Addressing The Yips: The Healthy Mental Approach To Dartitis

Written by: Dax Munna


Dax Munna Addressing the Yips blog banner

My first article about The Yips was to help you better understand WHAT it is. Many still cling to an older, poor understanding of it. This article focuses much more on HOW to approach dartitis (the yips) emotionally and mentally. I want to put it in more specific terms; I want you to use different words and think through a new mindset to begin your long journey towards playing darts confidently again.

"What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from."

- T.S. Eliot

It seems self-evident that we should start at the beginning when attempting to cure dartitis, but where that is and how we get there is how we make the mistake that doesn't allow us to move forward. If we are fully consumed by dartitis, we really can’t just can’t make an about-face, retrace our steps and go back to the start. We have experience; We have ups and downs, battle scars and embarrassments; We have ego and identity tied up in these experiences as a player.

Before we can truly start anew, we must realize that the darts player that we were before dartitis is gone. Too often the desire is to say to yourself, “If I just fight through it, I’ll get back to where I was.” That mindset must change. You are not turning around and returning to the player you once were. This is not healthy and not honest. The experience of dartitis is now part of your experience as a player — one you will be ever-conscious of even after you overcome it. (And you WILL overcome it.)

The Healthy Approach to Addressing Dartitis

How you think about attacking dartitis NEEDS to change. Yes, you do have to “fight through it”, but the fight is one of perseverance — your willingness not to give up. That does not mean to continue doing what you were doing. Physically, you MUST do something different. This is not a muscle that you need to loosen or warm up; this is an interconnected bit of circuitry that needs to be reprogrammed. The goal mustn’t be to quickly get back to where you were before by doing more of the same thing. In fact, doing the same thing will exacerbate the problem mentally and physically. There is no more "getting back to". Now it is about "getting past it".

Darts player Danny Lauby throwing a dart

The mental place to start from is: “I know how the game is played, but I don’t know how to throw a dart." If you are still saying to yourself, "But I DO know how to throw a dart!", you have yet to find your new beginning. 

You used to know how to throw a dart and currently, you have no idea how to. In fact, you are starting at less than zero. People who have never touched a dart are starting at zero. They can be carefree without a thought in the world as to whether it is right or wrong. To get to zero — the beginning — you must understand that you don’t know what you’re doing. If you did, you wouldn’t be spinning your wheels with dartitis.

How NOT to think about Dartitis

All too often we start with the wrong words in addressing dartitis. Words matter. This has been commonplace, and we must end this thinking before we can start thinking anew.

  1. "Cure" is not a helpful word. When we are sick, let's say with strep throat, we get antibiotics and after a few days we are cured of it. Though those that have dartitis all have the same thing, there is not one magic pill that cures all manifestations.
  2. "Fix" implies you are broken. If you can diagnose and fix a problem at home, you do. When something is broken and you don’t know how to fix it, you call a specialist to diagnose and fix it for you. You are not a washing machine or a car. When you turn something over to a specialist, part or all of you has given up and your expectation goes up that someone else will fix your problem for you. 

You are not broken. An afflicted player must be emotionally, mentally and physically dedicated to being part of their own solution. 

How To Actually Think About Addressing Dartitis

I have moved towards using the word "solve" to talk about addressing dartitis. Solve implies a challenge to overcome, like a puzzle. It's a curiosity about what created the challenge and an acceptance and willingness to put in the work.

When you get a jigsaw puzzle, you need to choose to do it and then commit yourself to the tedium of seeing it through to completion. Think about a 1000-piece puzzle — small pieces assembling a mosaic in which too many colors are too close together to know right away which part of the puzzle they belong to. Pieces look too similar and sometimes you need to turn the pieces many times to try to make them fit, only to find that they don’t fit where you thought they might.

Puzzle pieces

Still, you try to force a few thinking it must be the right one. These puzzles don’t get solved in one sitting — they take a lot of time while sitting at a table somewhere in an undisturbed nook of your home, getting addressed in focused spurts. It could take weeks or months. For too many people, when the puzzle is done the masterpiece gets undone far more quickly than it took to complete. Then, it goes back in the box for an indefinite amount of time, likely to be solved again many years in the future. People who really appreciate puzzles celebrate by gluing and framing them, hanging them somewhere as a reminder of their effort and accomplishment.

Puzzles don’t solve themselves and sometimes we even ask for help because it will help the puzzle get solved more quickly. THIS is how you need to think about addressing dartitis and the yips: it is a hard puzzle to solve.

(And if a piece doesn't fit, don't force it.)

Results Don't Matter Right Now

You MUST temporarily stop caring about accuracy and results before you can start treating dartitis. Once you have convinced yourself that you don’t know what you are doing, THEN you are starting from the beginning. However, that doesn’t mean that the triple 20s start flowing again. 

You know how the game is played, but you must no longer believe you are as good as you ever were - you are not. Getting good, consistent results is hard enough without dartitis. Don't hold yourself to a results-based standard. Not focusing on results will allow you to be patient with yourself. The goal is to throw without any of the uncomfortable tendencies coming out.

Man holding head in bed frustrated

You do yourself a disservice mentally, physically, neurologically and emotionally when you keep doing the same thing with horrific results. Mentally, that clichéd definition of insanity comes to mind. Physically, you are building horrendous muscle memory by repeating yippy-like behaviors that come from dartitis. Neurologically, you are hardwiring that jerky muscle control into your brain. Emotionally, you create greater anxiety, fear and embarrassment trying to fight through it publicly. These four spiral exponentially on each other from there.

