As the world hopes to rebound from months without normal human interaction, the social structure of dart communities, leagues, and teams has also suffered. While our game affords us the ability to play remotely, it is a different dynamic. The social aspects are equally important and why so many of us play. It is our night(s) out, to laugh, to imbibe, to see friends, and with the right amount of hard work and luck, perhaps some dart league glory. It is an incredibly social game, but there is one thing to remember:
Darts is an individual game with team formats.
What you bring to a team is you, your energy, your work ethic, and your experience.
Few team sports provide individual competition outlets and few individual sports provide team outlets for competition. Basketball provides us a great example as to how to think about dart teams. The role you play in a 1 on 1 game is different than the role you play in 2 on 2, 3 on 3 game, and so on. This is important to remember not just for knowing how you adjust based on the team format, but also based on who the individuals on your team are. (ie: Scottie Pippen’s role on the Chicago Bulls was different with and without Michael Jordan).
Know Your Role…
…And (It’s easy to) Shut Your Mouth
“The Rock” Dwayne Johnson often playfully said, “Know your role, and shut your mouth”. While this is direct and you wouldn’t appreciate a captain approaching you with words like this, it is an internal mantra that players should keep in mind when it comes to teams. If you know what your role is, there is little that needs to be said. There is only work to be done.
You must be willing to play a role on a team to be satisfied and successful.
This is irrespective of your experience or skill level. We all know what it feels like to have expectations not met. Disappointment is universally understood, but so is satisfaction. We cannot all win championships each season, but we all deserve to be satisfied with our participation and use of our time. It is my hope that you use this article as a blueprint to moderate disappointment and increase satisfaction for your league nights.
Just like with definitions I have outlined in previous articles, defining terms specifically leads to greater understanding and leaves less room for personal interpretation – that is where the potential for disappointment is at its greatest – when things are misunderstood. Setting expectations starts with those providing opportunity for you to play (leagues and captains) and ends with you communicating what you need out of the free time you devote to a dart team. After all:
Time is our most precious commodity
We all have the same amount of it in a day and we don’t want anyone else wasting it.
Think about it. A league has governing rules about your participation as a team/player: Schedules, roster limits, sportsmanship etc. They are outlined in writing for you to read and refer back to should there be any confusion. This is a set of expectations the league has for your participation. Although not needed as formally, teams should provide expectations too.
Team building (before working on togetherness) literally starts with building a team. Why it gets built, and whom it gets built with helps everyone define involvement. While everyone wants to win, not all teams are built to win, and that’s ok, but everyone needs to be honest with themselves and each other about what a team is being built for. Teams are built for different reasons, and the type of team being built should be understood and communicated by the captain. For example:
- My Night Out – Darts is secondary. Having a laugh and a drink is primary.
- Friends First – A team of friends who stick together no matter what.
- A Contender – A team built to fight for the last playoff spot and hopes to get its players the playoff experience. Anything more is icing on the cake.
- A Playoff Team – A team who fully expects to make the playoffs, and once there knows that anything can happen.
- The Juggernaut – as defined in the dictionary “a huge, powerful, and overwhelming force or institution.” A team whose expectation is a championship from the outset. Anything less would be a disappointment.
(This is just playful nomenclature for you to get the gist of team types. We have seen these exemplified before. Teams should be built with such purpose in mind.)
If you are on a team that puts revelry and friends first, I commend you. You likely have easygoing fun while playing and are the vital breeding ground of the community. What starts out as fun for some can grow into more for other players. A fire in the belly gets lit, and before you know it, you have embarked on a journey to see how good you can get.
If you are on this path, and improving and outcomes are goals of yours, the role you play on a team at any level is likely much more nuanced.
The anatomy of team: the roles we play
These 4 roles are a healthy way for captains and prospective players to think about roles.
The player who organizes the team from start to finish- enlists players, organizes practices, communicates, sets lineups, fills our score sheets, etc.
- A captain should be a leader who players can rally around.
- A captain should be able to make tough decisions and maintain the support of team members.
- A captain should communicate well and often to players, opponents and the league.
(There is much more about Captains to be written- but that is the topic of a different article)
A starter is player who has earned the right to play every leg based on their acumen and experience.
- If being a starter is primary to you- make sure you are willing to play a division below the one you think you have ascended to.
- It is not enough for you to think you are a starter- the roster should universally respect you as such.
- A starter should be willing to ask to be sat in favor of someone else when it is the right decision for the good of the team.
Substitute/Alternate: (These terms should be synonymous- they are the same role.)
Whatever your community calls this role it should not be an ambiguous term to simply mean you have a spot on the roster. Substitutes/Alternates should be prepared to play enough matches to qualify for the playoffs without playing the full compliment of legs each week.
- Players who are comfortable not playing unless a starter isn’t available, asks to sit out, or is benched, for the good of the team.
- They should be the most team-oriented, selfless people on the roster.
- Often such players can get more playing time than they initially expect (assuming an appropriate preseason expectation level)- but again- they shouldn’t expect to.
- Players who are well suited for this role are those recruited from a lower division that are given a chance against better competition, or a player who has been “out of the game” for a while who is slowly getting back into form with team reps.
A player who doesn’t show up unless called by the captain to fill-in for someone who wasn’t able to make it to the match at the last minute. A player needed so that you have the minimum number needed to have enough players.
