Staying in the sweet spot: how elite level golfers engage in, structure, and experience practice throughout extended careers
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The path to expertise has been quantified on several occasions (Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Römer, 1993; Ericsson 2001; Ericsson and Charness, 1994; Ericsson 2008) as well as explored through qualitative retrospective methods (Bloom 1985; Kreiner, Phillips, and Orlick 1993; Hayman et. al. 2014). However, little research has investigated the experience of elite performers as they attempt to maximize their performance over time. The purpose of this study was to examine how elite golfers think about, structure, and experience practice intended to maximize performance throughout a long career. The researcher utilized a phenomenological approach to explore the lived experience of five PGA Tour players as they reflected on their practice experience thus far. The central themes found were: a) tailoring practice, b) achieving balance, c) staying engaged, d) being proactive. The core thematic findings spring from two results: 1. The most effective practice for elite golfers are highly individualized, and 2. effective practice for these players is reached when they proactively tailor their approach to pursue appropriate balance and achieve consistent engagement. These findings may benefit golfers, golf coaches, and applied sport psychology practitioners. Theoretical implications and possibilities for future research are discussed.