Angus Darts Academy motivates children to aim high

Diversionary tactic...but Angus Darts Academy is now proving to be a training ground for young stars keen to follow in Alan Soutars successful footsteps.

Diversionary tactic...but Angus Darts Academy is now proving to be a training ground for young stars keen to follow in Alan Soutars successful footsteps.

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What started out as a club providing a diversion for Angus youngsters is now turning a new generation into top flight darts players.

What started out as a club providing a diversion for Angus youngsters is now turning a new generation into top flight darts players.

Founder of the Academy...Alan Soutar is one of the country's best darts players and is now inspiring a new generation of talented youngsters.

Founder of the Academy...Alan Soutar is one of the country's best darts players and is now inspiring a new generation of talented youngsters.

Since its establishment five years ago, the Angus Darts Academy has almost doubled its attendance and is now attracting players from across the county.

It is also fielding young players at at some of the sport’s top levels.

Aimed at youngsters aged from eight to 18, the academy meets on Thursday nights at the Cafe Project in Arbroath.

It is more successful than founder Alan Soutar first anticipated. A firefighter and former army commando, he has been playing for more than 20 years.

Alan is now one of the country’s top darts players and captains the Scotland team. At a local level, he is chairman and secretary of the Angus Darts Association.

And he regards the academy as teaching the youngsters more than just the principles of the game, including discipline and basic numeracy skills.

He said: “When we started in February 2012, we had 46 kids turn up when we’d expected about 10 and that first gave us the thought that it could be massive.

“Now we have around 85 kids coming every Thursday.

“Darts is all-inclusive and we have autistic kids, some with ADHD and others who maybe, in other sports, would be left until last.

“It doesn’t even matter if you can’t throw to start with, you can pick it up.”

The academy plays in eight different leagues every week with promotion, relegation, etc., so members are playing three, four or five times every Thursday.

Alan said: “We see all spectrums of huffiness and happiness!

“There are a lot of tears sometimes because they want to win all the time, although we ensure the kids are playing others at a similar level to themselves.

“We’re also starting to get successes at youth level now, which is very rewarding.

“And we have four out of the six members of the Scotland team – three from Arbroath and one from just outside Forfar.”

Nathan Girvan, from Craichie, is one rising star to watch out for in future.

Earlier this year the 14-year-old reached the final of the BDO World Championship at Lakeside, narrowly missing out to 16-year-old Justin Van Tergouw from the Netherlands.

Alan continued: “Nathan’s a star. We take the kids on tour around Scotland and last year he was number one in Scotland, which was outstanding given he was only 13 at the time.

“Everyone got excited and thought he was going to be a bit special. He qualified for the World Championship this year but lost at the televised final.

“Kids from all over the world were there and Nathan cleaned out all of them on the way to the final, including the Dutch and the English who are considered to be rated above the Scots.

“He’s brilliant as he never misses meetings, will practice, put in the time and travel. There’s more to come.

“We also have two others in the Scotland team so we’re able to start calling ourselves a centre for excellence.

“The youngsters are playing and beating each other all the time – it’s great to see they’re not focused on Xboxes or smartphones!”

As well as playing for Scotland, the academy’s four rising stars also play for Angus on the men’s team, with Nathan on the A team.

“We have two Scotland internationals and Nathan’s one of 12 among the high ranking players,” said Alan.

“He’s doing exceptionally well and will probably be one to watch, although there are three or four snapping at his heels and we currently have seven players in the top 10.”

Televised coverage has had a positive spin-off for the academy, as several companies have approached Alan regarding sponsorship.

Alan’s association with the game is also an attraction and he added to his accolades in 2013 when he was voted by the Scottish public as Scotland’s Sports Volunteer of the Year in STV series Scotland’s Real Heroes.

After receiving start-up support from Angus Council and NHS Tayside, the academy is now virtually self-sustaining. The youngsters pay £1 per week to attend and larger fundraisers are held as and when required.

Alan added: “We are quite self-sufficient. We’re just about to buy 20 inch smart tablets which we’ll be able to use for scoring so everything can be properly recorded.”

The academy welcomes youngsters of all abilities. Visit www.facebook.com/Angus-Darts-Academy-216077785142150.

The mathematical equation

Alan Soutar is in no doubt that the darts academy has a positive effect on its members.

The basic discipline of attending, practicing and competing along with improvements in their numeracy skills are all clearly evident to see.

Alan said: “With the eight to 10 year olds it can sometimes be a bit embarrassing how bad their counting is so we usually have eight adult coaches who mark the boards.

“The kids only start learning when they’re 11 or 12 and when they go on to the seniors they score themselves.

“We’ve worked with Arbroath Academy and gone up to give first to third years taster sessions. A maths teacher also visited us and said it was clear that the children who go to the darts academy are better at maths compared to those who don’t. It’s a massive part of it.”

The sport, which is relatively cheap to take up compared to other activities, is also ideal as a diversionary activity for bored youngsters.

Alan added: “I’m in the fire brigade, based in Dundee, and we see what can only be called mindless vandalism. It’s crazy.

“It’s not unusual for youngsters to set things on fire. We get called out and they attack the crews when they show up. You just think ‘there has to be a different way’.

“Because of where I am in Scottish and world darts I can get companies on board to support us. Angus Council gave us a £5000 grant when we started, as we had nothing, and that got us on the road.

“We got another grant from the NHS, which has an alcohol and drug diversion programme supporting diversionary activities. That provided darts stands which were made by a local blacksmith and are probably the best in Scotland.

“We set a standard that’s pretty high and it’s a good thing to be like that, I think.”