dart typically goes up or down.
Your elbow should remain fixed in space when you throw, and often it doesn't. The big clue on elbow drop is that you end up throwing lower (or off the bottom of the board).
Elbow drop can be hard to fix, because you can believe your are holding your elbow still, when in fact it is dropping. In other words, you are believing in something that doesn't exist! Oops.
Some people say to put your opposite hand under your elbow, so it can't drop. Or have someone else hold your elbow so you get used to the feeling of it not dropping.
I find that these techniques, though a starting point, didn't work well for me long term. What I've found that worked fairly well was to stand in front of a mirror and practice throwing motions. You can see when you elbow drops and what it feels like. You get used to what it feels like when your elbow doesn't drop. Do this a bunch, and you'll get used to it. The advantage of this is there is a mirror almost everywhere. If you find yourself throwing odd you can walk upto a reflective pane of glass, or into a restroom, practice a few throws in the mirror to see if everything is good, and come back to shoot better.
Elbow drop can happen because of bad form, a mistake, or other things. It doesn't necessarily happen while you are throwing. Laps was watching me one day and noticed my elbow was dropping on the backstroke of my throw, resulting in a bad forward stroke. I'm guessing that it probably comes up on some back strokes, resulting in darts thrown high as well. ;-)
Your elbow should remain fixed in space when you throw, and often it doesn't. That sorta sounds familiar, because that is what Elbow Drop is all about. It's listed separately because it is different than moving your elbow:
Your elbow is moving left or right when you shoot. The upper arm is twisting to let this happen, so it also affects up/down on your darts.
If your darts go down and right, your elbow is moving out and away from your body. This is also referred to as chicken-wing.
If your darts go up and left, your elbow is moving in and toward your body.
I've found that this is most likely a sign of bad alignment between your body and the board. You aren't aligned with the throw you are trying to make, so your upper arm moves to try to fix the left/right error. It isn't obvious because the side effects (up/down) also kick in to confuse things.
Find a good alignment between your feet on the marks, the target on the board, your foot position, twist of the waist, etc and use it. This can take a long time to find, but once you find it -- you have it!
All that being said, what you are looking to control is elbow drop and lateral elbow motion. As you release the dart and flick the wrist you need follow-through to get a great release. Part of that follow through will result in the elbow lifting up as your arm straightens out in follow-through. If your eblow truely remained fixed in space your wrist would keep on pivoting down toward the ground and the dart flight wouldn't work right.
Some players can shoot with their eye, throwing hand, and target on the dartboard all aligned in a line. It's great -- they do this by standing sideways at the throw line, turn the head towards the board, and throw directly sideways.
I can't do that -- my right shoulder doesn't go back that far. So, I have to throw from an angled or straight-on orientation. This means that my eye is offset from where my arm is throwing the dart. For example, I put my right toe on the 1.5 mark to shoot 20/bull/3 instead of around 0 -- because my arm is about that much right of my eye.
Parallax means there is a different angle / line between my eye and the board and my hand/dart and the board. You can reduce parallax by shooting in line or bending your head to the side to line up with the dart & the target. I have found that if you have a good repeatable stance, and know what marks to hit on the line to hit targets, that the parallax doesn't matter too much. It's an error that is there, but you compensate for it in your shooting. Dart players have a big advantage there -- they are always shooting from the same distance, with marks on the floor as indices, so the parallax is always the same.
Also checkout the section on Aiming, the two are tied together a lot, and I'm trying to isolate them for simplicity.
One big thing that affects how you toe the marks on the foul line to fix an offset aim is the alignment of your body to the dartboard and throwing line. If it isn't aligned the same way every time your throwing will be off, because the marks you are using are calibrated to an exact repeatable stance. Stance not the same ... darts don't fly to the right spot. If that alignment isn't aligned with your throw you'll have even larger problems -- darts going all over the place instead of going where you are throwing them.
When stroking a cue in pool, you try to remain absolutely still and only your forearm strokes back and forth and hits the cue ball. The rest of your body remains still until after the shot is complete -- until the balls stop moving.
You do this to avoid Jumping Up, which really destroys your shot because even your muscles getting ready to leap up screws up the stroke.
In darts, we are throwing a 14..18 gram dart, up to about 25 grams for steel tips. Our body does not need to move to throw that little weight 8 feet to the board.. Only our forearm and wrist need to move. None the less, it is all too easy to put Body English into the shot!
