Column #CM9 An interview with Linda Duffy

Friday, December 2, 2016
Column CM9
An interview with Linda Duffy

Linda Batten-Duffy, the #1 in woman’s darts from 1982-1987, started to play darts in her local pub when she was 15. At the time, women had few options to play darts in England – even county ladies darts didn’t exist before 1975. Nevertheless, Linda Batten soon built up a reputation in the darts scene. In 1973, she played Indoor League and in 1977 she was for the first time nominated for the English National Team – and in her first match against Scotland was chosen “Lady of the Match.” For ten years, she played for the National Team, many years as captain. As member of the National Team she would celebrate her two biggest wins – winning the ladies singles at the WDF Europe Cup in 1984 and her ladies singles victory at the WDF World Cup in 1985.

After her marriage and the birth of her two sons, Linda Duffy withdrew from active darts competition and studied sports science and sports psychology. Today, she teaches sport psychology at university, heads Epic Sports Management, and is the manager of upcoming darts player Josh Payne. In addition, together with her sons she owns Epic Trophies and Darts in North East London, a shop where you still can try out darts and even practice. About all this – and about many other things – Linda Batten-Duffy speaks in the interview that follows.

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Linda – you were the #1 ladies darts player from 1982-1987. What do you feel was your biggest success?

Several achievements that I couldn’t really separate. When I started I had 3 main goals: to win the British Open, to play for England, and to be World #1. I achieved all 3 quite early in my career so anything else was pretty much a bonus. If I had to pick one win it would be the World Cup Singles in Brisbane 1985. I had lobbied with Maureen Flowers and several other players to have the women included in the Europe Cup and World Cup events which eventually happened in 1983 for the World Cup in Scotland and I was controversially left out of the team so going to Brisbane and winning it was all the more satisfying. 

How old were you when you started to play darts and how did it happen?

I started playing darts when I was 15, in the local pub. I used to chalk for my brothers’ Friday night team at the Windmill pub in the Enfield and District League. They played a straight 8, 3001! At the end of the match they would let me join in playing. 

Was it in those times kind of exotic when a woman took up the sport?

Hardly any women played and the ones who did struggled against male chauvinism at almost every point. It was a struggle to play competitive darts locally as leagues didn’t allow women to play and there were no ladies’ leagues at that point. There were very few competitions and Ladies County darts only started around 1975.

Where there a lot of other female players around already?

There were some: Loveday King from Cornwall, Maureen Flowers and a few others. There were women playing darts all over the country but no real infrastructure for them to play competitively.

Did you play league?

Yes, I played in the Lea Valley Superleague for The Windmill. The league had to have an EGM to change the rules to let me play and that was only due to pressure from the men on my team. I eventually played in the London Ladies Super league when it was formed. I also appeared for a few other pubs who had me signed up to their teams but I didn’t play regularly for them – I used this mainly as competitive practice.

Or on a pub team?

The Windmill, Enfield, The Kings Head, Enfield, The Morning Star, Peckham.

Were there many tournaments for women?

Hardly any. The NDAGB had a national singles for men and a mixed pairs and this was one of my first tournaments – in 1973 I played with Eric Bristow. The first main singles tournament I played in was the Indoor League, also in 1973, I think. I also played in a men’s pairs tournament with Tommy O’Reagan around that time. He was a 3 times NDAGB Singles champion.

Did you ever compete in tournaments or league with the men?

Yes. all the time at the start because there were no tournaments for women. In the USA and other parts of the world the women could enter the Open Singles, so I did that often.

Do you prefer to compete in women’s only tournaments?

No, I like competing against everyone.

Who were your rivals at that time?

Maureen Flowers, Sandra Gibb, Sharon Kemp (a bit later), Babs Evans. There were lots of them.

Did you ever have a role model?

Yes, both of my grandparents. I developed a good work ethic thanks to them.

Could you find a sponsor? Was it difficult to find one?

It was difficult to find a sponsor but I was fortunate to have a few very good ones. I bought my first set of tungsten darts from a shop in Enfield owned by Jack Harris – this later became Harrows and they are still going strong today. Jack helped me out with a few bits of equipment and entries to some tournaments. In 1978, Paul Durrant asked me to join “Team Durro” on a trip to the USA. It was me, Pat Piper, Colin Baker, Eric Bristow, and Bobby George – they sponsored me for a while. My next major sponsor, which I stayed with for several years, was Winmau, I had a great relationship with Harry Kicks Snr who was a lovely man and he sponsored me for several years. When I changed to the Winmaster spring-loaded dart (along with Keith Deller), Winmau actually made them so my affiliation with the Kicks family continued until I retired.

As you travelled a lot – what about the standard of ladies darts in other countries at that time?

It was very good, especially in the USA, because they didn’t have to suffer the same stigma as women did here in the UK.

And who paid for all the traveling (for example when you went to Australia for the World Cup)?

