And Reilly’s paper has one major conclusion – what pushes military members at the end of the day through long, grueling stretches isn’t a love of country or a strong leader. It’s small-unit cohesion.
“The strongest motivation for enduring combat, especially for U.S. soldiers, is the bond formed among members of a squad or platoon,” Reilly wrote. “The cohesion is the single most important sustaining and motivating force for combat soldiers. Simply put, soldiers fight because of other members of their small unit.”
With that in mind, Braxton Miller was OK with putting his life on the line this summer with position coach Tom Herman and his fellow quarterbacks.
On a zip line zooming 35 mph over the central Ohio wilderness.
OK, it’s a stretch to compare military combat to a team-building activity, but that didn’t lessen the fear Miller had when he was first told of Herman’s plans.
“I didn’t like that, man,” said Miller, who is afraid of heights. “I was like, ‘Coach, really?’ ”
The Ohio State quarterback went through with it though – “I wasn’t about to be a party pooper,” he told BSB – and ended up enjoying the outing, perhaps one of the things in mind as head coach Urban Meyer made the directive that his position coaches, aka unit leaders, dedicate themselves to doing summertime activities with their charges.
Much of Ohio State’s offseason has been spent figuring out ways to build a culture, grow leadership and build bonds between players, and such activities were exactly what Meyer had in mind to continue that process.
“The best form of motivation and accountability is through units,” Meyer said. “It’s a military model that I’ve used for a long time, but now it’s been backed up in the research and data that the greatest form of motivation is for a small unit to get very close and play for each other. It’s hard for a team when you’re dealing with 100 players, so each unit is held accountable and it’s called the power of the unit. You’ll see that all over throughout the facility.”
So far, it appears the approach is working. Senior defensive tackle Michael Bennett said the Buckeyes have the closest team he’s seen in his time at Ohio State, a fairly boilerplate thing you hear at media days across the country except for the fact that it’s coming from one of the more open and thoughtful players in college football.
“The more stuff you do together, the more of an understanding of everyone’s personality that you get,” Bennett said. “When you’re around guys more, you can spend more time with them and they start being more comfortable with you and trusting you more because they know you better, so when you’re on the field stuff flows more smoothly. I know how Joey (Bosa) is going to react or I know how Noah (Spence) is going to react to this situation and I can be ready to help them through it.”
The team-building exercises also provided a fair bit of fun, too. While the quarterbacks strapped themselves in and got a sky-high tour of the Columbus area, the defensive linemen had a dinner at new coach Larry Johnson’s house and also went to the Magic Mountain Fun Center for a full day of putt-putt, go-karts and arcade games.
“I know some of them (went karting) and they loved it,” Bennett said. “I heard they almost got kicked out because they were doing stupid stuff on go-karts, but that’s the risk you can with D-linemen.”
Perhaps no unit-building activity drew more interest this summer, though, than the trip the tight ends and position coach Tim Hinton took to Alum Creek. There, the 33-year veteran of the coaching profession impressed his charges with his waterskiing abilities.
“I was pretty blown away,” said tight end Jeff Heuerman, who posted a photo on Twitter afterward. “He always talked about it, and I was like, ‘Whatever dude, yeah,’ and then we go out there and he did it. He slalom-skied on one ski and he did the surfing thing. I was impressed.”
Heuerman added that the tight ends also did some charity work for the Little Hercules Foundation and a few other activities, something that helped a small unit get even closer.
Whether it will help to win games remains to be seen, but the Buckeyes are already seeing the benefits of Meyer’s plan.
“It’s fun to do stuff together,” Heuerman said. “Sometimes as a unit and as a team you’re always at the facility, you’re always doing football. Sometimes those extracurricular activities allow you to grow closer like those football activities don’t allow you to do.”