- This is usually best filled on the lower levels by a friend who is happy to have a few beers bought for them to show up, and on the higher levels by cagey veterans of the game who can’t manage it every week with work and life, but are happy to help out a few times during the season.
- These players should not be expected to qualify for the playoffs.
Note: Roles should be viewed as the minimum expected by a captain, and provided by a player. Opportunity for more often presents itself.
Here is the tricky part for captains/teams: You need to have the right mix of players who embody each of these roles in order to be cohesive. For example: If your league has a format in which 4 players (Starters) play in each set, and you have 5 or more players who expect to start every leg, you have a problem. There are many similar role-related dynamics that need to be given ample consideration when building a team.
What every player needs to consider:
Every player needs to define for his or herself what role they want to play, on what type of team and in what division. A healthy, egoless self-assessment must be done in considering one’s priorities. Some may recognize they are ready for a lesser role on a stronger team, while others may need to realize they should look for a more prominent role on a lower division team. The more honest we are with ourselves in truing up what we want, need, and deserve in a role, the closer we will get to a level of satisfaction in being on a team. In getting asked to play for a team, a captain should be able to define for you what type of team they are trying to form and what role they want you to play.
This can change season-to-season, team-to-team, depending on your readiness to perform. Remember: Life comes first. Health, family, work, responsibilities are paramount to the joys we get from darts. Regardless of how good, experienced or relied on you might be for a dart team, what is asked of you has to work for you first.
Every player needs to be comfortable having a direct conversation with a perspective team captain. Simply being wanted for a team is not enough. Similar to a job interview you want to know what to expect, and what will be asked of you. Ask about your playing time, your potential teammates, the host bar, and the division level. If the minimum of what is being offered doesn’t jive with how much you want/need to play, then perhaps it is not the right fit for you for that particular season.
This is psychology term that I have found incredibly useful when thinking about team formation. It is “the phenomenon of having one person’s emotions and related behaviors directly trigger similar emotions and behaviors in other people”.
In other words we soak up the energy and behaviors of those we surround ourselves with and that holds true on a dart team as well. Captains and players alike should be mindful of this. We will soak up the good, bad, and ugly of those we are around through social osmosis. This energy can be formative or damaging. It can teach sportsmanship or lack thereof. You may start emulating others on the team; it might improve your game, or set you back years. There is something to learn from every dart player you encounter, no matter the skill level or experience, but some of what you learn is unconscious, and without the forethought of seeking new knowledge. Furthermore some of what you learn should be in mindfully learning what NOT to do. Choosing whom you want to play with/be around is a bigger decision than you think. Choose wisely.
You Can’t Always Get What You Want:
It is important to recognize that not every player will have the choice of role, team and division to play in. What should be obvious is, the stronger a player you are, the greater the choice you will have. This alone should make you want to get better. It is a wonderful feeling to know that how you play and carry yourself makes you wanted for any team in your division, but this takes time. If you are letting it be known what role you want, and you are not being offered the opportunities you would like, perhaps you need to adjust your expectations. Perhaps the role you want exists on a different team or in a different division. If you are truly honest with yourself, you will get what you need.
Personal politics play a role in everything. Darts is not exempt. When you don’t understand the “why” of a situation often there is more than meets the eye. It is not fun but it is part of the game (of life.) Know your role and play it. If your role is impacted by personal politics then something has been miscommunicated or a dynamic has changed. The one thing you can do ensure you don’t get caught up on the wrong end of it is to get better. Become the player a captain can’t sit, lest they are comfortable with you starting for the opposition in the next season.
An Appeal to Stronger players:
Don’t be the Giant, Be the Giant Slayer.
You may be a giant in your league, but your role may be even larger than you realize. Strong players carry the blessing and the burden of their emotional contagion transcending the borders of their team rosters. EVERYONE in the league pays attention to your game, your sportsmanship, how you carry yourself, and what type of teams you choose to be on. They will model themselves (consciously or unconsciously) after you, even if you are not looking to be a “role model”.
When stacked teams repeatedly and overwhelmingly win it has an inadvertently detrimental trickle-down effect on all teams in all divisions. It forces other teams to (always) play their strongest players to make the playoffs without giving those Substitutes/Alternates as many legs. As a result those who could move up a division to substitute, don’t. This prevents lower division teams from backfilling roles, and this effect cascades into every division.
If you have been on a Juggernaut of a team in the top division and won multiple championships you likely haven’t been tested in a while. Challenge yourselves as players for the health of your division/league. Be willing to start a team to create parity and opportunity. While it is not your job to do so, it can jumpstart your focus and practice by creating the challenge you have indirectly avoided. Yes, there is something empowering about fielding a team that you are confident will win a championship but it can become mundane when it is repetitively a forgone conclusion. Creating a team to slay the giant (to contend for the playoffs) is a great challenge for a strong player in a team format to take on. In doing so, you create opportunities for others to take on bigger roles. In turn, players are grateful for their roles, and work hard to keep them. Cohesion can grow through greater adversity. Winning a championship when your initial expectation is to challenge for a playoff spot is also much more satisfying because you are exceeding your expectations, and those of others as well.
“All the decisive blows are struck left-handed” – Walter Benjamin The thing I love most about our game is that it doesn’t discriminate. Color, race,