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Men are 'better at throwing sports due to concentration skills' - MDX academic and ex-darts pro

Linda Duffy, an Associate Professor in Sports Psychology, was the number one ranked women's dart player in the world for five years running

Linda Duffy

Men are often better than women at throwing sports because they are more skilled at concentrating on individual tasks, according to a former world number one darts player turned psychologist.

Linda Duffy (formerly Batten) said her research shows the stereotype about how men are better at single jobs rather than multitasking is true to a degree.

After retiring from top level darts in 1987, she has enjoyed a successful career in academia at Middlesex University which included investigating gender differences in target throwing for her PhD thesis.

"Very soon I became the best player in the pub, which completely blew everyone’s mind that a woman – or should I say girl back then – could actually beat all these men who were pretty accomplished darts players," Linda Duffy, Associate Professor in Sports Psychology.

“I always used to wonder how men were better than women at darts because on the face of it, why would men be any better than women, it’s just throwing a little piece of metal against a target?” said Prof Duffy, an Associate Professor in Sports Psychology.

“And of course, when I did my PhD that was one of the questions I wanted to answer and when you investigate further, there are oddly enough gender differences in throwing which I was very interested to discover.

“Starting from a very young age, whether it is under or over arm throwing, or throwing for velocity, the boys are always better than girls across the age span until you get to older adulthood when your muscles and bone structure has changed.

“So, then you do start to see women get better than men in certain throwing tasks but that’s normally because of injuries or illness.

“In healthy adults, from children all the way through to mid to late adulthood, men and boys are always better than girls at throwing.

“It doesn’t matter what task you give them, there’s just something and some reason and not just with darts, but balls and beanbags, throwing at a target in whatever way, the boys are always better.

“I still haven’t got to the bottom of exactly why this is, there’s possible reasons in brain structure and other psychological concepts related to field-independence and field-dependence that may come into play.

“It may be where people say anecdotally ‘women can pay attention to ten things at once, where men can only focus on one thing’ which is a joke, because it’s not true for everyone, but I do believe there’s some truth when you are looking at sports which require real focus and concentration such as darts, chess, bowls and archery.

“I think men manage to block out a lot of the white noise, if you like, and focus on what they need to do a lot easier than women. That makes them better.

“That’s not to say a woman can’t beat a man, I’ve beaten loads, but when you look at the top of these sports the best men are always going to be better than the best women.”

Linda Duffy

Prof Duffy is currently researching ‘dartitis’ where players have a mental block which prevents them from physically releasing the dart and she says mindset plays a crucial role in darts.

“Psychology is a big part of darts because between the top players there’s not an awful lot of difference in regards to their skill set and actually throwing the dart and hitting the target,” added Prof Duffy.

“There’s very little difference across the top 16 players in the world, but the one that wins the most tournaments is the one who has prepared mentally and is up for the battle, and that’s usually only a few people.”

When Prof Duffy first started playing darts in the late 70s in pubs around Enfield where she grew up, she faced opposition and was even banned from venues and competitions.

Among her honours, Prof Duffy became a World’s Darts Champion, held the number one rank between 1982 and 1987 and made 168 appearances for the London county team.

Along with Maureen Flowers, Prof Duffy blazed a trail for women in the sport and successfully campaigned to ensure women could play in World Darts Federation and British Darts Organisation events including the World and European Championships.

Her brother and father shared her passion for darts and her career began with the Windmill pub team in Enfield, where she was later spotted and recruited to the newly formed London women’s county team in 1976.

Linda Duffy

Prof Duffy said: “The Windmill was quite a good place for darts, and they had a very good men’s team, and I started playing amongst the men and beating them, and very soon I became the best player in the pub, which completely blew everyone’s mind that a woman – or should I say girl back then – could actually beat all these men who were pretty accomplished darts players.

“The walls that came up when I tried to play darts, it was ridiculous.

“Not allowed, barred from pubs and darts leagues. The Windmill darts team couldn’t join the league because I was playing for them, so it was awful, really bad.

“To be fair, the Windmill kept on protesting and in the end the Enfield and District league and Lee Valley Super League decided to bring a rule which meant the team could have one woman signed up for them to play.

“Before then, there were no rules to say women couldn’t play but it was just a given that teams were made up of men. So as soon as a team came out with a woman there was uproar and rulebooks came out, which was crazy.

“I turned up at clubs before and was not allowed in the bar where the dart room is. That happened loads of times, including an exhibition match where they had to get the committee to change the rules just to let into the room.

“And of course, the better I got, the more opposition I faced.”

After getting married and having two children, Prof Duffy decided to retire from professional darts in 1987 but continued to play at county level for another decade and remains a consultant for the Professional Darts Players Association.

Despite having no qualifications after leaving school aged 15, she has forged a successful career at Middlesex University, which used to have campuses in Enfield and nearby Trent Park, where she gained in a degree in Psychology in 1997.

Since then Prof Duffy has taught at Middlesex University and carried out extensive research around elite performance sports.

She is currently developing an MSc Sport and Exercise Psychology programme and an online darts coaching course with her colleagues at MDX’s London Sport Institute. Thankfully, she said the world of darts is now a lot more welcoming for women.

“It was difficult for women back in the early days because it was a very masculine event, going into public bars and clubs and the majority of people at tournaments would be men,” added Prof Duffy.

“It wasn’t an environment that was conducive for encouraging women to play darts, but that has changed for the better and women even have their own PDC (Professional Darts Corporation) tour now. It is completely different.”

Find out more about studying a Masters in Exercise and Sports Psychology at Middlesex University.

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