Mental

Overcoming the "Yips" or "Dartitis"

What is this so-called affliction called the “Yips” or “Dartitis”? Dart players around the world seem to contract this motor skill malady without notice or build up. One day you are throwing fine and the next, the dart won’t leave the hand or will fly in precarious directions, or as is happening in my own throw, the dart is being left on my shoulder or being dropped in the back of my throw over my shoulder. This has seen an increase in my vocal disappointment, pulling from a vernacular not heard since my early days as a sailor.

England Cricket Team sports psychologist Dr Mark Bawden suffered from the yips himself as a teenager. He completed a PhD on the topic and has published a paper on the yips in the Journal of Sports Science.

Centre for Sport and Exercise Science, Sheffield Hallam University, UK.

The ‘yips’ is a phenomenon that affects individuals who perform finely controlled motor skills. The result is involuntary movements that occur throughout the execution of a skill. A qualitative study was conducted to identify the psychological characteristics of the ‘yips’ experience in cricket bowlers. Eight bowlers of varying ability were interviewed about their thoughts, emotions and feelings before, during and after their initial experience of the ‘yips’. After the interviews, inductive content analysis revealed 15 general dimensions that were descriptive of the overall ‘yips’ experience: conditions before the initial experience, the first experience, anxiety, emotions and feelings, conscious control of movement, self-presentational concerns, inappropriate focus, negative thinking, future performances, reasons for not bowling, bowling experiences after the initial experience, the difference between the ‘yips’ and bowling badly, characteristics of good bowling performances, personal characteristics and personal explanations for why the ‘yips’ were experienced. We conclude that the experience of bowling with the ‘yips’ shows many characteristics similar to a severe form of choking.

In 2007, webmaster for Patrick Chaplain Darts Historian, David King, managed to convince the folks at the Oxford English Dictionary that the word was a well-established one and, as a result of David’s hard work, from that year the OED included ‘dartitis’; the official definition being:

‘A state of nervousness which prevents a player from releasing a dart at the right moment when throw”

Knowing how to cure the yips begins with understanding what causes it in the first place. While we’ll talk about the many psycho-physiological aspects of the yips, our focus will be on what you can do to eliminate this nightmare from your game.

Anyone who has needed a cure for the yips knows that calling the experience a nightmare is not an overstatement. Many of the best players in the game suffered from the yips. In fact, it is fair to say that the yips, or dartitis, has caused more players to prematurely leave the game than any other reason.

Since this experience seems uncontrollable. And in fact it is. The very nature of the yips is an uncontrollable tremor or “flinch” in the hands while attempting to throw and is associated with repetitive motor skills.

I have always compared a properly thrown dart with that of a skilled basketball player shooting a foul shot. Proper stance, firm grip, focus on your goal, then its elbow, wrist and fingertips following through to your target.

A couple techniques that I have found to help with this is similar to therapy exercises for strengthening the wrists and fingers.

The following hand strengthening exercises are designed to improve strength of the muscles of the wrist and hand. You should discuss the suitability of these exercises with your physiotherapist prior to beginning them. Generally, they should only be performed provided they do not cause or increase pain.

Begin with the basic hand strengthening exercises..

Hand Strengthening – Basic Exercises
To begin with, the following basic hand strengthening exercises should be performed approximately 10 times, 3 times daily. As your hand strength improves, the exercises can be progressed by gradually increasing the repetitions and strength of contraction provided they do not cause or increase pain.

Tennis Ball Squeeze
Begin this exercise holding a tennis ball. Squeeze the tennis ball as hard as possible and comfortable without pain. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times.

Thumb Opposition
Begin this exercise taking your thumb to your index finger. Squeeze your thumb and index finger together as hard as possible and comfortable without pain for 5 seconds, then move your thumb onto the next finger. Squeeze your thumb and middle finger together for 5 seconds and so on. Repeat 3 times on each finger.

Finger Adduction
Begin this exercise with your fingers and thumb parallel. Keeping your fingers straight, squeeze your fingers and thumb together in this position as hard as possible and comfortable without pain. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times.

Hand Strengthening – Intermediate Exercises
The following intermediate hand strengthening exercises should generally be performed 1 – 3 times per week provided they do not cause or increase pain. Ideally they should not be performed on consecutive days, to allow muscle recovery. As your hand strength improves, the hand exercises can be progressed by gradually increasing the repetitions, number of sets or resistance, provided they do not cause or increase pain.

Resistance Band Wrist Flexion
Begin this exercise with a resistance band around your fingers, your hand palm up as demonstrated (figure 4). Your elbow should be at your side and bent to 90 degrees, your forearm supported by your other hand. Slowly curl your wrist and fingers up against the resistance band tightening your hand and forearm muscles. Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions as far as possible and comfortable without pain.

I hope this add some light to this bizarre affliction that has hit so many athletes from different sports. I personally believe that this condition is not a psychological one but that is rooted in mechanical aspects of repetitive motor skills. But I’m not a doctor and maybe it is just in my head.

Here is a video of Eric Bristow talking about dartitis.

Good shooting!