I see two symptoms of Body English
How to fix this? Remain still.
If you think that's easy.... right.
We are used to throwing things, and most throws involve a bunch of the body -- look at a baseball pitcher throwing, the throw is a full body motion. It's a full-body follow-through. Instead, when darting, you need to train the body to not move, to be a solid platform for just moving the forearm.
I have found that, if I am using my body, it can help to tense up or lock the center section so that it wants to hold itself in place, instead of being loose and free to rotate. You can do this by tightening muscles up, pre-rotating the body by loading it against the hips -- basically using your stance to put the body in the "rotated" position so it can't move.
Another way is to have a stance that puts most of the body weight on one foot -- the body really needs to be more balanced to move well, and this can help put your entire body into a structure that won't move so you can throw well.
I'm trying hard to stay still... but I find that when I'm making a critical shot it's all too easy for the body to want to twist and follow through to really drive the shot home. Locking up the body with a stance that helps cancel that out can be a big help.
For your throw to work well, it needs to be based upon a good solid platform. That solid platform would be your feet on the ground. It is also the shoes you are wearing, which sit between your feet and the ground.
It's simple -- if your body is wavering back and forth all the time, because your muscles are holding your body against gravity all the time -- your throwing isn't going to work well.
First, find some footwear that let your feet sit comfortably. For example, I can't throw darts (or shoot pool) well in Birkenstock sandals, because the arch in them is so big that my leg muscles have to fight the arch rolling my ankle over all the time. So, I need to get some birkys with a smaller arch to match my feet better. I used to be able to throw well in my hiking boots, but the foot bed inside the boot isn't as good as it used to be, and my foot rocks a bit in an otherwise excellent throwing platform. Find something that lets your feet stand easily on the ground.
Next, when you throw you need to be balanced on your feet. In martial arts, it is recommended to have an equal balance between both feet -- so you can go in any direction easily. That can work for throwing, but it can also let your body move too easily allowing body english. That doesn't work for throwing -- you need to have more weight on the foot on the throwing side of the body. That biases your body in the right way for throwing, sorta like the end of a throw.
You need to have a comfortable, easy stance. What you don't want is to have your body up on tippy-toes or on a lifted heel. If that stance isn't exactly the same time after time, your throw won't be the same time after time. Worse yet -- if you are throwing for several hours (say in a tournament), your legs and back will start getting tired, and then your throwing is going to get worse as the competition becomes more difficult.
How you position your feet -- straight on to board, angled to board, feet parallel, feet angled, ... will all affect how you shoot. Find something that works well with your Alignment and aiming and stick with it until you find something better.
Depending on how you throw, you can also use your stance to make small adjustments in where your darts are hitting the board. I emphasize that this might not work for you. For me, it can help out really great from time to time, which is why I am mentioning it!
I will also say -- If you aren't hitting what you need to hit -- maybe you need to back-off, and re-approach the board because something isn't right. It isn't a small change you need, but something else. Maybe you need to get something out of your head!
If your throws are great, but just a little off to the side, don't move your aim. You can just tweak your stance a tiny bit to shift your aim. Think of it as a gun turret traversing -- everything else is perfect, but the train is slightly off.
When I'm doing my aiming via offset on the line, I'll just shift sideways the amount I want the dart to move, and be done. This is great for small shifts using parallax aiming; it can really put you dead nuts on. I find that, however, for larger shifts it doesn't work as well. Usually I find that I under-move larger shifts, such as shifting from 16 to 15), or even from 19 to 18. In those cases I'd be better off backing off and setting up for a different shot, even though it's at the same height.
I think the reason for this is that your shift amount is somewhat intuitive -- you're shifting things relative to each other for a small adjustment. For the larger moves, this small relative motion doesn't work, and you need to go back to lining up with a totally different target.
When you are aiming by direct sight, twisting your feet can change the point of your body just right. But, it can be non-intuitive! Sometimes moving the front foot right, will move the aim point left. Perhaps moving the rear foot right will move the shot to the right.
Don't experiment on this shooting production games! Try it out and see what happens. The reason some changes go backward is because you are changing the balance of your body, which is going to change how your body leans.... which means your whole throwing system just moved, it didn't twist the base of your turret (the body) where it needs to be adjusted to.
