What do I want from practice? What is my goal? It is unequivocally to become a better dart player. I do not practice for the joy of the game (although I do enjoy it). Rather, my primary adjective of every practice session is to improve my accuracy and refine my mechanics. I do not race to see how quickly I can complete the doubles or hit a hundred bulls or whatever. Every throw is methodical, practiced, considered and there is a purpose behind it. I do not throw just for the sake of it. That is my practice mentality when I am practicing alone. When my buddies and I meet for team practice it is slightly different, but not by too much. I play to win, I think through strategy and I practice calculating out shots, but still every shot is focused. In theory.
It has not always been this way. I used to be a careless, even luckless, thrower and I got discouraged easily and wound up driving my confidence into the ground, but in the last four or five years my practice habits have slowly but steadily begun to change for the better. At this point I am of the attitude that I can compete aggressively at the A League level - all I need to do is perfect my mechanics and group my darts better! Imagine!! Those two little things are all that stand between me and my goal.
How do I practice? I mean, what specifically do I do? I have my routines of course. But I will divide this discussion into the two primary scenarios in which I practice. When I am with my buddies/teammates, and when I am alone.
When at the pub and with my teammates we usually spend the first beer going around on doubles and the occasional bull or 60. But mostly it is doubles and this is less practice than it is warm up. Once ready we commence playing games. Lately we have been playing Chicago rounds, but historically we would alternate between 01 games and cricket, and usually finish off the evening with a dozen or so 101 games. This is a tremendously enjoyable way to practice. Especially when well Scotched, and happily beered.
However when I am alone I am always completely sober, always relaxed, and the only distraction I have is my dog jumping around trying to get my attention, or deciding to camp out immediately in front of the oche. I start by getting out six or eight sets of darts that catch my eye, an then lay them out on my work bench so that I can alternate among them freely. Sometimes I start with a set and never pick up another, while other times I cannot settle on a single set. Regardless, my first series of throws is a process that I call "Calibration". I throw at the triple 20, the double bull and the double 16, in that order, until I hit one of the targets. If I hit the target then that target has been calibrated and I leave it out of the rotation. I continue this until I have hit all three targets, which usually doesn't take very long at all. Sometimes no more than a couple rounds. Then, I start 60's practice. I take slow focused shots at the triple 20 until I have hit 20 of them. Lately I have changed this just a bit. I used to focus on the entire triple. Now I try to pick out a spec of irregularity in the triple and strain my eyes at it. During 60's practice I usually hit many low tons, and when I am "on" a ton-40 or two. I almost never hit the coveted ton-80. I have only hit 25 in my life time.
After 60's practice, I do a round of doubles, in this order: 16, 8, 4, 2, 1, 20, 10, 5, 12, 6, 3, 18, 9, 14, 7, 19, 17, 15, 13, 11. I concentrate on the doubles but if I miss inside I will go to the next number if it is half the starting value, which is why I do them in this order. Also because that is the order of choice when leaving an out. While I consider myself to be a pretty good shot at the doubles, this portion of the practice usually takes the longest time to finish. I can usually take out a double every couple of rounds but sometimes I take out two (rarely three) in one round.
After doubles I toss bulls until I have hit 20 of them. Double bull counts for two. The only exception to this rule is if I get through 20 bulls without hitting a double in which case I continue until I do. If there is still time after all of this I will shoot the cricket triples but often my time runs out before I get this far. When it comes to cricket triples I will stay one one number until I hit four-ish of them and then move down the board.
I do not have a set time or even a set amount of time for practice. I practice at home whenever I can sneak in a few rounds. Sometimes I have as much as an hour or two, some times it is five minutes while waiting for my wife to get ready to go somewhere or something like that. If I had to estimate an average session length, I'd have to say about 20 minutes since it seems I am always sneaking in a little bit of time here and there.
When I am practicing is is quiet and cold (at least in the winter) and my only distraction is my dog, who is fairly large and who has a playful personality and a thunderous bark. Sometimes she will jump around while I am throwing or even jump up on me and put her paws on my shoulders. I use this as concentration practice. I always practice ignoring her and focusing on the board. Sometimes she will catch sight of a squirrel or something outside and she will really let the poor animal have it. She'll produce the loudest string of barks and growls you have ever heard. I use this as concentration practice too. I don't let any of it get to me. This concentration practice came in handy last Sunday at the pub during a Luck of the Draw shoot. There was an important football game going on at the time and the place was packed. From time to time the entire bar would erupt in cheer, but I did not let it affect me. I maintained my focus and stayed on target. My partner and I ended up winning that night.
My thinking cap is always on. What some people refer to as the Mental game is what I refer to as the Thinking Game and what some people refer to as the Emotional Game is what I think of as the Mental Game.
Thinking Game = Knowing the best out shots and having a solid cricket strategy.
Mental Game = Having superior focus, and being able to completely block out movement, noise, and distraction while on the oche. This also includes being able to recognize, and undermine, attempts at gamesmanship from your opponents.
When I am practicing at home alone I have no need to think about outshots or cricket strategy but when I am practicing with the team and we are playing Chicago rounds I always am careful about not making a mental blunder. I have been thinking about outshots for several years and I believe I know what I would do in most cases without having to sit and review options while at the oche. As far as cricket goes I believe I know good strategy but this belief will be tested when I get to A League next month.
I do not have much opportunity to practice my Mental Game. I have gotten pretty good at ignoring noise related distractions but I do get butterflies when I am up against a good player. This is something I need to work on. Starting late March when I enter A League though, I will have ample opportunity to "steel" myself against trepidation and doubt.