Confidence

Oftentimes, many players wonder where their confidence is, or how can they obtain it to further themselves in the game. Years ago, I had the opportunity to experience such a metamorphosis and would like to take a moment to share this not only for new players, but mainly for the ladies out there.  Who am I? Does not matter. Do you know me? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. Have I done anything great so you would know my name? Probably not. Will you believe my words? That is entirely up to you to decide.

I started playing this game a long time ago at the local level. I participated in leagues, blind draws and annual tournaments. I was told I was pretty good. I never believed it. I knew I won when I could, but put me up against a bigger name from somewhere other than the home town and forget it, I was toast.  I went through this for years and see other players go through the same event after event.

I was blessed to have the opportunity to play regional events against the top lady players in the country at the time and each time, felt like I was sent running home with my tail tucked between my legs. Did I play any differently was the question. I knew I did. I was nervous. I failed to maintain any consistency and I failed to deliver on the doubles when needed.  What was it about playing at that level? Why could I go home and literally beat up on the locals and play some fantastic darts and then once put in a tougher situation, I folded like a cheap suit.

The answer came after just over 4 years of play. Confidence. A huge factor that I obviously lacked.  Most players wonder, where does it come from and how can I find it? Well, if others could bottle it and sell it, someone out there would be a millionaire. You can have all the talent in the world and play great at home against the invisible man, but if you do not have the ability to step up and deliver when it is needed most, you oftentimes are sent scurrying home, left to wonder what happened.

Yes, it can be apparent that some players have more talent than others. Many players put more into the game to get more out of it. But on the whole, the game of darts is pretty limitless as far as the abilities needed. Age, gender, and size do not play a factor. Once a player has figured out the basic mechanics, it is only the dedication and the mental part of the game that differentiates the players.

My personal metamorphosis was in 1984 after playing for just over 4 years. I happened to meet someone, who at the time, was one of the top players in the country and very well recognized for his achievements in the game.  During the course of our conversations, he mentioned a few things to me about me and my game. He said he had heard enough about me and knew that I had enough talent to compete with the best. To prove his belief in that, he set me up to play some mixed events with some of the top players in the country. I had never been more intimidated in my life.  Seriously…throw darts off the board type of intimidated, I was so nervous. But in his own little way, he gave me the secret. He showed me what it takes to get to that next level. I know is sounds silly that one could all of a sudden think great things about themselves just from the words of one person. I don’t think I will ever be able to explain the why of it. It just happened. I practiced differently and I played differently. Three months after these conversations happened, I won my first ladies singles title at the young age of 18.  That same year, I played in another regional event. Not only was I finally able to beat the #1 ladies player in the US, but I was able to finish tied for 3rd, but I lost the playoff and ended in the 4th spot. Coming from years of finishing last or next to last, this was a phenomenal thing for me.

Alas, life moves on and changes. I never did much more after that since we started a family and eventually moved away from darts, for the most part. Yet, I could come out and play and still have that same confidence in myself. Did not do me much good for awhile since I did not practice, but eventually, the people started changing. New people came into the game and the older people moved out of the game. This opened up the path of the usual “who is this person and where did she come from” type of attitudes from the players. And here I come along with my little secret known as “confidence” and win their event. Locally this went on for years and years. I never really knew a lot of the players because I did not play league. I just showed up at tournaments. To them it was irritating. To me, I just scored a big bonus. They are irritated and thinking about me. They are not thinking about their game.

Fast forward to many years later. I had since started playing more frequently and gotten to know more of the local ladies that played here.  They were still the same. Totally ticked off that I came out from nowhere and won the event. By this time, I had already had over 25 years experience in the game.  One day, when speaking to one of the local players, I asked “what is it about playing me that you have a problem with?”  Her answer was that I intimidated the heck out of her.  Apparently my confidence was so strong and so well perceived, that the battles for my matches were half fought before we even stepped to the line. My next question was “what makes you think that I am any more talented than you?” There was no answer. Our conversation progressed more and I asked what it was that this player thought when they stepped to the line against me. Their response was that they thought they had to pretty much hit a 180 every turn to beat me. Of course, my laughing response was “do I look like Phil Taylor to you?”…lol….but my serious response was to explain to them how when I get to the line, my main goal is to hit three fat 20’s. By then, there was quite a few ladies listening and I explained to them my way of thinking. I had been told a long time ago, that basically, three fat 20’s every turn will beat probably close to 90% of the women players anywhere. Sure I may luck into a triple every now and then, but it’s not like I am putting the pressure on myself to hit them. I do not have to. I just need three fat 20’s. It is amazing how some people cannot grasp simple logic.  So here I am with my simple logic of hitting three fat 20’s and my simple confidence of knowing I can hit three fat 20’s…and all the while, they are intimidated as heck because they think they need to hit 180’s to beat me.

Step forward now to present day. It’s been a slow process, but some of the local ladies have listened to my words and understand what I am trying to say. I am proud to say that a few of them have taken it to the next level. They have beaten me and in their minds, it is like getting the proverbial monkey off their back.  But in my mind, they have achieved what I have taught them through my words….

CONFIDENCE

I may win another local event….I may not…..but in my mind, wins and losses come and go. With this, I have passed on a legacy to the game that hopefully future generations of players will be able to learn and enjoy.