I’d like to start this Uniblog by recalling how, last time, I featured five instructive pictures which cleverly (and with a pleasing lack of effort) disproved the notion that scientists aren’t image-conscious. Unfortunately, modesty forbids. Oh, whoops, apparently it doesn’t! Never mind, either way it’s now time I did put in some effort to explain, perhaps at somewhat excessive length, what those pictures were all about.
They were intended, as Jeff, Warren, and Matt have already commented, to highlight the differing angles of the darts shortly after release. Many pros pitch their darts slightly nose up, as shown in the first photo of Kevin Painter, whereas some launch more down the initial line of the trajectory, as in the shot of Colin Osborne. Yet others let them go pitching down, as can be seen in the fourth photo of Phil Taylor.
The very observant may also notice that the computer graphic I put after the player shots doesn’t strictly illustrate the effects of initial pitch, but that of initial pitch rate. This is because, whilst both are a function of a player’s grip and release (so you were on the money there, Warren - sorry about tricking you with the diagram’s throw direction!), the latter tends to have a larger effect and be more variable dart-to-dart. The reasons for this are complex, but – provoked by Matt’s post two blogs ago on the pitching motion of Phase 5s – I’m going to do my best to investigate some of them now.
Let’s start with a bit of geometry. The centre of the bull on a regulation dartboard is 173cm (5ft 8in in old money) off the floor and the treble 20 is around 10cm higher still. That’s well above most players’ eye level, where the majority like to release their darts (OK, maybe not Dennis Priestley!). This means that, with an additional allowance for the drop due to gravity, darts aimed at the “lipstick” will need to be launched at an upward angle of over 20 degrees.
But how does that happen? As seen by slow-motion video, a classic pro’s throw involves keeping the upper arm still and fractionally below horizontal whilst the forearm pivots at the elbow, preferably keeping near vertical in the sideways plane. Technique experts will tell you that the elbow should then rise slightly during the follow-through, allowing the hand to continue toward the target. Some will even suggest that the dart is not released until this happens, although this is generally not the case.
In fact, it seems most pros release their darts when their forearm has pivoted to reach about vertical. If they cock their wrist on drawback, this also uncocks toward a straight position, as is illustrated in those pictures of Phil Taylor. If you think about this (and tangents to circles) for a minute, you will hopefully realise that this suggests the dart should start off travelling horizontally. It seems that it could only attain the required 20+ degs elevation if released well before the forearm reaches the vertical, which would be quite against the pictorial evidence – as well as all advice concerning the importance of follow-through!
Given these factors, it may be surmised that, with a classic throwing technique, the forearm pivoting, aided by perhaps a bit of wrist uncocking, only provides the dart’s initial horizontal velocity. So what’s left to add any necessary vertical component? Yep, it’s the fingers and thumb (and maybe a bit of delayed timing of the wrist).
And so to the main point of this blog. The realisation that upward motion is imparted thus provides a key clue as to why the position and nature of a player’s grip, together with the timing of release, determine their characteristic initial pitch rate.
One way to get an idea how your particular grip provides upward velocity is to look at any spin you may induce in your darts. With a normal finger/thumb grip, if there’s very little spin both are producing roughly equal upward impetus – or possibly none at all, which means you’re either a giant or you must deliberately throw up when aiming at the top half of the board. Hang on, let me re-phrase that; throw upwards, I mean (although neither action would usually be recommended for ultimate accuracy!).
Meanwhile, back on topic, if you spin darts in the same sense as you’re handed (right-handed spin means clockwise looking from the back), your thumb is doing more of the upward work. If the spin sense is opposite, it’s your fingers. So, as both the left-handed James Wade and the right-handed Phil Taylor spin their darts anticlockwise, we can deduce that the former must have upward motion of his thumb relative to his fingers and the latter have the opposite.
If two of the world’s very best players can have such contrary aspects to their release, it can be appreciated that, despite my answer to Matt in the Q&A section below, it’s risky to draw firm general conclusions about how grip position affects initial pitching motion and thus impact angle in the board. Hence, as previously explained in my “Get A Grip!” blog, the best bet for a dart designer trying to optimise flight characteristics across the range of players is to encourage a grip close to the dart’s centre of gravity, where any individuality in release will have the minimum effect on initial pitch rate. This is why grips on Sigma 970s, 950s and XLs are where they are and why I got a headache working out the best way to make forward-gripped Sigma 4s more forward-weighted than their siblings.
To pre-empt that Q&A section a little more, that should help to answer another of Matt’s questions (despite the fact that I didn’t design the Phase 5 barrels he mainly asked about - although there is a historic link with Sigmas dating back to the 1980s prototypes). And whilst I’m pre-emptively answering about Sigmas, I might as well go on to say that straight-barrelled ones might not exist in theory, Giraffe, but I reckon a 21gm XL will do in practice (as would, for that matter, a soft-tip 950 or 970).
With that blatant fob-off, I’m now going to scurry for the safety of that Q&A section before Giraffe and Jeff team up to demand I design hexagonal Sigma 5s!
Matt and the Effect of Grip Position on Phase 5s
Hopefully this blog has provided the background necessary to answering your questions, Matt, so now for the detail. Despite what I say above, if we discount any over-riding effect of the fingers and thumb for a moment, we can draw some tentative general conclusions on the effect of grip position on pitching motion. In this case the circular pivot motion of the forearm (and hand if the wrist uncocks) will tend to tip the nose of the dart down after release – the negative initial pitch rate shown in my computer graphic. As the hand will then tend to follow through below the trajectory of the dart’s CG, this effect may be exacerbated by holding the dart at the front and negated or even reversed by holding it at the back - throwing a pencil and seeing which way it tips in flight can test whether that’s true for you.
Assuming it is, that same graphic why show why holding your Phase 5s at the front results in a nose-up impact angle and holding them at the back causes them to end up nose-down. But the truth is your grip, as shown in the photos on your link, isn’t the same as The Power’s, who holds his dart right at the back but pitches them down and achieves similar impact angles to those you report when holding nearer the middle. All I can say about that is that it shows what I mean about the danger of drawing general conclusions when the grip and details of the finger/thumb action on release are such individual matters. Nevertheless, all good scientists like to be presented with experimental data, so keep up the good work – with luck boredom and the amber nectar can give rise to some more pitch-perfect results!
Warren and a Set-Up for 23gm Gripper Type 3 Barrels
Think this is what you asked for, Warren, but I must admit it’s a tricky recommendation for me to make – you’re certainly a good example of the dangers of generalising about players’ grips! But, based on what you’ve told me, here’s a left-field suggestion that might be worth a try - shorter Checkout shafts with, to start with, those Xtra flights that didn’t work with the Aliflex. If that doesn’t help, using Big Wings should get rid of some wobble through the air, but I’m worried your accuracy may nonetheless suffer. Let me know how you get on!