He combines both the business and organizational aspects of being Professor and Chair of the Business Administration Department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in Beer-Sheva, Israel; and also the Nat Holman Chair in Sports Research, at the school’s Faculty of Business and Management.
Bar-Eli is a genial guide through mastering the psychological aspects of work, based on his own research, and that of his past and present students, colleagues and other academics. Although the focus is on how this research (and also his experience in the classroom and his role as a sports psychologist) can aid you in the workplace, that represents only part of the appeal of the book. He writes in a vibrant, lively style, and you can easily imagine having a beer or strong cups of coffee with him, as he relates stories about working with elite Israeli athletes in several different sports (basketball in particular), as well as the Israel Defense Forces/IDF, where he held such roles as chief psychologist of the Artillery Corps.
His energy is all the more impressive given that he has been battling Parkinson’s disease in recent years, which he says is a major reason he decided to write this book. Periodically he writes about how he deals with the daily effects of the disease, managing it while aware that it will only get worse. Along with his various exercises, one of Bar-Eli’s strategies is goal setting, which is a major theme of the book. As he writes after relating a personal anecdote about his IDF basic training in 1971, “Simply put, human performance isn’t always about strength or ability – sometimes all that is necessary is the motivation to reach a clearly defined goal.”
Each chapter ends with a summary, as well as bullet points of “daily practices” as an individual, or as a leader. For instance, in one of the chapters on mental preparation, he advises individuals to “develop a routine that utilizes vivid, controlled visualization techniques every day.” For leaders: “Whether using an internal or external perspective, make sure the events, actions, and successes you visualize have a positive focus.”
Although these practices are aimed at people in the organizational world, my sense is that athletes will find a considerable amount of useful information, given the many sports stories, anecdotes, and personal reflections; in addition to the academic research. Bar-Eli became known to a wider audience when The New York Times Magazine chose a 2007 research article written by him and several coauthors, “Action bias among elite soccer goalkeepers: The case of penalty kicks,” in the Journal of Economic Psychology, as one of the most innovative research breakthroughs of 2008. In the book’s introduction, he relates that he realized the findings on penalty kicks and other sports-related research he had been conducting for years had broader implications, and were “truly about human performance overall.” Bar-Eli has also written about some of these themes in a recent series of blog posts for Psychology Today.
A major takeaway of the book is that sometimes you have to act quickly, sometimes more slowly, and sometimes not at all. Developing the inner wisdom to distinguish the difference is a life’s work. Bar-Eli’s life has helped illuminate it for his readers, inside and outside the worlds of sports, business and organizations.
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