A Deeper Dive Into Focal Dystonia

It is too easy to write off understanding of dartitis, the yips, simply as overwhelming nerves. Again, this was THE one older way of understanding dartitis without compassion. Shame was bestowed by others upon those afflicted as if to say, "You're not mentally strong enough", which in turn brought a cloud of stigma to the topic. We must end solely thinking about dartitis this way to start at the beginning with a fresh mind.

The more I read about Focal Dystonia, the neurological origin of dartitis, the more I have come to believe that many (not all) manifestations are associated with trauma, one we often bestow upon ourselves. Much of this is specific to the game with bad form and repetitive motion strain.

Man holding his wrist while clenching his fist

That’s right. Some of the dartitis trauma is self-inflicted with a combination of bad form and/or overuse. The repetitive nature of what we do coupled with a push/pull action of opposing muscle groups (bicep/tricep) can affect neural pathways, which is a fancy way of saying that we are unconsciously rewiring the communication that our brain sends from the appropriate muscles to less appropriate muscles. At a certain point our bodies say, “ENOUGH, I don’t like the strain you are putting me through” and actually rewire themselves to make different muscles try to make the same motion. When this happens, everything gets stuck.

The part of this that should be calming and mind-numbing all at once is that this is within your control to solve. It can start with a trick of the brain.

Tricking The Brain

I have come across hundreds of posts on social media seeking help for dartitis. Receiving replies for remedies via this avenue offers challenges

  1. You may still be stuck in the mindset that a quick response will equal a quick fix for dartitis. 
  2. The players offering help may be coming from a very different place in their personal journey.
  3. Much of the dartitis information, even if helpful, gets lost in the infinite scroll of social media platforms.

Below I have compiled crowd-sourced information and approaches for dartitis that have been helpful for some. I have used some of these with players I have worked with, while some I haven’t yet. These physical approaches are trick-of-the-brain activities that have been helpful. Not all of these dartitis tips will be helpful for you, but you must be willing to try something new.

  1. Switching hands either temporarily or permanently.

  2. Closing your eyes while throwing.

  3. Throwing in the dark.

  4. Standing on one leg.

  5. Doing calf raises on the line before throwing.

  6. Breathing exercises.

  7. Kneeling, throwing darts, getting up to retrieve and repeat.

  8. Starting with the dart arm fully extended away from the face.

  9. Throwing without care of where they go.

Two men pointing at dartboard with multiple darts
  1. Throwing a tennis ball at the dartboard.

  2. Throwing disposable razors against a pillow on a bed for two weeks, then throwing them at the dartboard. Eventually, switch to throwing darts.

  3. Putting a dart in the bull, putting a bucket on it and throwing ping pong balls into the bucket.

  4. Throwing a completely different and normally uncomfortable set of darts.

  5. Throwing a much heavier dart.

  6. Throwing  “mosquito” darts.

  7. Throwing toothpicks.

  8. Holding a fourth dart in your off-hand.

  9. Throwing “air darts” before throwing the real dart.

Three Voks mosquito darts
  1. Repeating an internal monologue or mantra like “Draw, Aim, Release”.

  2. Wearing a dart sleeve while throwing.

  3. Putting the darts and board away for a month and coming back to it.

  4. Humming a song while throwing.

  5. Watching videos of pros and mimicking them.

  6. Moving your starting spot drastically on the oche for better vision.

  7. Throwing at a fast pace.

  8. Chalking out quadrants on the board to aim at.

  9. Removing the pump from your throw.

Red Dragon arm compression sleeve

Therapeutic Approaches

This is a list of higher-level therapeutic approaches to managing dartitis. Please do your own homework on these. Each is a deep field of study that has helped athletes and musicians across the world.

  1. Brainspotting: Tapping.
  2. Sports Psychology.
  3. The Focal Dystonia Cure by Ruth Chiles.
  4. Hypnotherapy.
  5. Acupuncture.
  6. Massage.
  7. Guided Meditation.
Person receiving acupuncture in their back

A new beginning

I am hopeful that this curation of techniques for approaching dartitis allows you to recognize that any are at your disposal to try. I am hopeful that it gives you solace in the fact that others are willing to go to unique lengths to end what they were doing to try something new. 

By no means is this list exhaustive. There may be something here that sparks you into trying something completely different that works for you, and in turn, may be helpful to someone else. Letting go completely, helplessly allowing yourself the freedom to fall into the arms of others is scary. Very few of us like admitting that we need help. In actuality, that admittance properly checks the ego with a recognition that you have come to the end. It is the most powerful thing we can do; It is a sign of strength and that we are ready to start fresh at a new beginning.

In an effort to further the cause, I will be putting out a survey for those with dartitis. My hope is that we will illuminate commonalities that will let players know more about potential causes or correlations; so that we can solve this puzzle faster. If you would like to participate in this survey, email me at DaxMunna@gmail.comThe findings will be published in a future article.

Author Dax Munna, Dr. Manhattan

Dax Munna is an international darts instructor who works with players of all levels; from beginner to PDC professional, online and in-person.

Reach out on Facebook or with questions and coaching inquiries.

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