World Grand Prix 2020: Devon Petersen and Wayne Mardle on the art of coaching in darts

“Anybody can do it – it just takes time, dedication and [with a smile] obviously Wayne Mardle.”

Two years ago, Devon Petersen decided enough was enough. He no longer wanted to just be a player famous for his walk-on and a dance that got the Alexandra Palace crowd on its feet.

He embraces his status as a trailblazer for African darts, but he decided he wanted to do it as a title winner, not just a party starter, so he set about finding a way.

Finding a way to improve, a way to get better and a way to win a title.

  • Mardle’s matches not to miss
  • World Grand Prix 2020: Draw, results & schedule

Fast forward to October 2020 and he is now the first African winner on the PDC Tour after claiming his first PDC title with victory at the German Darts Championship last month.

Petersen is also up to a career-high 42 in the world, fired in his first competitive professional nine-dart finish, and will continue his World Grand Prix debut on Thursday night with a second-round meeting against world No 1 Michael van Gerwen – a man he beat not long ago.

A 6-0 win over MVG at the Summer Series is evidence of Petersen’s progression. He is also in the field for the traditional flurry of big TV tournaments at the end of the year – the Grand Slam of Darts, the European Championship and the Players Championship Finals.

So how did he do it?

“There’s a meme,” Petersen tells Sky Sports Darts over Zoom.

“I actually have it on my phone. The guy is juggling plates and the plates are all breaking every step, but he is making steps forward and what you are seeing now is a polished plate juggler. There have been so many steps and so broken plates to get here.”

Journey is an overused word in sport, in life, but it is fitting for Petersen who has been on one from the moment he started playing darts in Mitchells Plain in Cape Town to the moment he lifted his first trophy as a professional in Hildesheim a couple of weeks ago.

“It has been hard work all the way and it has just all come together but the big thing was lockdown, it gave me four months to work on my throw and that is time I wouldn’t have had if I had been playing on the Tour.

“Generally you practise for three days, then you are travelling on Thursday, maybe playing Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday you are able to get back on the practice board.

“That’s a cycle but lockdown gave me the time to break down every area of myself and focus on it specifically and polish it to a point where I’m shining now.”

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‘You have to correct the mind as well’

As Petersen says, things have picked up pace but rewind a little further and alongside a change in equipment and a recent introduction of meditation, a player-coach relationship was born.

There’s somebody who has been part of the ‘journey’ too and it’s Wayne Mardle. Not that the Sky Sports expert will take any of the credit. “All his hard work” was Mardle’s response on the Sunday night after the congratulatory tweets rolled in.

Mardle has long been seen as one of the most analytical minds in the sport. Breaking down throwing actions, release points and stances and players have been working with Hawaii 501 at his ‘School of Darts’ in Essex to make improvements.

Not everyone wants to go public, so the chance to talk to Mardle and Petersen about the relationship is a welcome one in a sport where coaching, or asking for help, is still seen as a bit of a weakness.

“What I’m always hearing is ‘I wanna get back to where I was’ but from Devon, I heard ‘I can get better, I want to get better, I know I can’,” says Mardle as he joins the Zoom call.

“Straight away, you’re dealing with a different mentality. Most pros that have come to me over the years, I’m not going to say they are on the way down, that’s incorrect, they are not playing as well as they were and some are panicking.

“To correct that, you have to correct the mind as well. I’m only a technical coach, I can help, I know techniques that work and I know what doesn’t work.

“Devon came with the attitude of ‘show me how I can improve’.”

And improve he has. Alongside the shiny German Darts Championship trophy that now sits on the Petersen mantlepiece are some pretty impressive numbers.

A quick call to the PDC’s official statistician confirms exactly that. Christopher Kempf compiles all the data from all the matches and the improvement is stark.

Two years ago between February and June, Petersen was averaging between 83 and 87 and first-round exits were commonplace. From February this year, Petersen’s monthly average is consistency around the 98 mark. There’s little deviation which speaks to a rock-solid action, and 100+ averages during the Summer and Autumn Series have rained down.

The 180s too are remarkable. Over the same timeframe, the number of 180s hit has gone from 0.15 to 0.4. It’s no surprise Petersen has strung together consistent performances and the signs were there before lockdown as well.

Quarter-finals and semi-finals now dot the timeline and a defeat to Gerwyn Price in one of the Autumn Series finals proved to be the final piece in the puzzle.

I executed against the player playing the best darts in the world at the time. He was unbeaten in 17 games so I know if I can do it there, I can do it when I need to.

Devon Petersen on a defining victory over Gerwyn Price

Devon Petersen has averaged 105.80 across his four matches (41 legs) against Gerwyn Price in Players Championship events.

‘You have to buy into it’

Mardle loves nothing more than getting technical on the throw of players. He relishes the opportunity of working with Petersen and the relationship is prospering. Mardle may not want to take much of the credit, but Petersen is unequivocal in the role he has played – but Mardle insists that’s down to Devon’s willingness.

“Dev is a bit like a sponge – he takes all the information in and filters it out because he just wants to get better but there were elements in his throw where one was not good for the other.