The BDO (or WDF) paid for my flights and hotel while I was in Brisbane but I stayed longer to do exhibitions and that was paid for from other sources.

Which was your favourite tournament?

Probably the North American Open.

When you travelled as a team with the men did you feel you were accepted by the male darters?

Yes, definitely. The men agreed that the women had a raw deal. Eric was living with Maureen Flowers during much of that time so he was very supportive of the women.

You were voted most valuable player of the North American Open. How often did you take part in the tournament and for which achievements you were honoured?

I played in the NAODT from 1978-1987 and then once again in 1990. I was the first women to be awarded MVP – it was because I did the best out of anyone at the tournament, men and women, and looking back it was quite an achievement as the women only played in 4 events whereas the men played in 5.

Do you think women’s darts has now a reached a higher standard?

I think the top 2 or 3 players are hitting better averages more often but I don’t think there are the numbers playing now. Plus, Deta, Trina, and Trisha were playing when I was playing (Trina had just started) and they are still at the top now – to me this doesn’t suggest much progression. I know Phil has been at the top of the men’s game for 30 years but look at the change in players around him.

And would you say it is more appreciated today by the dart fans?

By the fans, yes, but not by the BDO or the PDC.

Can you imagine women’s darts will find a way into the PDC or do you think the national organisations and the WDF will always stay in charge?

In my opinion Barry Hearn will not support women-only tournaments, as he thinks women and men are equal in darts and there should be no distinction. If you can throw darts then get up there and do it, man or woman.

Did you practice during your active time and what did you practice?

Yes, all the time, hours every day. I used to stress if I couldn’t play darts for a day. I practiced with Keith Deller and Bob Anderson mainly, who were both great players and avid practicers.

Do you still play darts or did you stop completely when you married?

I finished touring and playing for England in 1987 but I carried on playing for London County until 1996. I don’t play now, just throw the odd dart in the shop when customers come in and I happen to be there.

Would you say from your experience a woman can combine a dart career with a family or is it similar to the artists who often have to decide for the one or other?

It depends on the person and the support they have. As soon as I had my sons I knew I couldn’t leave them to travel and play darts. I wanted to be with them and not miss out on anything. I carried on playing county because they came with me.

After your active career you started to study sport science and sports psychology. Did you have a look at the sport of darts in the context of your studies?

My PhD thesis was on Gender Differences in Target Throwing and I used professional and county dart players at that time as subjects. My postdoctoral research examined the psychological aspects of practice.

Did those studies somehow change your ideas about darts practice?

Yes, very much so. The nature of the practice you engage in is very important, it’s not just quantity it’s the quality of what you do. My work has now been replicated in other sports and the findings are robust.

Perhaps you can answer the question whether women can be as good as men in the sport?

Yes, they could, given the right set of circumstances.

Would you say women are less competitive?

No.

Or is the women’s game different from the men’s?

No, it’s completely the same. The difference is that men have a constant platform upon which to test their skills against each other, giving opportunity for either improvement or decline in performance. Sort of survival of the fittest. Women don’t have anywhere near the same opportunities to compete against each other on such a regular basis, therefore top players can generally find success with mediocre performances – hence their overall improvement in performance is slow or even non-existent.

Do you think psychology and sports science will find a way into the sport of darts as much as in other sports?

It should do and already has to a small extent. It’s one of the sports where it is obviously needed. In my opinion, success is 95% psychological and 5% skill amongst the very top players.

Today, you work among others as a consultant in sport psychology – do you work with dart players as well?

I have done in the past but as I manage Josh Payne now it would be a conflict of interest. I work as a sport psychology consultant in several other sports.

What are the most common problems and in which ways might a darts player profit from working with you?

Competitive anxiety, low self-confidence, lack of realistic goal setting, motivation, and poor attitude are the problems most present.

You worked/work as a manager for dart players as well. Which players did you manage and would you say a darts player needs a manager?

Back in the 1980’s my company managed Keith Deller, Bob Anderson, and Steve Brennan. I think a dart player could manage themselves if they were capable but it’s better for someone to do the boring stuff for you. Also, a player needs support at events – a bit like a golf caddy but with a different sort of input. Could a golfer carry their own clubs – yes, of course they could, but a caddy is invaluable support.

What does the manager do for the player?

Everything, barring throwing the darts!

You now manage Josh Payne – how far do you think he will go?

To the very top.

You accompany him to many tournaments – do you discuss after the matches how it went?

Sometimes, not always. What’s coming next is always more important.

What made you decide to work with Josh Payne?

I saw him play at a PDC Youth event and got chatting with his father. I liked the way Josh played and thought he had a lot of potential. Nothing really happened straight away but a few months after that meeting his father called me and asked if I would work with Josh.

Which attributes do you think a darts player needs to be successful?

