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Virginia Tech Coach Tries to Inspire Troops

By Gary Sheftick
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 23, 2009 – Over the next couple of weeks, units in Afghanistan and Iraq will receive team-dynamics DVDs featuring Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer.

The shipment is being timed to coincide with college football bowl games for impact,

said Col. Richard Todd Dombroski, who spearheads the project.

The video is the first of a planned series that will be sent to troops overseas as part of a larger, though informal, partnership between the military and college football teams, Dombroski said. He outlined a growing relationship with schools such as Dartmouth, the University of Washington and Georgia Tech that includes testing helmet sensors, balance sensors and sharing other information on concussions.

Dombroski serves as surgeon for the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, known in military circles as JIEDDO, and serves as a consult surgeon to Army Operations, G3, and the Rapid Equipping Force. As such, he said he is constantly searching for any edge that could help troops survive IED explosions.

Along with better helmets, armor and equipment, intangibles such as resilience and team spirit could help give troops an edge, he said. That's where the videotapes featuring NCAA coaches like Beamer come in.

JIEDDO director Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz opens the first 5-minute video and introduces Beamer.

"Although we have deployed many sensors to defeat IEDs, the best sensor is still you - the alert, focused and Army strong soldier," Metz tells soldiers in the video.

"Staying focused is hard work and similar to the task of an elite athlete," he continues. "This is why we have asked several NCAA coaches to discuss team dynamics and resilience with you."

Over the past 28 years as a college football head coach, Beamer has posted 24 winning seasons. He has led the Virginia Tech Hokies to bowl games for the past 16 consecutive years.

This year, with a record of 9-3, the Hokies go to the Chick-fil-A Bowl to play Tennessee on New Year’s Eve.

The secret to winning is not so much talent as it is a positive attitude and team spirit, Beamer tells the soldiers in the video.

For example, Beamer tells the story of a team he coached in 2003 that had exceptional talent, including several first-round draft picks. But the players just couldn't win the big games at the end of the season. Their chemistry just wasn't right, he said, explaining that some of the players didn't even like each other.

The following year, many of the players had less experience and talent, but because they believed in each other and forged team spirit, they went on to win the ACC championship.

"The chemistry of this whole thing is so important," Beamer says in the video.

Beamer also reveals a technique for establishing positive attitude. One coach recorded positive plays - like good blocks and tackles -- during game day and then played back the positive plays during the next practice.

"The team started thinking more positive," Beamer says in his message to troops, "and they started playing more positive."

The other two keys for winning that he shares with soldiers are:

- Take one task at a time. "Instead of let's go win a war, let's do what it takes daily, hourly."

- Be consistent in daily actions. Balance the highs and lows and keep steady.

Dombroski said he has plans to distribute messages from other NCAA coaches as well, but he's still coordinating the details.

"War's not a football game," Dombroski said, "but there are some similar issues." Those issues include team dynamics, plays, fast action and reaction on contact, he said.

The partnership between JIEDDO and Virginia Tech began because Dombroski knew the team doctor, Dr. Gunnar Brolinson. He also knows some of the doctors for other teams, and said that has opened up doors for sharing information and partnering.

"This is all gratis," Dombroski said, explaining that the informal partnerships involve no contracts or money exchanging hands. He said it's mostly a "patriotic" thing on the behalf of the football teams.

The partnership with NCAA teams also is a two-way street, Dombroski said.

For instance, the Army has shared with Virginia Tech the same balance plate used by West Point athletics. After an athlete takes a hard hit, he is placed on the plate to measure balance problems.

Team doctors and Army doctors have many meetings to exchange ideas and information throughout the year," Dombroski said.

(Gary Sheftick writes for the Army News Service.)

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