One of the most grating things to hear in darts, from commentators and pundits especially, are references to ‘the most naturaly gifted’ or ‘a natural ability’. What makes it even more annoying is that often they refer to the players such as Adrian Lewis or Michael Smith and omit players such as Steve Beaton and Gary Anderson.
There are two reasons that this type of phrase is annoying, and often simply wrong, the first is that it decries the huge effort and sacrifice made by players and makes it seem as if they simply have a ‘god-given’ gift that was discovered overnight. The best example of this is Michael Smith. He is often referred to as gifted or blessed. Yet, I know for certain that he has practiced for many isolated hours from a very young age and battled a variety of difficulties, including broken bones, in order to get to the heights of the game.
Similar can be said for Adrian Lewis who is in the middle of a battle to recapture his very best performance level. But if you listen to the pundits it should be a piece of cake. ‘The most naturally gifted’ is applied to Adrian because of the apparent ease of his throwing style. Yet, it is not easy if you think it is, try it! Adrian has also worked for many long hours, including years with Phil Taylor, who was a very demanding practice partner, to work up to his peak. But, if you buy the naturally blessed line, his back-to-back world titles were simply presented to him due as some kind of divine favor.
The second reason for my annoyance with such comments is that they are based on a false premise. Nearly all those described as naturals are quick, fluid, and easy on the eye. Yet, Steve Beaton has been playing in almost exactly the same way for close to forty years. He seems rarely injured and is as fluent as any player to have ever played. the longevity of Steve’s career and the fact that so little has changed would suggest that it is his that is the most natural, to him, action and that the mechanics of other players’ throws lead to injury, loss of form or deterioation over time. Steve is reputed to be a decent amateur golfer which may indicate that he has a very good hand eye co-ordination and an ability to transfer this into a reliable swing.
Much of the above comes down to the ‘type of throw’ a player succeeds with. Smith and Lewis are the most successful examples of what I call ‘trust’ throwers. They trust their hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness and then hone the skill through hours of rhythmic practicing. I suspect that this is especially effective if learned early and honed through many solo hours in the bedroom, barroom or garage.
In some ways, this is true of MVG as well. Starting at such a young age and succeeding rapidly ensured that there was no time to question his natural instincts or build a more modeled throw. His throw is therefor totally natural to him and has been tuned to the point of near-automatic delivery. But he is rarely if ever referred to as a natural phenomenon. He even recently bought into the ‘natural’ myth himself, by suggesting that Michael Smith has more ability/talent than he does.
There is, however, one way in which the term ‘natural’ can be applied correctly. If by natural you mean a method that comes totally natural to the player, is proven almost immediately to work for that player, can be broken down into elements that can be tried, copied or mimicked by others and is simple enough to both reveal everything but not quite how it works.
That natural but it then requires a huge effort to hone and maintain it. The natural must be harnessed, filtered, and then focused on the goal.
Step forward Gary Anderson.