Dedication to always try to improve and work hard on their performance. Self-belief, which nurtures self-confidence. Competitiveness. Psychological resilience. Well developed coping mechanisms.

Darts coaching still is at its beginning – do you think it will get as vital as in other sports?

No. Due to the nature of the sport there is less to coach, it’s less dynamic than many other sports and is played in a static environment whereby you take turns with your opponent. Apart from the few instances of “gamesmanship” amongst the players you can only really inflict psychological damage, therefore it doesn’t have much room for strategy apart from trying to outscore your opponent and finishing sharply.

What do you “coach” a darts player?

What you can coach to some extent, if you catch a player early enough, is stance, throw and to a lesser degree grip. There is so much more you can teach them from a psychological perspective which would be of greater value.

What would be your advice for really good practice?

In practice or training the most beneficial work mirrors what you actually need to do in a match. In darts, we are lucky as this is easy to replicate – that’s as much as I’m giving away!

Should male and female players practice differently?

No. Why? Are they expected to do different things on the dartboard? Is the board lower or nearer for women? Are the segments bigger?

How much would you say is talent and how much is hard work when you intend to be a top player? Or better – can you be a top player only through hard work?

This is the age old Nature vs. Nurture argument! Sport is about winning, beating the opponent in front of you. I have seen talented players beaten by less talented players, according to the media. I have yet to hear of anyone who can scientifically investigate and define “talent.” And what would be the opposite of “talented” – “anti-talented”? In my opinion, if you are willing to work hard, using the appropriate methods you can become an expert dart player but it will take a long time. Having “talent” may just get you there a bit quicker.

How important is physical fitness in darts and what part does alcohol play?

It’s more important these days for dart players to be physically fit. Matches are longer and players on the PDC Tour play under more pressure from the start. Many players use alcohol as a coping strategy but I know of several players now who play without drinking.

Do you think darts is a sport?

Yes, definitely. Look up the definition of “sport” in the OED.

Together with the Croatian Darts Federation you wrote a darts book – what is your part in it?

I contributed the chapter on “The Science of Darts” – basically about how my research helps understand the sport of darts from a scientific perspective.

Where can you get the book and how expensive is it?

It’s published jointly by the Croatian Darts Federation and the University of Zagreb – I’ll send you a copy!

And why the Croatian Darts Federation? Why not BDO, EDO or PDC?

The Croatian Darts Federation asked me to contribute – the others didn’t.

I read somewhere you are developing an online Darts Coaching course with the PDC and the London Sport Institute..

I work closely with The London Sport Institute which is part of Middlesex University where I work as a Professor in the Psychology Department and we are developing an online darts course – the PDC or PDPA aren’t involved. I spoke with them about it but it’s not on their agenda at the moment.

How will that look and when do you think it will be finished?

It will be very good, validated by Middlesex University and will provide university credits and a progression path to practice. It will be out soon.

There exists already a few online darts coaching sites or courses – can you really coach darts online and what are the limits?

There are limitations but there are online courses now for almost every topic out there. It’s how the course is presented and the nature of its learning materials and assessment that determines whether it is good or not.

Bob Anderson, for example, offers face-to-face coaching lesson – wouldn’t that be a better way to learn the sport?

It depends what you are teaching – online with a practical (in person) element is the most beneficial. There are so many psychological aspects to playing darts that many people can’t teach – NLP (neuro linguistic programming), CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), NVC (non-verbal communication), various types of imagery, realistic goal-setting and most importantly remedial techniques when performance deteriorates.

What age do you think would a good age to start to play and what are your ideas about the dart academies for children?

You can start to play at any age but if you want to aspire to become a professional dart player I think you should play many sports as a child and then focus on darts as a teenager. Regarding Junior Academies, I think they are a great idea for the children to have fun playing darts and to learn the basics. My only reservation is that I’m not sure whether the teachers or people running the academies are fully qualified to do so. There has been an awful lot of bad press in the UK lately about parent’s involvement in youth football and how that can be detrimental to the children’s development. I wouldn’t like to see the same happen in darts.

One of your sons qualified for the UK Open a few years ago – has he ever had plans to get more seriously involved in darts or does he play more for fun??

Yes, my oldest son Rory qualified through Riley’s which was a bit of a surprise to us really as he’d only been playing a few months. When he graduated from University last year he didn’t get a job straight away so he worked in our darts shop, hence he played every day and got quite good very quickly. In view of the very little experience he had he gave a very good account of himself, particularly as it was his first ever game on stage and in front of the TV cameras. He doesn’t play much now as he has a good job and works long hours but he enjoyed his experience.

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Charis Mutschler
The founder of Global Darts, darts journalist Charis Mutschler hails from Marbach, near Stuttgart, Germany. A regular at most major PDC tournaments, a lover of literature, dance and music and cats, Charis' popular writings about darts and its players often transcend the usual. She brings something unique to the chroniclers of the sport we all love.