By Mark V. Lonsdale, Shaft Shooters Archery
Premise: Does darts practice improve archery performance?
Elite athletes and aspiring elite athletes are always interested in other recreational activities that may have a positive effect on their performance. In general, all exercise in moderation is beneficial to basic good health and fitness. Golf, swimming, hiking, and yoga being good examples. But some activities have more specific benefits for the precision shooter.
Archery is a precision sport that requires good form, a repeatable shot process, honed neuro-muscle memory, awareness of body mechanics, focus and concentration, and well developed stress management and mental toughness. These requirements are also critical to golf, tennis, and yes, darts. So if you are looking for an evening recreation, at home or with a league, that may help your archery and improve focus, try darts.
So let’s look at the similarities. Just like a set of target arrows, competition grade darts are not cheap, they are precision machined, matched in weight, balanced, and shafts and flights can be changed to suit the toss of the player. Just as the spine of an arrow is matched to bow poundage, darts are matched to the technique of the darts player. While some players lob their darts in an arc, others throw more directly at the target. In fact, players often go through several sets of darts before they find a combination of weight, length, and flights that works for them.
Now, looking at the body mechanics, darts play requires a stable, balanced stance, a throw or toss that is accurate and repeatable, and an inline follow through. This is not unlike the shot process in archery in that it requires total body awareness when developing a technique, followed by thousands of repetitions to drill this into the required neuro-muscle memory. As with archery, tossing darts with precision requires almost subconscious aiming and release.
For the novice player, learning to throw darts is a mechanical process that with with time and practice becomes second nature. The darts player brings the dart up to his or her eyeline, pulls back under the eye and tosses, all the time keeping the dart and toss in the peripheral vision. The player then adjusts aim or power to move the impact until this can be done without conscious thought. Dwelling too long on aiming and technique allows the mind to get in the way of the process.
The critical part of body mechanics is lining the throwing arm up with the target, keeping the elbow in, and then throwing without dropping the elbow, while following-through with a relaxed wrist and indexing on the intended point of impact. Sounds simple but it takes months and years of practice to achieve a clean, accurate, repeatable toss. As with archery, progress will be directly proportionate to the amount of time spent practicing.
As for the mental game, whether club level or national events, championship darts has all the pressure and stress of archery competitions. Plus there is the added distraction of being in closer proximity to other players and spectators, particularly in pub or bar play.
To wrap this up, the most significant benefit for the archer is the improved focus and concentration required to score well in darts. And be assured, focus and concentration can be exercised and improved, similar to any muscle group.