Last time in “The Unicorn of Accuracy” I explained how throwing a dart involves applying two things to it, a force which propels the dart’s centre of gravity (CG) along its trajectory and a “moment” which causes the dart to spin and wobble in flight. I also discussed how variations in the moment can cause inaccuracy and how this can be mitigated by a clever bit of aerodynamic design.
But, as I’ve always said, clever aerodynamics is no substitute for good throwing. Mitigating a cause of inaccuracy isn’t as good as avoiding it in the first place and this comes back to a combination of technique and talent. And whereas understanding a bit about darts science can’t do anything about lack of the latter (unfortunately for me!), it might just help a player to improve the former and hence “elevate their performance” (to borrow a phrase from a nice comment to my last blog – glad to be of help, Jeff!)
So now I’m going to look at the mechanical connection through which both the throwing force and moment are applied, the link between player and dart – the grip.
Let’s start with a question. What has throwing darts got to do with pushing a shopping trolley? Well, not much, to be honest, but I’m nevertheless going to make out it has. Hence, next time you’re heading up a supermarket aisle about to push your heavily ladened trolley between that precarious pyramid of cola cans and the big guy with “KILLER” spelt out in studs across his forehead (obviously a fellow enthusiast of dart games!), try taking one hand off the handle and accelerating to a run.
If you remain unhospitalised after that little experiment (probably best kept as a thought experiment, unless you are off your trolley!), it’s likely that care will be required for a while when those cans are opened.
This is not only because supermarket trolley wheels are the first known non-organic lifeform (having a mind of their own), but also because accelerating an object from behind its CG can magnify any misalignments. A less exciting way of demonstrating this is simply to place a pen on a table, not quite at right angles to the edge and slightly overlapping. Now give it a sharp push with the flat of your hand to send it straight across the table – the angle of the pen should tend to increase as it slides.
Holding a dart only behind its CG can have a similar effect, making launching it straight more difficult unless a tight grip is used. To overcome this problem, most players with a rearward-biased finger/thumb grip also use a steadying finger (or fingers) in front of the CG - Eric Bristow is a classic example. This finger can safely move clear just before the dart is released because this is after the acceleration phase of the throw is largely completed (although doing so too early can allow the dart point to dip slightly due to gravity – an effect known as “tip-off”).
So what about a finger/thumb grip in front of the CG, essentially pulling the dart toward its target? Well, it gets round the misalignment problem - as would towing the supermarket trolley or pulling the pen on a thread. But this time (unless you can contort a finger to the other side of your thumb to steady the back of the dart) the grip would again need to be tight to avoid the dart’s tail dipping due to gravity (an effect that you might think should be called “tip-on”, but isn’t – let’s call it “tip-up”).
With any luck you will now understand why I believe it can help to minimise errors if a player’s main finger/thumb grip is at the balance point of the dart. I accept that not all players will find this suits them (who am I to argue with The Crafty Cockney?), but I think it’s a reasonable general guideline. It’s certainly the principle I’ve used for the Sigma range, where the grip is centred around the CG, which is also designed to coincide with the maximum barrel diameter.
Which brings me on to the question Dave posted to my previous blog about Andy Hamilton darts. Although these have more-or-less identical barrels to Sigmas, they are supplied with shafts and flights determined by Andy. Thus the flight characteristics (and precise CG position) of the assembled dart may be good for him, but they are not optimised using the same general principles as they are on Sigmas – which isn’t to say they won’t suit Dave. As with grip position, no one dart set-up, scientifically optimised or not, can be exactly right for everyone.
Now providing a player with some help in finding exactly the right dart set-up for them is what I’ve tried to do with the Optimiser function in UniLab. So what about me providing some help with finding exactly the right grip position for you as an individual? Well, that’s a bit tricky to do remotely, but here’s another little experiment with that pesky pen that just might help.
Throw the varmint (I suggest you keep the cap on and don’t use a fountain pen, unless you want your living room to look like it’s hosted an irate squid!) as if it were a dart. Then experiment for yourself where best to hold it to get it to fly as straight as possible. Not a very scientific test, maybe, but one that might provide you with some useful food for thought!
OK, that’s enough for now. I’m off to have “DARTS” spelt out in studs across my forehead – pretty sure I wouldn’t get away with “STUD” spelt out in darts!