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A single problem

A little story from my own matchplay I will never forget in my whole lifetime: In 1992 I was playing pro Rod Harrington (world ranked #1 then) in the QF of Austrian Open. In the first leg, he was on a double, and it was my turn on 57. The first dart (surely aimed at a big 17) was a nice big 3. Okay, okay, I admit I was nervous. Now I had 54, and was to decide what to aim for with my 2nd dart. I chose 18, having in mind that a miss to 4 would leave me an 'emergency exit' on double bull. Now of course the miss on 17 had hit my confidence, and in such situations it is quite common that the 'emergency exit' becomes the most likely outcome for this dart, just because you thought of it. And, bingo, the second dart landed straight in the 4 bed. Now bull's eye with the last. Most difficult target on the board. Imagine where it landed? Exactly in the middle...

 Everyone of us has his personal 'dart tales', and the above is my favourite. This was the only leg I won in the match, but it was somehow 'in style'. And it leads to the topic of this issue - why it sometimes is more difficult to hit preparing singles than deciding doubles.

Let's analyze the above situation: 57 with 3 darts is - against an opponent like Rod - simply a must outshot. And it requires only a single to get a chance on a double. Did I say 'only' a single? A single is - on any occasion - a must hit for an experienced player. This must - situation puts an enormous pressure on it. You may normally hit singles by 95 percent or better, at such a stage it becomes difficult anyway. You know it is big, you know it is easy, and therefore you must not miss, because you rarely ever do. It is much different than, let's say, you have a 96 out shot where you need a treble, and you know this isn't easy - you have of course a good chance to hit, but you don't have to. Now I had the miss on the 17, and I decided to play 'safe' - on the 18. Again, a single, and again, a miss. Now third dart on the bull. Again a must hit - but wait! A must hit to win the leg, yes. But really a must? No, it is too difficult. That's the huge difference. The dart is difficult to hit, but easy to play mentally, simply because, different from the single, everybody, including you, understands if you miss it. I could swear, although bull is the most difficult double, in this situation, with two single misses, I wouldn't have hit any other target with the third dart.

Don't get me wrong here: I don't recommend anyone to go for bull's eye because maybe it is mentally easier. Hitting it on this occasion was mere chance, but it was easy to mentally explain why of all targets I hit bull after two single misses.

What I want to say is that there is a lot of pressure on preparing singles, and many players fail exactly here, while they hit doubles or trebles nicely. So how can one work against this?

First, there is no help for this problem in practicing single clocks or other single number training. Once you have experience in playing (and you average about 80-90 percent on singles in normal practice or on non-pressure situations) this is too easy a practice routine to bring your game forward. The problem is purely psychological.

So second, which strategies are there to fight the single problem? One secure tip is, as always, visualizing. If you are not a regular follower of these articles, refer to the visualizing article in the archive section. Try to visualize situations where you know you are vulnerable for single misses. Then, control your nervous state. Most single misses come from tension (refer to the article about tension in - yes, you guessed it - the archive section). And then, most important, control your thinking. Try not to think of single misses (as you have read in my personal story, I thought of the miss to the 4, and, no surprise, it occured). For myself I have developed a mental trick to avoid thinking of the single which you might find quite surprising: When I shoot for a preparing single, I only think of the double I will have to hit with the next dart. So, when I have for instance 5 left, I aim and shoot at 1 but think of double 2. Singles don't need that much mental attention because they are easy, so this is my personal strategy to avoid thinking of misses. If I don't think of the single, I simply won't think of the single miss, too. This trick - which I developed a while after the Harrington match - works quite well in my play now.

Related topics:
Mental Quickfix Program

Karlheinz Zöchling, Vienna, 5 January, 1998