T

eam USA coach John Danowski is just three events into his tenure as a national team coach, and he’s already trying to establish the team culture that made him so successful at Duke and previously Hofstra and C.W. Post.

It’s built on a few simple principles: Be confident, stay loose and look out for your teammates.

"> Game Day with Team USA Coach John Danowski | USA Lacrosse Magazine

PHOTO BY SCOTT MCCALL

US Lacrosse Magazine went behind the scenes with Team USA coach John Danowski on Jan. 15 as he prepared for a matchup with Notre Dame at IMG Academy.

Game Day with Team USA Coach John Danowski


T

eam USA coach John Danowski is just three events into his tenure as a national team coach, and he’s already trying to establish the team culture that made him so successful at Duke and previously Hofstra and C.W. Post.

It’s built on a few simple principles: Be confident, stay loose and look out for your teammates.

That formula has helped cement Danowski’s legacy as one of the best coaches in the game. From winning three NCAA championships with the Blue Devils (2010, 2013, 2014) to getting the chance to lead Team USA into the 2018 FIL World Championship, Danowski has held to the same philosophies that he had some 20 years ago. 

“With all the experiences that he’s had and the success that he’s come across recently at the highest level of our sport, he’s still the John Danowski that I met in 1996,” said Team USA assistant and Marquette coach Joe Amplo, who played and coached with Danowski at Hofstra. “He’s still a great person. ... That has never changed. In some ways, he’s even more grounded than when he didn’t have this level of success.”

Can his coaching philosophies latch on with some of the world’s best players? If the Spring Premiere in Bradenton, Fla., was an indicator, Danowski is well on his way to building another power — this time on the world stage.

We went behind the scenes with Danowski on Jan. 15 as he prepared for Team USA’s matchup with Notre Dame at IMG Academy.


"With all the experiences that he’s had and the success that he’s come across recently at the highest level of our sport, he’s still the John Danowski that I met in 1996." — Marquette head coach and Team USA assistant Joe Amplo


6:45 a.m. (Champions Walk Apartments)

Time to wake up. Team USA has a youth clinic at 8:30.

Danowski and the team gets everything together, hops on the IMG Academy tram and travels 0.7 miles to the dining hall for breakfast. Danowski chows down on his go-to breakfast — Irish steel cut oatmeal with blueberries on top. 

“Oatmeal man,” he says. “Oatmeal every day.”

He walks the half-mile with the team over to Field No. 2 for the clinic.

8:30 a.m. (Football Field No. 2)

“Have fun with it. Enjoy the ride with them,” Danowski says.

With the Florida sun beating down on his neck, Danowski has gathered the parents of clinic-goers in a circle for a talk. As a parent of a lacrosse player himself — Team USA hopeful Matt Danowski — he wants to share his wisdom. This is a tactic he uses at Duke, transparency with parents.

Danowski talks to the group for nearly an hour, warning parents of the dangers of social media, alcohol abuse and one-sport specialization. He advises them to savor the time they have to watch their children play lacrosse.

"Once they stop playing, you have no friends,” he jokes.

Danowski walks out to a standing ovation and immediately greets his fellow coaches, including Amplo, Hofstra coach Seth Tierney and 2015 U.S. indoor coach Tony Resch.

“He must have said a thousand times how cool this experience is, and how ‘Gosh, I wish we could never leave,’” Amplo says later. “He was having so much fun and as a guy that looked up to him so much, I’m so happy for him that he gets to enjoy this experience.”

Danowski hands his whistle to Resch, who blows it to signal the end of the first half of the clinic. Team USA players take shifts instructing the kids. Half of them including —  Paul Rabil, Myles Jones and Rob Pannell — head back to the locker room. But not before Danowski thanks them.

Handshake. Pat on the back. Thank you. Repeat. 

For the next hour, Danowski stands in a circle with his coaching staff, tapping the helmets of boys switching drills and offering his support.

“Great job 27,” he tells one player with the number on his jersey.

10:45 a.m.  (IMG Academy Dining Hall)

Lunch time. Danowski thanks the children and parents for coming to the clinic and heads back toward the dining hall.

He usually tries to eat with as many different players as possible, so he can get to know each one. However, today is different. He has 45 minutes to eat and walk back to the locker room for pre-game activities.