“He had all these moving parts that were down to one massive fault and that was the fact that he didn’t really have a backswing – the whole thing was jerking forward.

“If you have five movements, when you really only need one. Effectively, it’s putting a dart in your hand and just throwing, it doesn’t work quite like that but that is what you are trying to feel like you are doing.

“Movement causes other movement, and the head is going back, because it’s routine, the foot is coming off the ground because it’s routine, you are getting up on your tiptoes, all because it’s routine.”

As both Mardle and Petersen have alluded, things haven’t always been plain sailing, but there has been a key dynamic. Petersen has trusted Mardle to make him better and has committed to the cause and that’s all Mardle says he needs.

“Players come to me and expect to walk out better and it just doesn’t work like that – you need to practice, you have to buy into it.

“There were some points, and he knows it, where it kind of flatlined and it’s ‘Dev, you’re not doing it every dart, every throw.’

“Hardly any darts fall out anymore and that’s down to the way he throws, the equipment, everything he has got is now right for Devon and where I’ve got to stop him is that you can’t always improve.

“No-one forever, forever improves – it doesn’t work that way. He has got a winning game right now.”

Devon interrupts, with a smile “I feel like I can still improve a bit more though,” he says.

Interviews being as they are these days, it gives a window into the relationship as Mardle plays along, “See, this is what I am dealing with,” he laughs.

But Petersen is under no illusions about what’s been needed to just get going in the right direction.

Moving steadily up the rankings is just the start and there is more to be done. “As soon as I went to Wayne, we spoke about what was needed and I promised I would be 100 per cent committed not just to what Wayne says, but to the practice as well.

For some reason, it’s still seen as a weakness. Tiger Woods has chopped and changed throughout his whole career, he needs a coach. We’ve come to a point in darts, where Devon and the work we have done has made Devon one of the world’s best players.

Wayne Mardle on coaching

Petersen is a man with his sights set on the big prizes too. He’ll get the chance to enter some of the biggest events on the back of his excellent form. That will be a new challenge too as Petersen’s big-stage form hasn’t yielded much more than a single quarter-final appearance – at the UK Open five years ago.

“The players’ perception of Devon has changed now, and that’s massive,” says Mardle.

“Him saying a year ago, ‘I can be world champ’ would have had people saying you’ve won nothing, you’ve shown no winning form.

“That has gone and they know he can compete with the very best, when the very best are playing near their very best. Devon has changed too because he has won.”

When you love what you do with every inch of your being…. I know that feeling #learn #master #neverending #sport #darts https://t.co/NfqhxtaxFH

A couple of appearances in the last 16 at the World Championship have hinted at the promise and he is now relishing the chance to put his learnings, and his improvement into practice.

He’ll face Jose De Sousa in the Grand Prix first round on Tuesday night. Both men are making their debuts in the event.

Almost eight years on from meeting in the first round of the World Championship as a pair of regional qualifiers, the pair are a sign of how hard work can pay off. They are in the field on the back of some stellar showings and there is no letting up from Petersen.

“I feel there are still small elements of my game, that might incrementally push me up to consistent 103/105 average.

113. The highest aggregate first-9 average on a day of the Autumn Series by a finalist. @devon_petersen and @Gezzyprice in PC17/18, over the maximum no. of matches produced this level of sustained scoring 😲#Darts #DartsDatabase @reddragondarts @TRiNiDADinfo

📷@taylanningpix pic.twitter.com/KHo9SCtgQF

“One of Wayne’s key phrases is good enough, often enough. The elite players don’t make as many mistakes and when you need to throw a 140 under pressure to leave 60 or 40 when its 5-5, that’s when you tighten up because of a flaw in your throw.

“I have never feared who I play, the one thing I struggled with was taking the form here [points to the practice board] to the stage.

“I always had the belief in my game. That’s why I went to Wayne and now I think I’m preparing well, the other players now know I can win as well.

“The title win has been massive, but not just for me, it has a ripple effect in Africa. To be the only player to represent Africa is massive.

“All I want to do is inspire, kids and adults, currently playing, to do better. They know where I come from that isn’t lavish, darts is a layman’s sport and it takes time and dedication – and Wayne Mardle!”

Massive moment in HISTORY for darts in Africa 🎯 https://t.co/1JIqSWW0z4

As the interview finishes, both men are in high spirits, Mardle from The Hub that has honed Petersen’s improvements, Petersen with the practice board in view where he says he has fired the winning World Championship double on countless occasions.

As we prepare to end the meeting, we get a little window into the relationship. “Do you know what you’re doing, how you are starting?,” says Mardle just a few days out from the notoriously tricky ‘rhythm-ruiner’ that is the double-to-start Grand Prix.

“Yep,” says Devon before reeling off an approach that smacks of clarity, routine, practice and belief. It is perhaps the last of those that is most pertinent.

Petersen and Mardle have had belief in each other throughout the process and it’s working. Both men feel there is more to come and it will be interesting to see how it evolves as Petersen prepares for a run of TV tournaments that he has never had before.

Darts is back on to Sky Sports throughout October with the World Grand Prix and the Premier League Play-Offs. Follow us @SkySportsDarts to stay up to date with all the news.

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