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Aiming Your Darts | The 3 Essential Steps

Aiming your darts by understanding draw, sighting and action.

How we get the dart to our throwing hand, how we sight our target, and how we get the dart to the board happen fast for most players. In a split second we are taking aim at a target with an incredibly quick glimpse of the board. While fast, this motion has three separate pieces we need to pull apart to understand how each of them directly effect one. Each one of them is crucial towards aiming your darts, and in turn the success of your throw.

Draw, Sighting, and Action: The 3 Keys to aiming YOUR DARTS

These three parts are complicated by each players’ stance and anatomy differences. We all retrieve  the dart from different places, we have different grips, hands, arm lengths. We bring the dart up to different parts of our face, view the target from different heights and with different eyes. We all release the dart at different heights at different speeds all with the hope of hitting the same targets as each other. As a result, there are no strict rules for aiming your darts, but there are guidelines to make each of these steps much easier.

Draw:

The retrieval of the dart by the throwing hand from the off-hand, the raising the dart to the Set Position*, and the pullback of the dart by the throwing hand.

*The Set Position should be thought of as the still, statuesque spot at which the elbow doesn’t come higher and theoretically there is no motion. Not everyone pauses in this stillness like Phil Taylor; most don’t. For the sake of analysis and coaching it is a point that everyone can stop at for assessment.

Here are the things to remember, and how the Draw directly interacts with Sighting:

  • The off-hand needs to “stay anchored to some part of your torso” for all 3 dart throws. Learn more about the off-hand arm in my previous article: The 4 Keys to Dart Form That No One Tells You. This is to make sure you have a consistent place to retrieve the darts from (and to lock in your core to hold your posture steady). The first challenge we have individually is, where. Where on the body do you want to anchor your off-hand? This will be a grand experiment for each to find the optimal spot on their torso; it will in part be dictated by arm length, hand differences, and (unfortunately) belly size. The darts in your off-hand should be held gently and evenly to allow for easy retrieval. The retrieval/exchange should be effortless.
Be Sure to Anchor your off hand to your body when you throw darts
  • The challenge comes in raising the dart and pulling it back. The part that is hard to process in the moment is to NOT raise the dart past your aiming eye (notice I did not say “dominant eye”— we will get to this in a moment)
Do not draw or raise the dart past your aiming eye when aiming in darts
  • The last part of the Draw is what you do with the dart and arm once the elbow comes to the set position. From here the question is do you pause, pump or go?
Phil Taylor Darts Throw

PAUSE

Phil Taylor Pauses at Set Position.

Gerwyn Price Darts Throw - draw, pump then release

PUMP

Gerwen Price pumps.

Michael van Gerwen Darts Throw Rhythm Shooter

GO

Michael van Gerwen goes.

There is no right answer here: much of this is about the rhythm you have created for yourself. The only recommendation I give with this is, if you are a player that pumps it behooves you to keep the pump(s) as smooth, gentle, and measured as possible IE Ian White. You do not want it to be herky-jerky because it is harder to repeat, it can lead to fatigue, arm strain, and potentially issues with focal dystonia; a possible manifestation of the yips – otherwise known as Dartitis. Learn exactly what the yips are in darts here: What is Dartitis?

  • No matter how you pull the dart back at the last part of the Draw, it is important that any Coil (the twisting of the dart or cocking of the fingers/hands/wrist) be complete. It is further crucial that your point be slightly elevated before your Action. An elevated point allows the dart to glide more cleanly through the air; much how a plane takes off with the nose up first.
Make sure to have an elevated point before you release your dart

As you can see, contemplating the Draw cannot happen with taking into account Sighting and Action. They are completely and consequentially interrelated.

SIGHTING:

The focused vision of the target with your aiming eye.

Aiming your darts obviously doesn’t happen without viewing the target. Sadly, we have been misguided by the term “dominant eye” as it applies to darts (and all targeting applications). When we think about eye dominance generically we tend to default to thinking that means for everything all the time; the way we think about handedness. That is not the case.

  • There are varying definitions across many references which suggests that our collective knowledge in the subject is still evolving as the science does. Here is one that touches on a healthy way for dart players to think about it: “The superiority of one eye whose visual function predominates over the other eye. It is the eye that is relied upon more than the other in binocular vision. It is not necessarily the eye with the best acuity”. – The Free Medical Dictionary. Further, There can be different types of eye dominance. Sighting Dominance – The preference of one eye over the other when fixating on a target. Motor Dominance – The eye that is less likely to lose fixation at the near point of convergence. Sensory Dominance – The eye that has stronger vision that the other.
Eye Dominance in aiming your darts
  • There is no direct correlation between laterality (handedness) and ocular dominance. Science thus far has shown that handedness is controlled by one hemisphere of the brain, while binocular vision requires both hemispheres of the brain.
  • For the sake of how doctors and scientists like to assess eye dominance there are multiple “tests”:

 — The Miles Test

— The Porta Test

— The Dolman Method

— The pinhole test and a handful of others.

Ocular Dominance in aiming your darts
  • Roughly 67% of the population is right eye dominant based on these assessments. Roughly 90% of the population being right handed.

In assessing which eye needs to be trained on the target, I found the above incomplete. If any of these tests were definitive across the board for every possible application, there wouldn’t be so many different tests. It became apparent to me that the posture of a particular activity played a role in what eye wanted to predominate aiming. I took my reading and experimentation back to our games’ roots in archery.

