I doubt anyone in North Korea read my last Uniblog, but, if they had, they may have found themselves agreeing with my comment that being a rocket scientist involves risking looking somewhat foolish if things don’t go quite as planned. I also doubt that they would have fully concurred with my assertion that applying similar expertise to darts is yet riskier!
But there was a reason for this seemingly dubious statement - the human element in darts does bring extra uncertainty to the science as it may cause even the best-designed darting projectile to metaphorically crash and burn. Hence, and by huge public demand (OK, a reader called Eddie), I reckon it’s time I ventured out of my cosy aerodynamic niche and took a look at that dominant human element in its own right, despite this being a topic which requires me to boldly go where few mathematicians have gone before (to split infinitives and beyond!).
And one particular human element Eddie wanted me to examine is the technique of top players. Although I have touched on this subject before, I have decided that it is potentially such an instructive one that I could feature a “Technique Spotlight” section in some of my blogs to discuss what I see as the key technical aspects of a specific player‘s style.
This decision made, and not just because he’s a good example of something else Eddie asks about – being “right handed but left eye strong” - it surely would be positively perverse of me to start the series (and end this blog) with an analysis of any other player than Phil Taylor.
So with that appropriate name, let me just thank Jeff and Pete for their further contributions to my “All-Time Sporting Legend” debate (reply to your SlikStik question in Q&As at the end, Pete) before I bid you all farewell until next time!
TECHNIQUE SPOTLIGHT - Phil Taylor
So first let’s look at the question of The Power’s “cross-dominance”, which isn’t as dodgy as it sounds but means having the stronger eye on the other side to the throwing hand. As I mentioned in my answer about this to Peacefull Sango in my “Going Pear-Shaped” blog, most technique experts would say this is not ideal, but Phil has obviously proved that it’s still no barrier to being a top-class player.
One hint of cross-dominance in Phil’s throw is in how he first brings the dart up at a slight angle so that the flights are in front of his stronger left eye, although he then straightens it to the middle of his face and uses it almost like a gunsight in a classic right-angled, forearm-vertical, aiming pose (in accord with the “ready, aim, fire” description I’ve used before). On drawback, his thumb heads back on a line toward his nose and then down, his cocked wrist bringing the flights down toward his right cheek, the opposite side to where they started.
This cheek-brushing drawback means he prefers the rounded corners of Slims and his current DXM flights to the sharper Sigma Pros he first changed to when, in 2008, after a poor run of form, he moved from his 24gm Purist darts to his much shorter 25gm “Phase 4” Sigma 970s.
I’ve reported on the details of this change many times before, so I won’t bore you with them again, but just to reiterate the main point, his Purist set-up had low aerodynamic stability, which made it rather like a tennis racquet with a small sweet spot to play with – great if you’re on your game, but very unforgiving if not. In my opinion, the more stable Sigmas may have helped to give him back some confidence, after which there was no stopping him and his continued improvement has now allowed him to tune his current Phase 5s with those small DXM flights to be almost (but not quite!) as unforgiving as the Purists had been.
Back to pure technique; his rear-biased grip has the index finger opposing the thumb as usual, but running along the side of the dart rather than being angled across and over, as is more common. I believe this helps him “push” the dart with a more linear action than most players, resulting in two things – better lateral accuracy and a distinctive “point-down” release which, in partnership with his low-stability darts, results in the characteristic “point-up” board impact we, and more importantly he, are used to seeing.
Despite this individual grip, Phil’s follow-through is as classic as his aiming pose, with good extension and that index finger ending up pointing toward the target. This means it has lifted relative to his thumb, which leads to anti-clockwise spin being imparted to his darts.
I could go on about other aspects of Phil’s throw for pages, but I’m going to leave the subject, at least for now, by looking at just one other key factor – his stance. This again is classic, with the front-foot sideways and rear balancing, providing stability and enabling minimal movement of body or head. It is also centred, which (assuming a player doesn’t want to ruin any rhythm they may have by moving up and down the oche to be directly in front of whichever number they’re aiming at!) is theoretically advantageous. Although here theory and practice are very often different things – just ask Messrs Hankey and van Barneveld!
With that I hope I’ve now covered, if only briefly, all of Eddie’s questions and also, as in that last sentence, included a word of warning about the answers. As I said at the start, the human element in darts can sometimes make a mockery of scientific theory. Even mathematicians are fallible. Although I could be wrong about that.
Pete Chapman and SlikStik Tops
Had to check with Unicorn on this one, Pete – and they tell me that you’re right! All SlikStik replaceable tops and the two natural coloured SlikStik+ (cat nos 74129 and 74187) are in the same base nylon material, but SlikStik+ colours (including your blue) are in polycarbonate, which is stiffer but (in theory at least!) less durable. By the way, harking back to my previous answer to your question about variable flexibility in the replaceable tops themselves, Unicorn again confirmed that differences in current stock are more likely due to batch variations than colouring, but did mention that there may still be a small amount of old (3+ years) stock around in Acetal, which I think might be slightly stiffer.
Photo courtesy Lawrence Lustig / PDC