Gareth Fox

Gareth Fox: Perfect your soft skills

AS I sit writing this, Michael Smith and Michael van Gerwen have just qualified for the PDC World Championship final. Both men with something very interesting in common – besides the name Michael.

The World Cup ended, the darts started – a more than adequate replacement in my view. I #luvthedarts. It is fascinating, it is intense, and for a performance psychologist, it is Mozart – as good as it gets.

Gerwyn Price wearing headphones, Cameron Menzies’ on-stage faces and defeatist attitude embarrassing Fallen Sherrock (his high profile darting girlfriend, and arguably a better darts thrower than he is) every game and each player has contained something fascinating.


Numerous capitulations happening live, with cameras on zoom capturing every painful moment: head shaking, negative self-talk, getting embroiled with the unforgiving spectators which fill Ally Pally – a battle that very few win.

You see, darts is a game of rhythm – lose yours and your aim is off. And if your aim is off, forget about it. One millimetre with darts in hand shows up as one centimetre on the board. And if you are out on the board then you are out full stop.

There were a few games in particular that really stood out. Gerwyn Price’s round one victory over Luke Woodhouse. Woodhouse stormed into a one-set and two-leg lead, until Price won the next leg and celebrated in customary fashion, his front double-bicep Mr Olympia pose. Woodhouse was visibly shaken from Price’s body language, and from there the game was over.

In the last 32, Jim Williams was thrashing Gabriel Clemens, until Clemens took out a ton-plus outshot. The crowd got behind Clemens, and Williams capitulated. From 3-0 up, he lost 3-4.

Later that day, the same thing happened to Danny Noppert against crowd favourite (and fireman) Alan Soutar. Noppert was dominating, looking comfortable, until Soutar won a leg. The crowd got behind him and carried him on to a great comeback victory.

And then we have the quarter-final between Price and Clemens. You’d be hard pressed to find a better advertisement for the importance of emotional intelligence in high pressure situations. Price got it all wrong and paid the price. And then took to Instagram soon after to call it quits with the darting world’s most prestigious tournament. The All-Blacks call it Red Head, Dr Steve Peters calls it your chimp – however you describe it, it comes down to one thing, not being able to control yourself emotionally.

Emotional intelligence plays a significant role in sports and can greatly impact an athlete’s performance. It is defined as the ability to recognise and understand emotions in oneself and others, and to use this awareness to manage one’s own emotions and focus effectively.

In sports, emotional intelligence can help athletes perform better by:

1) Improving focus and concentration: Being able to recognise and manage emotions can help athletes stay focused and avoid distractions during competitions.

2) Enhancing teamwork and communication: Emotional intelligence can help athletes effectively communicate with their teammates and coaches, leading to better teamwork and team cohesion.

3) Dealing with pressure and setbacks: Athletes with high emotional intelligence are better able to handle pressure and setbacks, such as losses or injuries, and bounce back more quickly.

4) Building self-confidence: Emotional intelligence can help athletes build self-confidence and a positive mindset, which can improve their overall performance.

So what have van Gerwen and Smith got in common? They are the men with the ‘ticks’. Ticks to the untrained eye. MVG pulls his socks up, Smith taps his temple with his index finger. Why? Emotional reset. They recognise they are in an emotional frame of mind that isn’t beneficial to their best performances.

Whether it be a negative internal voice, or in an emotional competition with their opponent or the crowd – that’s not where their best performance lies. And so they reset. It’s why they are the two best players, with the two best averages this year.

They are talented, of course, currently world number three and four, and after this final they will become world one and two, but it’s their investment in the so called soft skills that has separated them from the others.

It used to be, coaches would say that no other team was training in the cold, in the snow, running up hills, so that you would – but the reality is, they all are. It’s investment in the soft skills where the advantage is to be found.

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