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Home ยป Luke Littler Inspires New Generation Of Darts Players

Luke Littler Inspires New Generation Of Darts Players

Image source, Karl Holden

Image caption, George, nine, and Jack Evans, 11, with their coach Karl Holden and grandfather Danny Rylance at St Helens Darts Shop, Merseyside.

By Emily Atkinson

BBC News

“Oh! He’s on for a 180 now!” calls out coach Karl Holden as 11-year-old Jack Evans fires a dart, straight as a lance, at a board out of shot. “Oh no, 123. Maybe next time we speak, in five years, he’ll get it.”

“It’s hand-eye co-ordination. You just watch that follow through out of the corner of your eye. It becomes repetitive – that’s what all the top players do,” he tells Jack – a rising talent at Karl’s St Helens Darts Shop in Merseyside.

Karl is speaking to me on a video call from the back room of his beloved shop. Behind him is a wall plastered with hundreds of photos of the players he’s coached over the years. Luke Littler, darts prodigy and St Helens alumnus, features 15 times.

Littler first stepped foot in the shop aged 11. “By the time he was 12, he was hitting 180s, nine-darters, and averaging 90. That’s when I realised he was too good,” Karl, who also coaches at the local academy, says.

And earlier this week, aged 16, Littler ended his run at the PDC World Championship in a tense and virtuosic final at Alexandra Palace, which saw him beaten 7-4 by Luke Humphries, 28, at the last hurdle.

Image source, PA Media

Image caption, Luke Littler in action in the final of the Paddy Power World Darts Championship at Alexandra Palace

Since then, Karl has received 41 new inquiries to join the academy, with his friends and colleagues at other academies reporting a similar surge in demand.

“We’ve already got 80 kids, which is our maximum,” he says.

Everyone wants to be the next Luke Littler

Today, Karl is joined by youngster Jack Evans and his little brother George, nine. As we speak, the two boys take turns throwing darts. All three are fit to burst with pride at Littler’s success.

Jack started playing with a magnetic board during the pandemic. Under the tuition of Karl, he has gone from an average of 30 to around 70. (For the uninitiated, this is the average score achieved with three darts thrown.)

“He could be the next Luke Littler. I just need to encourage him to have a kebab every night,” Karl jokes.

But it’s exactly this notion that’s reinvigorating the world of darts – with Littler inspiring scores of young people to try the sport in the hopes that they could be the next player to take Ally Pally by storm.

Image source, Karl Holden

Image caption, Notable regulars at the St Helens Dart Shop include Luke Littler and the 2023 World Championship winner Michael Smith

So, how can these aspiring darts stars get started?

Karl reels off a list of instructions: “Just pick up a dart. Don’t buy boards from superstores – get a good quality bristle board and a surround in case they miss. Start at home. Get a cheap set of darts, around 25 grams. Just have a throw and enjoy yourselves.

“If they’re really good, then send them to a darts academy,” he adds in a note to parents.

Academies are the way forward

The Junior Darts Corporation (JDC) runs academies across the country, and around the world – with 26 in England alone. Players between the ages of eight and 18, of all abilities, are welcome to join.

“That’s the best way forward for young darts players”, says Sean Casey-Poole, director of operations at the JDC.

Sean, who also runs an academy in Coventry, tells me interest in darts has “gone through the roof like never before” following Littler’s unprecedented success, with 18 new members signed up for the first session of the new term next Tuesday.

It seems the world of darts is a small one. Sean managed the England team at the JDC World Cup in Gibraltar four weeks ago, which boasted Littler among its ranks.

Image source, Sean Casey-Poole

Image caption, The England team at the JDC World Cup in Gibraltar. Luke Littler stands on the far right and Jenson Walker third from the end. Sean Casey-Poole stands in the middle.

But it’s another member, Jenson Walker, that he puts me in touch with.

Like Jack Evans, the 17-year-old from Coventry started playing darts during the pandemic and joined Sean’s academy nearly three years ago.

Since then, he’s captained England’s B team in the JDC World Cup, made it to the JDC Development Tour final and the last 16 of the JDC International Open.

“Keeping it to small steps is probably the best advice I would give to a young darts player,” he says.

“Set yourself goals over a couple of months. My first aim was to get to a reasonable standard. Then it was winning games and competitions. Build it up little step by little step.”

Keep it simple

Like Sean and Karl, Jenson encourages keen young players to try their local darts academies.

“The good thing about the academies is whether you start at ground zero or at an advanced level, they will welcome you in.”

He’s also keen to temper any lofty expectations. “Everyone’s realistically going to have different levels of natural talent in the game. Don’t expect to improve at the rate Littler has – he’s a once in a generation talent.

Image source, Jenson Walker

Image caption, Jenson Walker, 17, started playing darts during the pandemic – and has gone on to play a number of national and international tournaments

“Just take it slow, enjoy the game, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. If you follow that advice you’ll be a very good darts player, in my opinion.”

Darts is a game greater than the sum of its parts. Honouring this simplicity, Jenson suggests, is what sorts the good players from the pros.

“The thing that makes Littler so good is he keeps the game so simple. And I think if, as a darts player, you can master keeping the game so simple, you’re going to go very far.”