How many times have you asked or been asked, “How do you hold a dart?” It is often asked with the thought that somehow, whoever is being asked, has the correct, secret answer to what is the proper way to grip a dart. While I am happy to oblige anyone who asks with that brief demonstration of how “I” grip a dart, the reason for the question is in seeking an answer that doesn’t exist. First and foremost…
…There is no, one, proper way to grip a dart.
This is a general statement that gets made and repeated by many, pros and novices alike. But, what does this generality do for us? It gives us ease that how each of us is holding the dart, is not wrong. “Not wrong”; as if to say, if you are not wrong, you must be right. It gives us permission to keep doing whatever we are doing, without giving it much extra thought. Permissive is not instructive, nor does it put us in the mindset of thinking that how we (you) grip a dart can be defined and/or improved if necessary. It can and has been done along the way by countless professionals. The interesting thing about grip is that if thought of holistically, it is the place in the game allows for the most personal freedoms and experimentation with equipment choice.
ATOMIC DARTS INTERVIEW – GRIP SUMMARY & ELABORATION
Enjoy a virtual interview by Atomic Dart’s Coffee & Darts Segment featuring this article and expanding on some of these concepts.
How Phil Taylor lead us astray in thinking and talking about grip.
Tennis is a sport to take an example from in talking about grip. They have clearly defined terms for how different grips are taught and talked about. As a community we have a naming convention problem. We don’t have a standard way to talk about grip. As a result we don’t talk about it well. Years back Phil Taylor used the term “pencil grip” in talking about how he grips the dart. He said that he holds a dart the way he holds a pencil. On its face that sounded like a great starting point for thinking about gripping a dart, but it fell short in a major way. A quick, unconscious assumption was made by all that we each hold a pencil exactly the same way. The fact of the matter is we don’t.
Despite us all doing it similarly, how we comfortably hold a writing instrument has slight variations based on a variety of factors. As a result of our personal pencil grips, we end up choosing the type of writing instrument that feels most comfortable and that performs well for us. Taylor didn’t mean to lead us astray, but when he spoke and we listened. How his words got interpreted was and is quite different for everyone. Some tried to mimic exactly what he did. Some used it as a starting point, and some simply use the term as gospel without really knowing if in fact, they hold the dart that way. Taylor himself was just answering the question above with a simple description. If you look carefully at Taylor’s grip over the years, it has morphed as he looked to improve, and of course his barrels have changed as well.
What leads to differences in grip? Our hands.
A hand has 27 bones and the variability of sesamoid bones that can occur randomly and in different places based on use and strain. The vast differences of the hand, and in turn, grip have to do with many variables: Size, strength, flexibility, the work we do, the injuries we’ve incurred, skin moisture, and finger nails. Any of these alone would be enough to dictate how we grip a dart, the variability and uniqueness gets greater when all of these factors interact with one another.
What makes understanding grip challenging is that it is difficult to observe. A player’s draw and action forward can happen fast. It is not easy to watch in person, it is not easy to watch on video, and if the draw has coil (where the dart curls farther into the hand), it is very hard to see how the dart is gripped at the most important juncture of the throw. We need to rely on still images, if captured at the right time, and zoomed in, to dissect a player’s grip. And how many times have stared at a still image of a player’s grip, and still can’t figure out exactly what they are doing?
With a keen eye you can start to, not only dissect a player’s grip, but you can start to take notice of their barrel choices based on that grip. The conversations about barrels generally start with the data points: tungsten percentage, and weight. While these are pertinent and easily defined criterion, they are not the most important. Often is the case that the first time we grabbed a dart is the grip we have stayed with. We did this without regard to the equipment in our hand, and did our best through trial and error to hone our accuracy in a raw and rudimentary way. We likely grabbed the dart without knowing there were such variables in barrel choice, and in the moment we adapted to the equipment in our hands. How we grabbed it initially is likely what we should be doing as a starting point. How and what we adjust in terms our hand and equipment starts from how YOU grip the dart. If there was only one way to hold a dart, and everyone’s hand was the same, theoretically there would be one universal dart for everyone.That is not the case. This is why the conversation needs start with Grip Style.
Grip Style: The manner in which, and with how many fingers, the hand holds the dart.
(Not to be confused with “grip type”- the cuts/grooves, or “grip intensity”- how grippy, in talking about the barrel itself.)
