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The Iceman Cometh

Updated: Feb 15

This piece refers to professional Darts player Gerwyn Price, and his steep trajectory from Rugby Union Hooker to World Darts Champion. I read a piece by the brilliant Martin Perry (confidence coach) about this, and was so taken, I decided to follow up the subject myself.

Wiki reference states: Gerwyn Price (GP) was born on 7 March 1985. He was a professional rugby player, who played as a hooker for Welsh Premier Division sides Neath and Cross Keys as well as rugby league with South Wales Scorpions. He also had a brief spell at Pro12 side Glasgow Warriors as injury cover for their first choice players. He ended his rugby career in 2014 in order to concentrate on playing darts full-time. So now, GP is a professional darts player and former professional rugby union and rugby league player. Nicknamed "The Iceman", he competes in events of the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC), where he is the current world champion, after winning the 2021 PDC World Darts Championship.

So, lets get this straight - six years after entering the professional sport of darts, Gerwyn Price won his first ever World Title. At the same time he became the first ever Welshman to win this particular version of the World Championship. In fact, the first Welsh man to win any version since 1978, when Leighton Rees won the first ever BDO World championship. His victory in 2021 also saw him rise to World number 1, overtaking the formerly impervious MVG. Now that tale would be impressive enough, had I said that he had played darts since he was 6, toiled on a dart board for 6 hours a day for 15 years, and come through in the natural way. But this guy spent his previous professional life sandwiched between 40 stone of sweaty prop, rolling around in mud and getting himself chinned on a regular basis. Although not a surprise he didn't want to play hooker anymore, its hardly a seamless transition to darts - unless you count the lineout throw as some tenuous link.

This seemingly overnight success though, shouldn't come as any surprise to followers of sport, and those interested in the psychology of winning. GP's incredibly competitive spirit and sporting discipline had him marked down as a future champion ever since he came through Q school so comfortably, at the second attempt.

As with all sport through the COVID19 pandemic, I believe that results must have been affected by lack of live support - musn't they ? Crowd noise can impact players of any sport in a real, physical way. Moreover, the energy of a crowd can disrupt, pump up or deflate. Ultimately, the power to perform is still in the minds and emotions of the player though, and how they coach themselves. It would have been interesting to see if GP would have performed so well had crowds been present. Especially, as in the past, the darts crowds loved to taunt him - almost exclusively in response to his outspoken attitude, and his exhuberant celebratory, combative style on the oche - crowds would incessantly boo and jeer. This environment must have a significant impact on focus and emotional calmness if you let it. The question around GP is, did the competitive spirit in GP lead to him trying too hard to silence a baying mob and lose his rhythm? Maybe, just maybe having no distractions in 2021, enabled GP to settle into his game - because when you look at his performance during it, he produced phases of immaculate darts, that were way too consistent for his opponents.

Blocking out distraction

Now clearly I am no expert when it comes to sporting distraction, but I do know a bit about business distraction, and how that can affect performance. On this basis, there must be a transferable theory. Focus, or attention control, is one of the most important mental skills that a leader can seek to master, it must be the same for in sport. Competition is laden with potential distractions that, when given the opportunity, can dramatically hinder performance. Anything from the weather to an argument at home the previous day, can hijack attention. It must be easier said than done to block out the distraction though, or we would all perform at at 10 all the time... and clearly, we don't, do we.

Just as there are innumerable opportunities for distraction, there are countless attention control strategies. Finding what works and practising it, just as you would practice a physical skill, is the only way to find what works. The end result being, you can shut out the external noise, of for example, wanting to be liked. Because you know that in any other respect, you are good enough.

Now that he has won his first world title, GP knows how to play with the right balance of concentration. No jeering should be able to penetrate his psyche because he has that most important of motivators, the champions trophy. The champions trophy is the most powerful evidence, that what you do works for you. It proves that despite the noise, your physical skillset is good enough, it proves that on a level playing field - your physical skillset is the best.

Some players struggle for years trying to prove they are good enough. Some spend years trying to be liked. GP doesn’t need to concern himself with that psychological stuff any longer. Because he is World Champion. Being World Champion tells him everything he needs to know about himself, and his story tells us all we need to know about the measure of the champion he is.

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