What is critical to understand here is that you only need to move a small amount to change your aim. Your dart is flying across an almost 8-foot distance. You only need to adjust a tiny amount to move that dart left/right an inch on the board. So tiny an amount that it seems ridiculous ... but it isn't, the angle is multiplied by the distance. For example, a 1 degree angle change at around 8 feet corresponds to a change-in-aim of 1-1/2 inches (almost 4 cm). That's a big change -- don't over-do it! Otherwise you'll find yourself shooting off the edge of the board instead of tweaking the aim from a skinny single to a triple!
The wrist needs to flick as part of the release motion of the throw. You really don't let go of the dart, the timing doesn't work out that way. Instead the wrist flicks, which opens up the fingers, and starts the follow-through, which hopefully ends with the fingers pointing right at the point you were aiming the dart at. One side effect of the flick is the dart is pointed along it's path of flight.
If the wrist doesn't flick, the release will go wrong. The dart tends to be released nose up, and will fly up too high or even over the top of the dartboard!
For all this to work right the wrist needs to flick in a line with the rest of the throw. If it flicks left/right, it acts like a miniature moving elbow error. This probably causes a release error that causes the dart to fly funky. Typical flight directions will be down and left or up and right, which are perpendicular to the error directions for moving your elbow.
I used to think, that the index finger should point right at the target at the end of the follow-through, but that is not quite right. Yes, the finger should sorta point at the target. But ... so should the thumb, since both of those are engaged on the dart. Maybe they point to each side of the target? If they aren't, you didn't release the dart toward where it is going ... you release it toward where you are pointing, and the dart flies crazy to the board ... to somewhere else.
In pool some players say that your wrist should flic as part of your pool stroke. The good player don't flic the wrist. Instead, a flic action happens as a portion of a natural stroke -- due ot the cue not being part of your body. By not flicking your wrist, you keep you pool stroke more accurate by eliminating extra motion.
Some dart players think that the wrist shouldn't be flicked for the same reason -- too many moving parts. It makes sense ... I need to try it out and see what works better!
You need to grip the dart to throw it. The grip will involve the thumb and a couple of fingers. You need to have a grip that can hold the dart solidly with little force, and which can release the dart cleanly.
There are various grips, pencil-like, one-finger, two-finger, etc. Use what works for you. I should put a link here to a XXXX grip article XXXX.
If you grip too tightly, you will lack accuracy, or the dart will come out of your fingers late and fly down a lot. If you hold the dart too loosely the dart will fly out of your hands and fly high.
The shape of the grip on the barrel can help or hinder you from hanging on to your dart, or having to grip it tightly to be able to throw it correctly. Play with different shapes and grips; find something that works for you. Most likely a shape is too slippery, and you need something with better or larger or more effective grip area to throw.
Humidity can cause grip problems. Dry weather makes the skin more slippery and less likely to hold a dart. Sweating a lot can cause the same problem when it is hot. You can use Dart Wax to make your grip be the same -- so you can hold the dart with just the right amount of force. If you don't like wax you can try rosin.
I've noticed two things that are a good indication that it is time to to use some wax:
I usually don't find grip an issue in the humid summer months, but the extra humidity can cause it's own problem your hand is slippery from all the extra moisture! If that is an issue, I've found that a product I use for disc golf works great for pool and darts. It's called a Birdie Bag -- it's a cloth bag filled with sawdust. It does a great job of drying sweat from your hands, and does not cause all the secondary problems that using talcum powder creates.
- Darting is random even with everything else perfect. The dart is just coming out of your grip randomly.
- Your throws don't reach the board with a normal throw. Your throw isn't being transferred to the dart because of the slippage, and so it doesn't fly right.
If the dart spins as it comes out of your grip it means that your thumb and fingers aren't releasing from the dart at the same time. Most likely the thumb releases first, and then the dart rolls off the fingers, giving spin. This spin reduces the accuracy of the throw by causing the dart to move sideways during flight.
This can also happen because your fingers are on top of the dart instead of alongside it. That can be a sign that you need to change your grip. It can also be a sign that your Wrist isn't aligned correctly with the throw.
Thumb & Fingers coming off the dart unevenly can also cause the fingers to touch the flights and disturb the flight of the dart.
Ever since I broke my right index finger, I've had problems with my release and aiming. Don't break that master finger!
Injuries aside, I've been using a two-finger grip as the thing that is working the best for me. The thing is, you need to release all 3 appendages at the same time for a good release. If you don't ... the one left will push the dart off course.
