If you don't subscribe to the Cyberdarts List Serve -- that miraculous organism out there in the Internet ether which, in my case anyway, causes something like a billion e-mail messages to appear on my computer screen each day -- then you SHOULD! Run by Rick Osgood down in Houston, the service is not only useful but fun, regardless of your preference in darts. To subscribe to the steel tip discussion forum just e-mail a blank message to: firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the soft tip version send your message to email@example.com. If you don't understand these instructions or don't have e-mail or don't know what the Internet is: contact Al Gore.
For something like the past two years the discussion among the steel tip subscribers has focused, interminably, on how to handle the 94-out shot. Kudos go to Doreen Berry who made the passionate and effective plea ("ENOUGH, you idiots!") to the group to get past this topic. I myself had already done this weeks before. In fact, I'm still sitting on the double one.
Doreen also posed a couple of alternative discussion topics. Sportsmanship versus competitiveness. And the national ranking system. In my view there is a thread, of sorts, that intersects both of the subjects Doreen proposed. To a degree, this little nexus is at the root of much of the difficulty our sport has in recruiting and keeping new participants and, in some cases, retaining even long-standing shooters.
I've only known Doreen for a few years. I suspect that there are many issues we do not agree on. For example, the last thing I need in my life right now is a baby. Doreen recently gave birth to a little baby dart person. It is for this very reason that I pack a stork rifle.
But the one thing I am certain that we do see eye-to-eye on is The Point Of It All -- the underlying reason why each of us participates in the sport. Many times, Doreen has turned to me after walking from the line and asked (and I quote her verbatim): "Are we having fun yet?" And THAT is the point of it all. Darts should be enjoyable.
The difference between poor sportsmanship and competitiveness is NOT that fine of a line. Poor sportsmanship drives new players from the game. Competitiveness motivates them to improve.
No individual enjoys being disparaged from behind the line while they are trying their best to throw. No individual enjoys drawing a much better player in a Luck of the Draw if that much better player doesn't help them learn, treats them disrespectfully or, worst of all, throws poorly on purpose. No individual enjoys playing against an opponent that refuses to shake hands and wish them well, with a "shoot well" or a "have fun" or whatever. No individual enjoys walking into a pub to be barraged with the boastful bravado of the better players. And ALL of this occurs. Regularly.
I recall two specific instances which both embarrassed me and caused me to re-analyze my own involvement in the sport.
In the first instance I drew a new player from New Jersey in the Friday night Luck of the Draw at a tournament. He was enthusiastic, determined to do his best. But he was BRAND new to the game. He didn't know his out shots and couldn't have hit them even if he did. The other team was stuck on double one. We were looking at a fifty-one. My partner was up, struggling -- trying to figure out that he needed to stick the nineteen, and then the double sixteen.
Time passed. He stepped off the line. Came over to me. We huddled briefly. He walked back to the line and took aim.
Behind the line one of our opponents began to pantomime the shots required. He then added sound to his performance. He'd pantomime a nineteen shot and proclaim "doink". He'd pantomime the double sixteen shot and proclaim "doink" again.
My poor partner was so rattled that he blew the shot completely -- hit the nineteen and threw the other two darts off of the board. The other team missed the double one again. I took the game out with my next dart.
"Good game" I offered to our opponents, as I held out my hand. "You guys shot great darts, except (jokingly) for that double one".
My gesture was greeted with a refusal to shake hands and a very vocal "I'll throw you anywhere for $100 and we'll see what happens." My partner and I lost the next two games. I guess we were fortunate the match wasn't for $100. I walked away embarrassed, but not because we lost.
The next instance occurred at a tournament in North Carolina. It was a four-man event. My team was reasonably strong. We got through the first few rounds and then drew a team that was considerably better, but which was off their game. The match went into the third game.
I was at the line looking at a double four game shot. I missed the double four. I missed the double two. But I stuck the double on. Somehow -- but not because we were the better shooters -- we advanced.
Later, as I was walking through the tournament hall, I passed within earshot of one of the players on the team we had defeated. "Who'd you lose to?" this individual was asked. The answer: "A bunch of faggot nothings." I really don't have the words to describe the feeling in the pit of my stomach.
New to the sport or not so new to the sport -- blatant poor sportsmanship can not be mixed up with competitiveness. And it turns people off to the game.
Similarly, too much focus on rankings, how to get points and just plain tournament coverage, does little to entice new players into the game.
I dare suggest that the people who subscribe to the various darts magazines that are published around the world do so, whether they admit so or not, partly because they are likely to see their name in print from time to time. But the majority, the very vast majority, of shooters are strictly recreational league shooters -- steel and soft. They don't care who the top players are. They don't give a rat's ass about the "politics" of the national ranking system.
I'd submit that subscribership to all of these publications would rise dramatically if the magazines focused as much on local league happenings as they do on the upper levels of the sport. If the average "Joe" who hits a lucky 180 might see their name listed in an honor roll in the back of a magazine -- regardless of whether they throw steel or soft and regardless of which national governing body their league belongs to -- the more likely they will be to subscribe, renew their subscription and be motivated to stick with the sport.
It's a simple concept. Darts should be fun. Assholes and a never-ending focus on the aspects of the game that effect only the few (regionals, rankings, blah, blah ...) are about as motivational as the two-year, monotonous, drone on the Cyberdarts List Serve about how to close a 94.
The point of this ramble. The future of steel-tip is not to be found in bad-mouthing soft-tip (though I do reserve the right to make honest fun of both genres). Or in endless discussion about a great deal of the same old stuff -- and that includes sportsmanship and the national ranking system. The discussion on these two issues in particular seems never-ending.
So I pose a different question. How about if we energize the collective mind of whomever out there actually reads my drivel to brainstorm the half-dozen or so positive steps that might be taken -- at both the national and local level -- to truly ATTRACT new players to our ranks?
My personal view, if you haven't already gathered, is that the first item on the list is obvious: BAN ASSHOLES! I figure that then everything else should pretty much fall into place.
Enough said. Probably TOO much said. Sorry. Got carried away. The thing is, I shot very well at last night's local Luck of the Draw. All but for one pesky little out shot, I have headed home with a pocket full of cash. Which reminds me: is there anybody out there who can tell me how to close a 94?
From the Field,