How to triumph at Q-School

By Staff Writer 22/01/2021

OVER 650 players will be competing for a two-year PDC professional tour card next month. Since its inception in 2011 Q School has gained a reputation for being both exceptionally difficult and intensely nerve-racking. Darts World sought expert advice on how to approach the event and some inside tips on what makes the difference between those who gain one of the PDC's golden tickets and those who come up short:

Professional preparation:

In attempting to win a PDC tour card you are effectively expressing a desire to be a professional dart player. Preparing in a professional way will help you give it your best shot and set a pattern that will help you on tour. Ensure that you read and digest the player's brief in full. If you don't understand anything then ask, the officials have been around a while and are exceptional.

Preparing for all four days (and now stage 2) in terms of bookings, travel, clothes, and equipment is a prerequisite. Have spares of everything and either carry them with you or keep them close by. Additional darts, flights, stems and even points, etc. are obvious but additional comfortable footwear and non-restrictive layers in case of cold can be just as important.

Professional patience:

Some suggest that Q-School is one of the most nerve inducing events in the darts calendar. The prize at stake combined with the varying levels of ability and experience in the room can lead to a very heavy atmosphere, especially in the early stages.  It is vital to accept that you will be nervous, perhaps more so than ever before, and play through it rather than allow yourself to be paralysed. Almost every other player in the room will be as nervous as you and has just as much on the line.

In the first round or two (each day) don't expect to play at your brilliant best just be determined to do what is required to win each leg and the game overall. Over the days most players settle and play to their potential, Q-School is replete with tales of last day scrapes and fairytales, give yourself that chance. Embrace your nerves, use them!

Professional practise:

Most of your work should have already been done but in the last weeks leading up to Q School and over the days itself there are few ways to maximise your performance. In the lead-up to the event play the format as often as you can. Whether against virtual opponents or actual ones (within the current restrictions) play the full number of legs, as if the match goes down to the wire, where ever possible as well as playing the actual best of match format.

In between these sessions work on 'mopping up'. A large number of legs come down to who can polish off two dart finishes when they need to. Finishes in the 40s 50s and 60s will gain you legs, relax you and reduce the single dart stresses.

Finally, when you're at the event don't overdo it. Play 'fun darts' wherever possible, short sharp games or drills with yourself or other perhaps for 50 pence a go, or some other distraction that still involves keeping loose.

Preserve your energy:

Q School is a taxing event, 4-day blocks of intensity where every game matters are unusual for the vast majority of amateur players. Between your matches try to conserve your energy and concentration powers. The waiting in the early stages can be the worst aspect of Q-School. Where possible leave the building for a few minutes, fresh air and natural light are important to your well being. Don't dwell on defeat or marvel in victory there is more work to be done or another day to give your best effort to.

Every player is different, some need to talk a lot and be the life and soul of the party. Others need to keep a fixed routine and maintain their focus almost constantly. Either way is fine if it's your choice and personality type. Don't allow yourself to be dragged into the plans or habits of others if they do not suit you. Work out what suits you best and stick with it. 

As the day wears on the games will begin to come thick and fast. You will be asked to go straight back on to the board after a win, especially if your board is slower than others, more experienced players will insist on their five minutes between matches ( or even stretch it a little) this is wise and ensures that you do not run out of steam. Again a wander outside or a trip to the bathroom and or bar may be in order for you to recompose for the next round.

Past performance is irrelevant:

With every passing year, the names at Q School get more and more storied. This year there are World champions, Richie Burnett, and World finalists, Kirk Shepherd, as well as many others who have already written a piece of darts history. Here is the big news: it does not mean a thing, in fact, it may be a disadvantage. Having spoken to many former top-flight players we can assure you that it's just as tough for them and they each have the nagging thought that they shouldn't be there at all. 

The events are superbly operated and the officials will help you if they feasibly can. If at all possible try to enjoy yourself and remember that many thousands would love to be in your shoes.

Our final tip was overheard a few years ago at Q-School itself. A player had performed well on the first couple of days but slipped up on day three. Going into day 4 he was very nervous and obviously feared his chance of a card was slipping away.

A friendly party, who had attended every Q-School up to that point, approached him and quietly said "You have already earned that card. Go out and play that way and allow it to come to you, don't chase it."

This was a very nice way of phrasing the 'Process not result' approach used by many professional coaches in sports such as cycling. The player did indeed seem to relax and played well enough to gain his Tour card later that day.

Good luck to all of you that are playing Q-School 2021.

Pic: PDC


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