To make it easier, here is a healthy stab at universal nomenclature so that we can be on the same page in discussing grip. While there will always be noticeable differences between players, there are also common denominators. (Below each Grip Style, I give examples of pros who grip their dart similarly)
2 Fingers – (thumb and index)
This is not a grip that is seen often, but it tends to lend itself well to those with a heavy, very thick hand, with a thick short dart. Andy Fordham seemingly has a similar grip (although again, it is hard to see in his thick hand). His barrel length and style and nearly identical to Manley’s: Short, thick, front heavy. The dart rests on the length of the straight thumb. By default, it likely means you are gripping the dart just behind bulbous front heavy weight. There are no variations as the other fingers need to curl in to stay out of the way. Based in this grip, physiologically it makes most sense for the hand to be closed to allow for the a relaxed release.
Players with a similar grip style: Andy Fordham
BARREL SEEN IN PHOTOS
3 Fingers – (Thumb, Index and Middle. Middle finger on top of barrel or point.)
John Lowe grip and metered poise on the oche allowed all to see his grip well. A Lowe grip is the most common, allows for the most variation, and in terms of range of motion allows more readily for coiling the dart on the draw (as Lowe slightly does- one should not confuse Lowe’s grip style with his, draw and action- these are different components.). It allows for the greatest variability in your hand, front or rear gripping, and allows for the greatest choice of barrel. Most of the grips that you can’t discern easily through observation are a Lowe grip that can often get hidden in the coil of the draw.
Players with a similar grip style: Phil Taylor, Johnny Clayton, Darryl Gurney, Peter Wright, Michael Van Gerwen, James Wade, Kim Huybrechts.
BARREL SEEN IN PHOTOS
3 fingers – (Thumb, Index finger above, Middle finger below)
As this grip still employs 3 fingers and a lots of analysis of grip style gets lost in the coil of the dart, the “variance” simply relates to the last finger being under the dart. This grip provides the ability to keep the point elevated while pointed at the board. It is helpful to have the point elevated upon release so that the dart can glide with greatest ease. The middle finger is best kept stationary by putting it on the thenar pad of your palm. Coil is sacrificed for control. There really isn’t talk of rear/front gripping of the barrel as the back is held by thumb and index, while the middle finger balances and elevates the point at the nose/point junction. The barrel is best in the crease of the index finger. Balanced barrels with either wide tapered or rounded/squared off noses are optimal.
Players with similar grip style: Rob Cross, Dave Chisnall, Devon Petersen, Dirk Van Duijvenbode, Lisa Ashton, Simon Whitlock, Fallon Sherrock.
BARREL SEEN IN PHOTOS
4 Fingers – (Thumb, Index, Middle, Ring) Index, Middle, and Ring on top of barrel.
By default of more fingers on the barrel, the thumb is often farther back on the barrel and sometimes the shaft. By the nature of getting the ring finger on the barrel/point, longer barrels play well for this, as do longer points, but again your hand size plays a role. There is room for the greatest personal choice for nose type (this is where torpedo shape have more application), and grip type based on how each of the fingers lets go of the barrel. Sometimes the ring finger only touches the barrel in the set position to steady the nose and comes off during the draw back leading to variability in barrel control/elevation. Finger pads and creases touch the dart. Finding the consistent places to put each finger, and which part of each finger is challenging. Release is very smooth and easy.
Players w/ similar grip style: Michael Smith, Dmitri Van den Bergh, Benito Van de Pas, Max Hopp, Gerwyn Price, Adrian Lewis, Andy Hamilton.
BARREL SEEN IN PHOTOS
Beaton Variance #1
4 fingers – (Index and Middle fingers above, Ring finger below)
The dart can be steadied and the point kept elevated. The ring finger serves to keep the point elevated. This is not seen all that often but is currently seen prominently in Gabriel Clemens and Mensur Suljović. Release is more challenging and the hand needs to open earlier to get fingers out of the way. The barrel should be kept out of the finger pads and more in the creases of the fingers. Finely tapered barrels and noses work well.
Players with a similar grip style: Mensur Suljović, Paul Lim, Gabriel Clemens
BARREL SEEN IN PHOTOS
Beaton Variance #2
4 fingers – (Index above, Middle below, Ring above)
This is incredibly unique but has the dual benefits of keeping the dart still while keeping the point elevated. The thumb is challenging and most unique. Based on the different positions the other fingers are in, the thumb is most often pointing up or bent. Anastasia Dombromyslova has experimented with different thumb positions seemingly based on how involved the ring finger becomes. The hand must open fully to get all the fingers out of the way. Straight, balanced barrels are optimal.