Lately, after watching some friends throw, I've been trying a one finger grip -- but using the side of the tip of the index finger. This provides a larger stable contact area (like two fingers does), but without the problem of releasing 3 things at once. By doing this, I've also found I need to change how my wrist flics to work with the grip. It is a new way of holding that I haven't seen elsewhere, so I wanted to write about it.
Where you grip the dart is also important. Forward, middle, aft part of the dart are typical. Wherever holding the dart works for you -- You want that grip to be automatically repeatable dart after dart. Take the time to make sure you are gripping the dart where you think it should be gripped!
The location of the grip can have effect on the flight path and stability of the dart. It can also help you throw darts to parts of the board that you have problems with. XXX dig up that information XXX
I was having all sorts of problems shooting good pool. What it came down to eventually is that they way I addressed the cue ball was wrong. What would happen is that I'd line up to shoot the cue ball, and then my stroke, which is supposed to go in a straight line, would curve or swoop as I stroked.
This happened because my body wasn't (and sometimes still isn't) aligned correctly with the alignment of my stroke. In other words, I tried to force the stroke to be straight with muscles, instead of it just being straight. As a result, when you actually stroked the cue with power, everything just went all a kilter and the stroke wasn't what I wanted.
So, I spent a lot of time working on aligning my body properly with the line of the cue ball, so it is under my stroke, and suddenly shooting became a lot easier.
I've found that the same occurs with darts. When my dart stroke is all aligned with where I am throwing I get great throws with superb repeatability. Three darts nestled within thumb's width of each other -- a much smaller area than a bull! When I am not aligned like that, the darts go all over the place, even when everything else is perfect. It's because my arm just throws, instead of trying to wiggle around to throw the dart at where I am trying to aim it.
I don't have a answer on this yet -- I'm still working on it. It's a combination of walking into the shot, how my weight is balanced on my feet, where the aim is, foot position, angled to the board, balance of body, and a bunch of other things.
This summer I was shooting pool in dead stroke, I was just always getting down on my shot in the natural alignment and I was shooting like a player of my level of experience should shoot. My pool was working like it should! I was also throwing darts the same evening, and that's when I tried applying pool concepts to darts. I started throwing darts wonderfully too, it was really great. Then, after a short break, it all went away; the muscles in my arm tightened up and destroyed the dead stroke. But -- for a moment -- the body part of my pool stroke and dart throw was perfect -- and I want to feel that again someday!
I think this is just a grab bag of other problems disguised as aiming errors.
Seriously, when you aim, you want to aim for a very specific point. With soft tip darts, you want to aim for the hole in the dartboard you want to hit -- don't aim for the segment -- aim for a particular hole in that segment. You want to throw with that precision, and the slop will be the bed. If you just aim for the bed, the slop will be the neighboring beds. If you just aim for the board, the slop will be off the board!
When you are throwing, you want to keep throwing at the point you are aiming at. Throw all three darts at the same aim point. Find where the darts land -- at your aim or different? If different, great, your throw is going where you aim. If it isn't, but you have a great grouping, try moving your point of aim so the grouping goes where you want it to go. Does that work? If it does, you are doing something right, but the problem is that you aren't throwing where you are aiming at.
Long term, you really want to throw at what you are aiming at, it just makes things work out. You don't want to aim for T6 to gets bulls -- you'll drive yourself mad figuring out where you should be aiming for the darts to actually go somewhere.
If you were shooting a firearm, you would adjust the sights until they were dead on.
You don't have sights to adjust, so you need to adjust your body and how it addresses the dartboard for your throw and aim to be the same.
Reducing Parallax and Offset Error can be a big help -- otherwise you are going to tend to throw your darts across your body for things to look correct, and your darts will tend to go left of where you aim (and right for a lefty).
The best was is to align your body with your throw and put your eyes in line with the aligned throw. If you can do that you have it made. You should just be nailing targets on the dartboard!
If you can't do that, you can try to compensate.
I mentioned using a mirror to help fix elbow drop. It doesn't help with your throw directly, but it is a tool you can use to see what is wrong with your throw from another angle.
You can use the mirror to help with almost any alignment-type issue with dart throws. Seeing the motion from another angle can really let you see what is happening.
This can help with stance, alignment, aim, elbow drop, moving your elbow, and almost anything else that isn't timing related.
I'll warn you to be careful having a dart in your hands and practicing throwing motions at the mirror. Even at slow speed. Your body is so used to the throwing motion and feeling the dart in your hand that your body just might release it, regardless of what is going on in your brain!