Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Sports Psychologist Decodes Training to be a Winner


Last updated 6/23/2015 at 4:09pm

Beck: How long have you been doing cartoons?

Miller: This is my 10th year as a cartoonist for the Borrego Sun. I also cartooned for my high school annual and university newspaper.

Beck: What other types of artistic things do you do?

Miller: I had my paintings in the last show at the Borrego Art Institute. I've been painting on and off for years and had a lot of shows in Canada and here. I even sold a couple of paintings to the museum of civilization in Ottawa.

Beck: Are you self taught or have you taken art classes?

Miller: I've studied at different times with different people but I'm mostly self taught. My work is very whimsical; cartoonesque.

Beck: You write books as well...

Miller: Yes. I've written eight books. The most recent is 'Performing Under Pressure.' Just today, I sent my manuscript for a second edition of 'Hockey Tough,' which is my most successful book so far. It's about the mental game of hockey; sports psychology.

Beck: Which is your favorite one?

Miller: I think the most recent, 'Performing Under Pressure: Gaining the Mental Edge in Business and Sport.'

Beck: Where can your books be found?

Miller:, Inc. In Canada it would be Chapters. Also, Barnes and Noble.

Beck: Who is your audience?

Miller: I had one NFL quarterback who'd read 'Performing Under Pressure,' got in touch and we ended up working together. I've also had business people from China contact me, and then there's just regular people. I would say I'm a performance psychologist. I help people perform at their best. The major issues people have are focus, emotional control and preparation. There's things we can work with on attitude as well."

Miller is best known for working with sports teams in the NFL, NBA, PGA golfers and Olympians from Canada, U.S. and Europe in over a dozen sports. Business people have also become interested in how to be more effective, so he's done corporate work with management teams and sales groups as well.

Miller: There's a lot of diversity in what I do, which I like, and then there's the painting and writing which I really like. Then of course there is being the cartoonist for the Borrego Sun. It's fun to come up with something that's amusing and entertaining, but we have some very real issues here too that I think have to be addressed. Most notable to me is the water issue. For some time, there's been an awareness that the aquifer is shrinking. While there's been a lot of discussion and analysis, the aquifer continues to shrink. The major users - the farmers and golf courses - continue to be the major drain. Let's face it, we have Drought here in California and it's quite severe. Our aquifer is really what sustains us and it's amazing to me that a lot of people don't fully get that.

Beck: You're in a unique position to be able to put an image out there to convey your impressions on a subject.

Miller: I think a good cartoon is just that. You don't want to be pounding people over the head with something. That just creates resistance, but sometimes things have to be said.

Beck: Are you an actual psychologist?

Miller: I have a PhD in clinical psychology.

Beck: What made you want to go in the particular direction of sports psychology?

Miller: I was an associate professor at Mississippi State (University) and the clinical director of the counseling center. It was a mixture of teaching and counseling and the tennis coach came in wanting me to work with his team. I did, and we ended up with great results. Then it became the golf team, the baseball team etc. When I left Mississippi State and moved to Vancouver and Canada I began with the baseball team, then football and hockey, and again we got good results. Then we moved down to L.A. And it continued with the Rams, the NHL, major league baseball working with the Dodgers - and it just kept spreading. If you can help these guys perform under intense pressure, then they're interested. It's a lot of fun to do this work.

Beck: Can you give us a hint about winning?

Miller: The actual definition of winning is to gain through struggle. For most of us to realize our goals - if the goals are challenging and meaningful - it's a bit of a struggle to get there. We have to work with our focus and learn to manage our emotions. We need to manage stress and develop an attitude that helps us deal with what's coming down in a constructive way. How you talk to yourself is important; being conscious of what you say. When we say negative things to ourselves we hold our breath and tense up. The first step to managing yourself better is awareness, and then if you have the motivation, it's learning skills like the self-talk and conscious breathing. Exercise is a wonderful balancer. Walk around the block in the morning or at sunset, swim, do yoga ... do something. It's an important part of maintaining balance. We're fortunate here. I've been in a lot of cities lately and it's so much easier to balance here than in a busy city.

Beck: You can be alone when you're out walking here.

Miller: Just last night I started sleeping outside and it's wonderful. So quiet. That's balancing. That's healing. That's connecting. It's when we get disconnected that we create more problems."

Miller and his wife, Laara Maxwell, came to Borrego Springs in 1976 and settled long enough to have their son here, who was born at home and delivered by Saul. These days, they reside in Vancouver most of the time and spend a number of months wintering in Borrego Springs.

Beck: What's coming up for you next?

Miller: I work with teams all over North America and Europe. I was just invited to speak at the hockey championship in Prague in May. I do a lot of work here on Skype. My next client is a female weight-lifter getting ready for the Pan-American games. She's in Vancouver.

Beck: Do you ever do regular therapy ... I mean for average people?

Miller: I have a few regular clients but usually there is something specific we're working towards. As I said, we're all performers in life.

