Nerves are common in almost every sport and the best (or most elite athletes) are those that can handle their nerves and perform to a high standard, even when under immense pressure in competition.
This ability to handle pressure in front of a live television camera is one of the reasons why many consider dart players to be athletes even when their physiques may not support that statement!
In darts, it’s an individual sport and it’s just you vs an opponent, all the pressure is on your shoulders and for some people, they can freeze in crucial game moments.
If you’ve ever seen or felt this happen (similar to stage fright) then chances are you’ve suffered or seen a term known as dartitis. Dartitis is an issue in darts where a player momentarily – or permanently in some cases – loses their ability to throw a dart with accuracy.
As it’s more common than you might expect, I’m going to cover exactly what dartitis is, what the symptoms are, who it’s most likely to affect, and most importantly, how you can treat dartitis if you get it!
** Disclaimer – Nothing In this article is intended to be, or should be taken as medical advice. This is for informational purposes only and if you feel you have symptoms of dartitis, seek medical attention from a registered practitioner.
What Is Dartitis
Dartitis is a term that’s defined in the Collins English Dictionary as having: nervous twitching or tension that destroys concentration and spoils performance. It’s a term specific to darts and one that is often compared to the yips in golf.
From a medical perspective, dartitis is believed to be a form of dystonia, which is described by the NHS as: ‘A medical term for a range of movement disorders that cause muscle spasms and contractions.
To summarize this in very straightforward terms that a dart player can relate to:
Dartitis is an inability to throw or release a dart, usually brought about by the occurrence of a high-pressure game or a specific moment within a game. You could feel muscle spasms, complete laps in concentration, and in the most severe cases, an inability to throw the dart.
If you’ve never experienced dartitis before, or are reading this because you feel you may have had it, it can be most likened to freezing up during a throw.
If you’ve ever had a muscle cramp, you’ll know your body is acting (or reacting) without you making a voluntary choice, and with dartitis, you may mentally want, and try to throw the dart, but physically be unable to do so.
While amateur and inexperienced players are those most likely to suffer from dartitis, it can also happen to professional dart players when the pressure of the occasion can become too great.
There have been some high-profile cases of dartitis over the years with Eric Bristow perhaps being the player most known, however, in more recent years the case of Berry Van Peer is the most notable. The video below shows just how challenging it can be once you are faced with dartitis:
Anyone that plays darts to a decent standard will know that you play best when you are in flow.
From a sporting and performance aspect, flow is a well-researched and psychological state whereby an athlete will be fully focused on a task and have an ability to perform or execute to a high standard.
People can experience flow in everyday life and in darts, you know you are in flow when every throw feels smooth, thoughtless and you’re highly focused on each number (with every throw). You can’t stay in flow all the time but many have experienced excellent games where everything just seems to go in!
Well, a smooth and fluid throw is a crucial aspect of darts and it’s important to look out for early symptoms of dartitis because dartitis is the complete opposite of flow – or a smooth and consistent throw.
Dartitis is now known to be a physical or mental issue for dart players, it’s accepted by the darts community and is no longer something to be frowned upon.
Early experiences with dartitis would lead to crowd jeering or players being branded as “choking” which is when a professional athlete fails to perform on the big stage.
Now, dartitis is seen as something that can happen to anyone and it’s therefore important to look out for possible symptoms of dartitis.
** Sometimes it can be difficult to identify symptoms. There are numerous times where I’ve thrown a dart with bad technique and release but this is usually down to poor concentration, frustration, or just a lazy throw. You also need to factor in nerves as nerves can be a part of dartitis but they could just mean you perform worse rather than suffering from dartitis specifically.
Symptoms of dartitis can include:
- Inability to release a dart
- Nervous twitching
- Need to make a concentrated effort with your throw
- Can’t concentrate or focus on your throw
- Unable to throw consecutive darts with the same form, technique, or throwing motion
- Wrist, forearm, or elbow “locking” during certain parts of a throw and preventing the release
Everyone can experience dartitis in a different way and only a trained sports psychologist can help you identify whether or not you are suffering from dartitis – though if you suspect you are, chances are you most likely are.
5 Ways to Treat Dartitis
There is not a cure for dartitis at the time of writing this and there is unlikely to be one in the near future. Golf as a sport is significantly more popular than darts and a lot of money has gone into finding a cure for the “yips” and there is still no cure to date.
Therefore, I can’t guarantee a simple cure and if you’ve been looking through comments, forums, and material online, you’d likely have already come to this conclusion. There are people who can overcome dartitis though which is promising news, especially for those that have dartitis so bad that they can’t throw a dart!
The below is a number of ways that you can potentially treat or overcome dartitis and if you are passionate about the game of darts, it’s worth trying some just to see if it will help you personally.
1. Seek Specialist Help
If you suspect that you are displaying some symptoms of dartitis, the best course of action you can take is to seek specialist help, especially if darts is a significant part of your life or you want to pursue it as a career (current prize money makes professional darts very lucrative to pursue).
Catching dartitis early can be key to helping minimize its impact or avoid it completely. Something that triggers dartitis will typically be pressure situations or a mental aspect that means you overthink a throw or have the conscious mind trying to make decisions during a throw.
