Pandemonium: Coping with Covid

By Phil Lanning 11/01/2021

COACH Stephen Feeney has worked with sporting legends. Ryder Cup heroes Darren Clarke, Colin Montgomerie and Paul McGinley plus snooker and darting legends Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis, Terry Griffiths, Jimmy White and Phil Taylor.

Using his unique patented SightRight sighting and alignment tests and routines and the expertise developed over 15 years, Stephen has helped players of all abilities improve their accuracy in these sports, with amazing results. For our focus on sports coaching, Darts World Editor Phil Lanning spoke to Feeney on the impact Covid-19 has had on sport...

PL: How has the pandemic and change of event schedules truly affected players. Is it just an excuse for poor performance or does it have a genuine impact?

SF: There’s a huge impact on sportsmen and women due to the pandemic. Those who practice in the wrong way are going to suffer to a greater extent than others. We are talking about different types of psyche here. Some players will get into a zone in a completely different way to others.

So if they can’t prepare the way they want to for each event, then at the event they feel as if they are rough. Imagine you’re a chief executive going into a board meeting and instead of having three days to prepare for a presentation, you’ve only got an hour. Suddenly you just don’t feel prepared. And when a person doesn’t feel fully prepared, then anxiety and fears creep in. Whereas others can play on the hoof. Some people are not good practisers, if they can adapt then these circumstances can suit them. It’s a very individual thing. It can affect people differently. When you look at some players in repetitive sport and the way they practice, it’s almost an obsessive disorder. If some people can’t do certain things before they go out to certain tournaments, they become anxious if they can’t perform their own little rituals. A ritual in preparation is ‘I must do these things before I go and play’. Now they’ve got back-to-back tournaments. If they don’t perform in the first, then they haven’t got time to prepare for the second. So some people who are very diligent, very careful, very meticulous, very focused in their preparation can almost feel unravelled.

Players are having to prepare for not one tournament but for a run of tournaments and that can be very difficult for some to adapt to. That changes so much. If that person doesn’t play well in the first event, have they got time to deal with that and prepare in time for the next. The Premier League successive nights and Summer, Autumn, and Winter Series events had a huge effect on players.

There’s a case here that the more meticulous players could be affected more than the more natural players, the ones who don’t feel they need to work at what they’re doing. The pandemic has caused huge problems for different people. The bottom line is that no matter who you are, World No.1 or No.128, you have to take time to figure out how you need to deal with it.

Every professional player is a businessman or woman. If your business structure changes, you have to cope with that. For some it might be the preparation rituals that affect them the most, for some, it will be stuck in a hotel room in a bubble, anxious to whether you are playing having undertaken a Covid test. None of these elements can be underestimated. That’s anxiety, it will change your mindset, change your focus on the actual game because the thought process leading up to it is on whether you are playing or not rather than the game.

Every top sportsman or woman whether in darts, snooker, golf will have a routine of a way they get into a zone. It’s almost like upsetting a superstition, it will play havoc with the psychological approach and then in performance.

PL: A lack of crowds is clearly affecting some players but in what way?

SF: How long would a comedian keep telling jokes with no one listening to them, when there’s no laughter? All of these players in darts are entertainers. The very nature of darts and snooker, the players have been built up to put on a show for the fans. Sport is seen and promoted as entertainment. The only fans these players have got at the minute is the TV camera. All the false cheering is probably more off-putting than maybe not having cheering at all. Some players have struggled just to be in front of the TV cameras. I’ve been aware of players who are almost sick before walking out at The Crucible. When you are walking out in front of a crowd, there’s an impact on you. You can either embrace that or it injects a fear factor. Take that audience away and the only thing that can impact a player now is the silence and the camera. What about if you like the audience but don’t like the TV camera?

Some players play to the camera like Michael van Gerwen and Gerwyn Price, they love the camera, they give it some. To a degree that’s great, but they also feed off the audience. Conversely, without the crowd and without the sheer nerves, they can also affect focus which also some players work off. That adrenalin can be vital and without that the players can feel very flat. Without the nerves, you are not alive. I’ve got snooker players that feel very flat, one of them doesn’t even want to be there because they are playing in a bubble. Imagine a top dart player not wanting to be at events? That will be the case with some. That adrenalin has gone for the moment. So they’ve either got to recreate it in their heads so they get the type of focus that they need.

PL: Gerwyn Price is one of the clear favourites for the World Championship. Does his aggressive rugby background and the siege mentality after the Grand Slam controversy truly help him?

SF: I may be wrong here, but I don’t think he’s planned that. He’s switched across from a very aggressive sport. I don’t care what anyone says, if you are going to run into huge 20 stone rugby opponents, you’ve got to have the bottle. I think he’s always coming across to darts thinking he is a strong character. There’s a huge fight in him. In rugby, you are playing for inches and yards, hard sport. There’s no point having a weak or feint heart. His ability to bring that is unique, you could argue who else has had that in darts? He’s brought a different edge to top-line darts. He has no fear, he will face issues head-on, and he won’t accept the word no.

He has created his own image, his own brand. Whether or not he’s done that intentionally or whether it’s just happened naturally, I don’t know. I remember this analogy. Why does Stephen Hendry walk around the snooker table with an aura? Well, he never intended it, it’s just the way he walked around the table. He created the aura. In his own way, Gezzy has done the same thing.

I think that Gerwyn deep down has got the heart of a dragon. He’s turned up into the darts world and said ‘I’m not going to be bullied. I’ve stood my ground in front of beefy guys on a rugby pitch, if you think you are going to bully me physically or mentally on stage, that just isn’t going to happen.’ So he’s already got a huge competitive strong mind and competitive streak in him. He’s got transferable skills from rugby to darts. Everybody knows he is not going to be bullied on that stage. Whatever people like to accuse him of, he’s got a huge personality.

He is also deeply patriotic. It meant so much to him and Jonny Clayton to win the World Cup, you could see that. Gerwyn said that meant more to him than anything else. He’s a guy that is able to channel his focus. And that’s a huge asset.


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