Beck: I see what you mean. We can apply your winning methods to any area.

Miller: And if you approach things in your life with the right attitude, the right focus, with the right feeling, you're going to perform better and feel better.

Beck: Right feeling? How does this work?

Miller: I have a conscious-breathing process. Regardless of what's going on, people can get into the now and create good feeling. The reality is, what upsets us is the past or the imagined future. What can you do to get back to the present? Breathing is a key. It's only this breath. The more I can do that, the more energy is flowing to and through me so I can create a better feeling which helps me see things with a better perspective, which helps me feel better and perform better.

Beck: Sometimes when people feel anxious, they are thinking, "This is just like ... " So yeah, they are coloring what is actually happening now with something from the past.

Miller: I do it myself. You're exactly right. If you have to perform ... if you're writing a piece, you're speaking to a group, cooking dinner for a group of friends ... whatever it is ... It's like one starts to worry about how it's going to be in the future or thinking about something that happened in the past and starting to get upset about it. No! Get into the now. The power is in the present. That's where it's at. So, this requires some discipline.

Beck: I guess you'd need to learn to overcome your automatic responses once you'd developed a habit.

Miller: People tend to do, under pressure, what they have previously done under pressure - unless they over-train themselves in a more relaxed moment. So if I get into a pressure situation I'm probably going to resort back to the same old habits, as you're saying. But if I take time away from the pressure to do the meditation, to do the breathing, to talk positively to myself, I build up enough habit strength so when I get into the pressure situation, I have a better way to handle it.

Beck: Would you recommend when people are feeling like they're losing control - they should avoid dealing with what's happening in that moment and step away - come back later when they're feeling less stress?

Miller: No. I think they need to deal with where they're at. However, if performing well is meaningful to them, then they have to take time away from it to work on it. Then when they're in that situation again, they can do it with more grace and effectiveness. A simple metaphor is if someone wants to run a half-marathon. They go out and start running and get short of breath. They still need to deal with where they are, so they pace themselves, but if they want to do this properly, they do the training away from the marathon. People are very busy and don't want to take the time, that's why I like to work with people where there's a sense of working towards some goal. If someone really wants to improve, I'd ask 'how would we see that happening?' Then we'd have a direction to move towards.

Beck: So you really don't improve much unless you have a specific goal?

Miller: As you get into a calmer inner-state your feeling improves. If people can get into their good feelings, the quality of their visualizations improve. Then what they begin to see, they can manifest. These things go together. We want to work with our feelings to improve our perspective.

Beck: You sound like a good trainer.

Miller: I've been doing this for a long time. I was just doing a bio for this second edition of my book and realized I really began this back in the late '70s ... so, I've been doing this 35-40 years.

Beck: Are you like a motivational speaker?

Miller: There's a motivational component. If we put our minds to something,who knows what's possible? It's right feeling, right focus, right attitude. Part of attitude is motivation. What can we create? Everybody wants to be part of something special- 'we make the best product, we have the most social consciousness, we have the winning team.' Nobody wants to be part of something that's not good.

Beck: Do you need to believe in what you're doing to be successful?

Miller: I think if you believe in what you're doing, you're going to be much more successful. I ran a clinic for six years and the former owner was a guy who always promised the staff bonuses. You hit a certain target and you get bonuses. I came in and said 'we're going to give bonuses.' It was like, 'oh yeah, we've heard that before.' We set some targets and we did very well but we just missed. They all got bonuses. Right away, they knew this is a new game. You've got to give a sense of what's possible.

Beck: So, did you raise your child this way?

Miller: I don't know ... he's a very special guy. He was a vegetarian growing up ... and I was really into sports so he was really good at sports. At one point someone asked him if it was hard being a vegetarian and a pitcher. He said, 'No. It was hard having two parents that are psychologists.'

Beck: I can imagine. (laughing) Have you always been a vegetarian?

Miller: No, but I've been a vegetarian for forty-five or fifty years. It makes me feel better. We're big on organic. Diet is a huge factor in wellness. There's so many chemicals sprayed on the food that it really makes sense to go in this direction.

Beck: Even if you eat meat.

Miller: No question. The meat is loaded with hormones and antibiotics.

Beck: It's strange they let this happen to our food.

Miller: It's not strange at all. Everything is driven by the dollar. You can raise a steer and pump him up with hormones to make him grow bigger and faster.

Beck: It's sad that is money, not what's doing the right thing is the motivation.

Miller: It is what it is. I drive by all these feed lots on my way to Canada ... and they just cram these animals together so they have to give them antibiotics.

Beck: Like they do to the chickens.

Miller: Yeah. It's unbelievable. If I was to eat a chicken, I'd want it to be one that got to run around.

Beck: Yeah. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Saul.

Miller believes in the value of what he's doing and he sees it making a difference. Best of all worlds, he has fun doing it. That's the winning attitude for success. Darn, I forgot to ask if his cartoon Bunny is his alter-ego.

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