As most experienced players will know, the dart throw and release is a learned movement that is automatic and autonomous after a certain period of time. Like brushing your teeth, you eventually get to a point where your motor mechanics allow you to throw the dart without conscious thought, instead, you focus on the target rather than the action.
Well, with dartitis many people psychologically try to focus on the throw which completely ruins the flow of the movement mentioned earlier and leads to jerking or sticking during a release. I won’t pretend to understand dartitis, but a professional and registered sports psychologist will!
Therefore, try to seek professional help early to prevent dartitis from becoming worse and hopefully prevent it altogether.
2. Avoid Pressure Situations
A likely cause of dartitis is pressure situations, nerves, and the presence of fight or flight during a throw. I can handle nerves to an extent and win games, but I’ve also lost some dart finals to a lesser player simply because I wasn’t as relaxed as I should have been.
Putting pressure on yourself drastically impacts performance in any sport and if you start to get symptoms of dartitis, the impact can be multiplied by added pressure. Most times the pressure is internal, even imagining that you are letting your teammates down, etc.. Can potentially lead to dartitis-type situations.
Therefore, a key step to take to treat dartitis is to remove yourself from pressure situations (temporarily) and allow yourself time to build up confidence or just reduce the mental stress you may be under. Quiet practice, meditation, and positive reinforcement (more on this next) can help you calm down during a throw.
Sometimes you just need to take a step back, take three deep and deliberate long breaths to clear your mind and lower your heart rate. The recurring theme with dartitis is the mental aspect. Whether it be focusing too much on technique or feeling pressure for the situation.
Modern sport places a huge emphasis on mental health and mental management.
Taking some time to practice away from eyes, spending some more time on the practice board before a big game, or just learning to breathe and mentally disconnect can all help you “forget” about dartitis, and instead of focusing on the throw, focus on where you are throwing instead.
3. Adopt A Positive Mindset
I’ll mention taking a break as the next point but the mindset is one of the key triggers to dartitis and the more negative your mindset is towards the condition, the harder it will be to treat. Positive reinforcement is used on many children learning a movement or skill as it reinforces the correct actions.
Even as an adult, telling yourself (or having a coach tell you) that you are doing the right thing can work wonders to form or technique. Everyone responds differently when it comes to mental stimulation but changing your mindset from “I need to hit a treble 20” to “I want to throw a smooth dart” can definitely help.
You shouldn’t fixate on the intricacies of your form, this could make matters worse, but going through the motions of a smooth throw and re-learning or re-educating yourself on a good release will be more important than trying to play to a high standard when you suffer from dartitis.
4. Take a Break From Darts
As dartitis is a mental aspect, trying to force a resolution when you are in the wrong state of mind can make matters worse, frustrate you more as a player, and generally not help the situation. Some players quit the game completely through frustration but taking a break can give you a mental break from the situation.
One or two weeks away from the oche can give you time to reduce mental stimulation and overthinking that comes with a frozen dart throw. Occasionally picking up a dart to throw casually can also help but it needs to be a casual throw. I’ll keep mentioning it but the less you can think about the throw (easier said than done) the more natural your throw will be.
If you’ve had some frustrating games and are focusing too much on the throw and putting pressure on yourself, some time away from the board can help you to reset and reduce the anxiety that comes with dartitis. In some cases, a short break was enough for people to relax and shake off dartitis.
5. Change Your Throw
This is the last case scenario and likely the last thing you’d want to see as a remedy but most people that have overcome dartitis have needed to adjust and change their throw. Accepting dartitis can go a long way towards overcoming it.
Some players accept that their throw will never be the same again with Eric Bristow being a prime example, therefore, it can help to accept or modify small changes to your throw if it means you can release the dart smoothly and accurately.
This ties in with the psychological aspect mentioned earlier. If you feel you need to pull the dart back to a certain point, have the tip of the dart facing the board, have your wrist tilted at a 30-degree angle, have one foot further back than the other, shoulders squared, head facing forward….
Hopefully, you get the point, that’s a lot of information to try and take in and it’s the opposite process to a smooth and natural throw.
Something most people have found is that their technique is never the same as it was before dartitis, some even switch hands and learn to play comfortably with the other hand having no signs of dartitis whatsoever (demonstrating the mental aspect and impact of dartitis).
Therefore, accepting this fact can go a long way towards improving your game, it involves learning new motor patterns but if you can find a way to stop thinking about your throw, the natural movement will significantly help your game.
Again, that advice is from other people’s experience but to me, the logic seems sound from a performance and motor recruitment perspective.
Dartitis is something that can happen to any player, be it at the pub or pro level. I’m not saying that for the shock effect but rather to demonstrate that we don’t yet know why or how dartitis happens and some research shows that once you get dartitis, only less than 5% will make a full recovery and play to their pre-dartitis standard.
Certainly worrying stuff but one reason why there are more cases of dartitis than before is that there are significantly more players globally, which is one key reason why the condition has become recognized both medically and as a term.
While the above sounded negative (5% full recovery), there are steps you can take to overcome dartitis which was listed above. I usually keep the comments turned off but if you have suffered from dartitis or want to offer advice, feel free to comment below and support the darting community.