Monday nights find me at Cueball in Derby. Diet Coke in hand, I’m sat on a bar stool watching a game of darts. The scorer is at the board, marking down from 501 as the two players take turns with 3 darts each to get down to a score that can be finished on a double. The players are good – 100 plus scores from three darts are relatively common and the scorer, though occasionally needing a little help, marks them down with a confidence that is hard to ignore. As the player steps to the oche, the marker calls 43 required. First dart – 11. Second dart – Double 16. Game, Shot. It’s a scene that you would see in many pubs across the land on a Friday night.
Except Cueball isn’t a pub, and the players are not old enough to drink. In fact, in the game I’m watching, the players are aged eight & nine, whilst the scorer is a nine year old kneeling on a stool to reach the board.
This Academy for young darts fans is run by local professional Jamie Caven, his wife Debbie and step-son, Gaz. Due to its popularity, they now run two academies a week and the kids, quite simply, love it.
Personally, I love everything about it. It is everything I think an environment for young people should be. There are rules – clear rules that if broken, have a consequence. You must wear the correct uniform, you must shake hands after every game, you must not make a noise whilst the other player is throwing, if you don’t go to school you don’t go to darts, and, importantly, you have to learn to score games.
After a couple of months of taking my eight year old, it was decided that Major Oak would become one of Jamie’s sponsors. Darts was something that I really wanted to explore and Jamie, Debbie and Gaz seemed the perfect people to start that journey with.
Since then, Jamie has visited a number of our partner schools and, quite simply, inspired everyone he has met. You see, Jamie has overcome a number of challenges in his life to get to where he is now. He is blind in one eye, he has survived cancer but he has never given up on his dream of being a professional darts player. What a great message to send to our children.
Driving home on Monday night, I asked my eight year old how he thought he had played. “Not bad, although I struggled on the checkout game.”. The checkout game is part of the player’s routine they perform each week. They have six darts to checkout (get to zero, finishing on a double) a random score picked by Debbie. This week it was 123.
“Which way did you go?” I asked. His answer, was this, and I quote… (Remember, he is eight!)
“Well, to be honest, I wasn’t sure. So I tried treble 19 first, as I knew that an odd number trebled would equal an odd number and I knew I had to take an odd number off 123 to make it an even number.”
I told him that 57 off 123 would have left him 66. His reply…
“Ah cool – Double 17, double 16 then !”. Ever the showman!
So does Darts have a place in Primary Schools?! Yes, without a shadow of a doubt. And for me, this is for two specific reasons;
Firstly, its inclusive nature means it is perfect for targeting those that lack confidence, those that shy away from the football, netball and rugby clubs.
Secondly, the numeracy benefits of darts cannot be ignored. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, times tables, mental arithmetic. Tick!
How do I see it working in schools? Well, we have piloted our first extra curricular clubs and the results have been fantastic. Enjoyment has been high and importantly, there has been a clear improvement in numeracy, both confidence and ability. Scoring has needed assistance to begin with, but with time, the children are becoming more confident. Importantly, they are learning without realising .
The next step is to work with some of our partner schools in curriculum time. Using darts lessons as an intervention group for those either struggling to be engaged, or struggling to grasp the numeracy skills that darts can support. When we’re doing this, we’ll ensure we can accurately track improvement over a given period, allowing us to truly see the benefit that darts can have in schools.
If you’re interested in assisting or with getting involved with the project in your school, let us know!