Players with similar grips: Steve Lennon, Damon Heta, Anastasia Dombromyslova
BARREL SEEN IN PHOTOS
5 Fingers – (Index, Middle, Ring and Pinky on top of the barrel.)
One thing we can say for certain is that grip is not something that anyone could/should/does look to teach. If it were, Taylor would have been gripping the dart like Bristow and that was never and is not the case. Bristow’s whole hand was involved in his grip, even with the pinky starting extended. His grip morphed over the years but kept similar tenets. There will always be outliers, and successful ones at that, but it doesn’t mean they would think of suggesting that their style is one worth mimicking. A Bristow grip is just that – Unique, complex and extremely unorthodox. Longer barrels are preferable. The coordination of the entire hand, not just fingers is paramount.
Players with similar grip styles: Deta Hedman, Geert De Vos, Geert Nentjes
AGAIN, LET ME REITERATE. THERE IS NO ONE PROPER WAY TO GRIP A DART.
After reading this you should see there are some common denominators across all grip styles. If you feel comfortable with your grip style, you now have a reference point to come back to. If you are newer to the game, or questioning your grip style here are some basics to keep in mind…
Guidelines for thinking about all Grip Styles:
- Your grip on the dart should be light, like holding a ping pong ball, or an egg. Squeezing the dart too tightly will lead to unnecessary strain on your wrist and forearm.
- No matter your Grip Style, your thumb is most important. Across many successful players, the thumb is straight, locked to the hand/index finger, and pointing back at your face when the wrist is cocked back.
- There are players that have success with a bent thumb (Glen Durrant, Ross Smith, Scott Waites), but it is an extra variable (moving part) to account for.
- Having your last finger below the nose/point allows the point to more easily stay elevated.
- Having your dart rest in inter-phalangeal creases (the creases inside the fingers) takes the dart out of the softer moveable pads of the fingers. It allows for greater control.
- A recommendation based on physiology: If you do not use the pinky in your grip (many do not) – it should be relaxed and gently curled into your hand. Why? For two main reasons: You want to keep it out of the way, and you want the tension in the pinky operating in sync with the tendons of the other fingers. Keeping it extended puts undo pressure into the forearm, and it inevitably curls slightly on the draw. This is different for everyone, but from a general mobility perspective, the movement of fingers should be synchronized.
- Whatever grip style you employ, ideally you don’t want your fingers to move on the barrel.
- Adjusting your grip, and Making a Grip Style change are different. Most need to make a slight adjustment, and truly focus on finger placement to allow for consistent grip on the barrel.
- Experimenting with different barrels is much easier than changing your grip style. Always ask friends and opponents if they don’t mind you trying out their darts. Most players are accommodating.
- Legitimate reasons to change grip style:
- Loss of mobility/feeling do to injury.
- Darts waggle funnily through the air and don’t land point-first in the board.
- Your overall grip/throw causes unnecessary and quick strain on your hand/wrist/forearm.
- Grip Style should be the last thing you look to change. I can’t stress this enough. It is arduous work for no immediate gain. There is often a huge step backwards before reaping any benefits. There are many other ways to realize more immediate improvement. It is the last thing I look to address with players I work with. If you truly need to change your grip style for one of the above reasons, you need to manage your expectations; it could be a long odyssey to find comfort, control, and confidence.
Grip style should guide barrel choice:
Some buy as collectors, and some of us are on the never-ending quest to find a barrel that works more perfectly for our grip style and throw. Here is where we need to pay closer attention. The key is not to necessarily purchase barrels of the pros you like as fans, the key is to look for players who actually grip the dart similarly to you. What do they throw with? What works for them? Where do their fingers touch the dart? From there, the type of grip on the barrel is dictated by the specific variables of your hand. I have put myself through this exercise, here is how it played out for me:
I use a Lowe Variance grip with my middle finger below the nose of the dart. My thumb is straight and pointed back towards my face with a fully cocked wrist. Players I observed doing something similar were Devon Peterson, Rob Cross and Dirk Van Duijvenbode. I tried their barrels and similar ones over the years. Not only did I find that my grip and release were more consistent, I used the nose of those barrels, and of the Gary Anderson Phase 2 as inspiration for the nose of a barrel I designed for Colonial Darts. Now it is your turn to put in the work to analyze who you grip the dart like…
What is awesome, is that once your grip style self-analysis is complete, online retailers have adapted their search function criterion to better define exactly what you are looking for. There are so many ways to search for barrels: Length, diameter, weight, tungsten %, grip intensity, nose type, balance, color, coating, etc. The key is to look at these criterion for not just what looks nice, or what matches your setup. The key is to find barrels that work with your hand and grip style.
Of course grip style is only the first part. I have alluded to some other terms in the article above that need expounding upon but, one facet of the game at a time. The Draw of the dart up and back, how you Sight (view) your target, and the Action of your arm coming forward, releasing and following through are equally, if not more important. Grip style is simply what you do before your hand/arm move. Stay tuned for a future article on: Draw, Sight, and Action.
“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,