Jake Kaminski, an Olympic archer uses the term “aiming eye” to get away from our layman thinking on eye dominance.
Jake Kaminski - Olympic Archer

Jake Kaminski, an Olympic archer uses the term “aiming eye” to get away from our layman thinking on eye dominance. Darts is an aiming sport in which we purposefully and necessarily move the projectile in front of our vision before propelling it. It is wholly unique in that regard.

The key is simple but it needs to be stated: The throwing hand on the Draw and on the Action, must NOT cross in front of your aiming eye. If we cross in front of that eye, we lose sight of the target for a split second. This is akin to blinking. The one thing that none of us do when we release the dart is blink.

Now the important question: How do I figure out which eye is my aiming eye for darts?

The test that needs to be done should be specific to each players’ stance on the oche. The best way a darts player can assess this is to get into your stance, look at the T20, Draw the dart up to the set position, pull the dart back and STOP. Now slowly, one at a time, take turns closing each eye. With most players one eye will see a blurry flight close to their face, and the other eye will be trained on your target. The eye that still sees the target is your aiming eye; it is the eye you cannot cross on your Draw or Action.

Aiming your darts with your aiming eye instead of your dominant eye
Aiming your darts with your aiming eye instead of your dominant eye

This is not to say you should squint your other eye, or that the other eye doesn’t matter; it most certainly does. The more information your eyes take in, the better. Having both eyes open helps process depth perception and keep balance.

If by chance you do this assessment and you see the target equally with both eyes and don’t see the dart with either, you are not bringing the dart close enough to your face to aim well. You are simply “looking” at the target with both eyes. Imagine for a moment not bringing a bow and arrow up to your sightline. Or not bringing a firearm or a pool cue into your sightline. In any of these aiming activities you can find comfortable postures to “see” targets with normal, binocular vision, but your accuracy will be greatly diminished in doing so.

On the pull back of your dart, it should come in front of, or slightly to the side of your face in order to aim thoughtfully at the target.

When aiming in darts, your takeback or draw should be directly in front of your face or to the side of your face.
When aiming in darts, your takeback or draw should be directly in front of your face or to the side of your face.

It is common for players that have cross eye aiming. Meaning a righty who aims with their left eye, and a lefty who aims with their right eye. The Draw usually comes lower, around the belly to clear the aiming eye without crossing it. Michael Smith, Adrian Lewis exemplify this very well. Players who throw and aim with the same side of the body need to be mindful of the elbow not flailing too far to the outside of the shoulder.

When a player is challenged with staying clear of their aiming eye you may see them go wide to one side or another on the oche, and/or slightly cock their head at an angle. It is also unbeknownst to us as the observer, the acuity of vision of either eye of a player as some have severe discrepancies between eyes. Wes Newton, Andrew Gilding and Stephen Bunting do such on the oche apparently to clear their vision.

Now it is all coming together. Where we Draw the dart from our off-hand, and how we bring it up routinely are vital in Sighting the target cleanly. Placement of the off-hand, stance on the oche, and arm length, and lateral placement of the elbow all come into play for making sure the aiming eye is not crossed in front of. It is a grand experimentation for the placement of each body part; especially the elbow.

The elbow placement is dictated by the muscles in the shoulder. I want you to think of the Set Position of the elbow like the 3 axes of aircraft flight: Pitch, Yaw and Roll.

Aircraft Pricipal Axes Pitch Yaw and Roll
Aircraft Pricipal Axes Pitch Yaw and Roll

PITCH

Controls the height of the elbow and angle of the point upon release. We know we want to keep the set position elbow height below the shoulder.

Aircraft Pricipal Axes Pitch Yaw and Roll and how they relate to aiming your darts

YAW

Controls how far in or out you want your entire forearm (elbow to wrist) - for example at the utmost extreme we do not bring our arm out like when throwing a baseball. We keep it in, in front of our body.

Aircraft Pricipal Axes Pitch Yaw and Roll and how they relate to aiming your darts

ROLL

Controls just the lateral placement of the elbow while keeping the wrist in front of your face. This is the most important facet in avoiding crossing your aiming eye.

Do this experiment: 

Bring your arm up into the set position and experiment with Roll of your elbow.  If you bring it to the outside, your hand comes more in front of your face. If you bring the elbow into your chest, the hand moves out over your throwing shoulder. This is different for everyone but cannot be overlooked when Drawing to keep you Sighting clear. 

ACTION:

The forward motion of the arm in propelling the dart to the board.

Comparatively this is the easy part of aiming your darts, but there are a few things that need to be remembered:

  • Though the elbow starts below the height of the shoulder in the Set Position, it meets the height of the shoulder upon full follow-through.
The elbow starts below the shoulder line in darts set position
In darts, the elbow meets the height of the shoulder upon follow-through
  • The release of the dart begins just after the hand starts coming forward. If you are a player that feels that they can’t reach the top of the board, but have enough power in your throw, it is because you are releasing the dart too late.
  • The arm should fully straighten on the follow-through and should be roughly pointing at the target. You won’t find a better example of this outside of the one and only, Phil Taylor.
Phil Taylor darts throw and release
  • As soon as your follow-through is complete, the Action of one dart leads to the Draw of the next dart and the cycle of aiming starts anew.

Respectfully,

Dax

Dr. Manhattan

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