Inside the darts academies producing the next Luke Littlers as kids flock to the sport after rise of teen sensation


LUKE LITTLER may have burst onto the scene just last year but his impact on the darts world is already being felt.

With the Warrington teen crowned Premier League of Darts champion in May, a flood of youngsters are now trying to follow in his footsteps.

Kids are dreaming of becoming the next Luke Littler

Some aren’t even tall enough to reach the darts board without assistance, but their ambition couldn’t be higher

The girls look up to Fallon Sherrock

Forget being the next superstar footballer, kids now want to be the next Luke Littler.

But just a month before his now legendary Worlds final run, Littler was still dominating Junior Darts Corporation events – winning the Junior Darts Open in November.

The JDC is the youth level of Darts, specifically for 16-years-old and under, and forms the main pipeline for promising, young talent to propel themselves into pro-Darts.

There are now over 50 JDC academies across the country – and the Littler effect means business is booming.

Craig Neale, 43, founded one of these academies, MK Sharks Darts, back in 2016 and reopened after Covid in Bletchley.

He employs nine coaches, two of whom are former academy products – known as ‘Sharks’ – themselves.

On the effect that Litter has had on the popularity of Darts, he said: “Before Luke Littler, we had 30 Sharks.

“But the Luke thing was crazy, we got 20 new ones joined from that. We now have 50 and a waiting list of 13 children.

“It was crazy. My phone was ringing to the point where I ended up getting a second SIM card to put into my phone.

“All just so I could turn it off as people were phoning that number up so much just after work.”

“What Luke has done for the game is amazing and he came through the same JDC system that the kids at the academy are now a part of.”

Neale’s academy is run by trained volunteer coaches and provides children with a safe environment to learn how to play Darts – while also providing them with the chance to compete in JDC tours through a handicap system.

He added: “It gives that younger person the chance to be able to win. It’s very heavily against the better players, the handicapped system. It’s just the way the system is.

“But it does work. It gives everyone a fair crack at the whip.

“We’ve got 14-year-old Jack Marshall, he’s just won two JDC advanced tours a couple of weekends ago, which is what Luke was doing.

“He’s essentially semi-pro, I guess you could say. He doesn’t get paid for it. He gets equipment and everything, but you could call it. He’s on that (professional) path.”

Inside Littler’s massive rise

LUKE LITTLER has taken the darts world by storm since exploding onto the scene at the PDC World Championship.

The Nuke reached the final on his Ally Pally debut at just 16 years of age – smashing records along the way.

He has since joined Jude Bellingham on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe list.

And the teenage titan even had to snub an invite from the WWE.

The Sun exclusively revealed that Littler is plotting to create a fitness empire.

He is also cashing in away from the Oche thanks to an Instagram side hustle.

And he’s even the face of a brand new cereal.

The wonderkid has now cemented his place among the tungsten elite by winning the Premier League Darts final – and the £275k top prize.

Check out all of our latest Luke Littler stories.

Alan Rumsey, chairman of the club for 16 years, added: “The Luke Littler thing has had a big effect.

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“Before it wasn’t cost-effective (to run the club) but now? It’s been great for darts, loads more youngsters getting interested in darts.”

And one of his former Sharks, Josh Bean, is following in much the same footsteps as the 17-year-old Littler.

He started playing at the age of 12 and follows a rich family tradition as both his mother and his late grandmother played amateur darts.

The latter – who passed away in 2018 – captained a team called ‘June’s Angels’ which all three Beans played for.

And Josh, having aged out from the JDC track, now plays in the PDC development tour which is for 16 to 23-year-olds – and is aiming to bag a pro tour card in the near future.

Watch and learn

The 18-year-old, who goes by ‘The Bean Machine’, said: “You need to have that experience of playing better players because that’s the only way you’re going to get better.

“So I do that one weekend a month and some weekends I get to the last 64, some I get to the last 32.

“I think by the beginning of next year, I want to put the effort in and work hard and go to Q-School.

“That’s a qualifying event where you can get a tour card to play in the big events for the PDC.”

Asked about his ranking, Bean joked: “I genuinely don’t even know, I don’t even look at that!”

As a way of developing his skills by watching and learning from the best, Bean also chalks and calls for ranking PDC events.

He added: “I watch the pros and get better in myself because I watch how they stand, how they throw, and then I just adapt myself to how they do it. My favourite player is Gerwyn Price, I want to play like him.”

Keep it in the family

Hoping to join him in the big leagues is fellow 18-year-old Ryan Walsh – who has professional darts players in his family.

‘Walshy’, who only took up darts two years ago, said: “My grandad, Mark Walsh, made me get into darts actually – he used to be No 6 in the world.

“I took his nickname actually, Walshy. I got permission to take that so I nicked that off him.

“He is very proud of me and he just gives me advice sometimes when I need it.

“I take it on board and that’s what I’m trying to excel my game with. I just need to put more hours in on the practice board and hopefully, it can start to improve.”

On his plans for his pro darts career, he added: “I’m not going to Q-school until the year after next.

“I want to make sure my level of the game is up there so I can actually get a tour card early.

“I’ll do that by honing my skills in the PDC development tour. Playing tournaments with guys around my age, each one about 258 guys.”

Both Bean and Walsh began their journeys as humble ‘Sharks’ at the academy they now coach at.

As much as Littler is all rage for these children, they also look up to these two aspiring darters.

Josh, 8, who goes by ‘The Imposter’, thinks he can “absolutely be the next Luke Littler” – a sentiment shared by many of these young hopefuls.

And teen whizkid Littler is not the only pro the girls are fans of. For these future arrow women, Fallon Sherrock – the first woman to win i match at the PDC World Championships – is the role model they look up to.

Amelia A, known as ‘Queen Bee’, enthused: “I really like Fallon Sherrock, I like that it’s not just all boys.

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“I would say I’m inspired by her because she plays against the men and she’s a girl like me.”

And Amelia K – or ‘Harley Quinn’ – added: ”Because of her, I’m going to try to get into the men’s AND the women’s team when I’m older.”

The Littler – and Sherrock – effect is not only real but is driving young people towards darts.

So if you are searching for the next big thing in the sport, it is a pretty safe bet that they are currently flinging tungsten arrows at a board in a JDC academy near you.

GettyThe rise of Luke Littler has sparked the huge surge in interest[/caption]

‘The Sharks’ have swelled thanks to the rise of Littler

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