Danowski grabs chicken, broccoli and potatoes and eats quickly with coaches and Team USA support staff. Then they walk back toward the IMG Academy Fieldhouse locker room. 

11:30 a.m.  (Fieldhouse Locker Room)

It doesn't take long for Danowski to make his presence known. He enters the Team USA locker room, with its IMG-emblazoned lockers, and jokingly helps short-stick defensive midfielder Dominique Alexander stretch by pushing him closer to the ground.

The clock counting down to game time reads 59:00. Under the “Home of the [IMG Academy] Ascenders” logo, Danowski picks up a black marker and starts transcribing the warm-up schedule, minute-by-minute. It starts with “12:15 p.m.- In Locker Room” and ends with “1:00 p.m. - GO USA.”

PHOTO BY MATT HAMILTON

Team USA coach John Danowski drafts a warm-up schedule on a whiteboard in the locker room of IMG Academy.








Danowski erases half the schedule with a blue towel and refines it until he's satisfied. Time for the guys to get ready.

Danowski stands in the far corner of the locker room while his players suit up, joking with his fellow coaches by demonstrating diamond push-ups on the floor.

After a few minutes, it's time to get serious. He looks over the roster — a veritable all-star squad of 30 players who hope to make an impression as part of the U.S. player pool in the march to 2018 — and tells the team to gather around for his pre-game speech.

“He’s all about creating a culture of selflessness, of team,” Matt Danowski says of his father and coach. “Guys who just make each other better. That’s what today is. You don’t have to worry about your turnovers and mistakes. Just play the next play and have good body language. Above all else, do it as a team.”

Team USA leaves the locker room for warm-ups, but the coaching staff lingers behind. They reminisice a bit about the Danowski-led Rutgers teams of the 1970s. He was an attackman there who set the single-season assists and single-game points records. Then he fixes his eyes on a poster hanging adjacent to the locker room exit.

“Hey, did you guys see this?” he asks, ushering his coaches over the the poster.

On the poster, written in white over a black background, is a poem: "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud. 
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul. 

“I’m always looking to steal from other coaches and teams,” he says. “I’m always looking for other types of motivation.”

Game time. Danowski leads his staff out the grey doors and onto the IMG Academy track.

“Great group of kids,” he says on his way out.




PHOTO BY SCOTT MCCALL

"Play hard. Play together. Have fun."


12:45 p.m. (IMG Academy Field)

Danowski greets friends in the stands before entering the field area, where the U.S. players warm up. He immediately walks toward the referees and event staff, who let him know that warm-ups were extended five minutes. A hiccup in the schedule.

“Alright then. Beautiful!” Danowski says, walking back to speak with his team.

Time for the final pep talk before Team USA hit the field. Danowski again touches on being a quality teammate.

“Play hard. Play together. Have fun.”

3 p.m. (IMG Academy Field)

Matt Danowski comes to the sideline after his final shift, with Team USA headed for a comfortable win over Notre Dame.

“Good job, brother,” he jokes, hugging his father.

The clock hits zero and Danowski brings the team in for a cheer complimentary of their opponent.

"Ra-ra, Notre Dame."

They form a line for post-game handshakes. Danowski moves to the back.

Handshake. Pat on the back. Great job. See you in a couple months. Repeat.

He chats with Irish coach Kevin Corrigan, his ACC rival at Duke, for a minute before walking back into the locker room.

3:15 p.m. (Field House Locker Room)

Players have less than 30 minutes to shower and hop onto the bus bound for the airport. Almost all of them are professional lacrosse players with full-time day jobs. (Faceoff man Trevor Baptiste is the only current collegian, a junior at Denver.) Danowski emphasizes how happy he is to have spent this time with them together.

“The weekend was spectacular in that you guys were so eager to want to do the right thing,” Danowski says. “I just felt a good vibe throughout the whole weekend.”

After talking with the team, Danowski moves around the locker room filled with equipment, thanking every single player personally.

Handshake. Pat on the back. Thank you. Repeat.

Minutes later, he's already mentally preparing to return for Duke’s preseason. He’ll be on a flight at 8 p.m., back in Durham around midnight and in his office by 9 a.m. the next day. It's a quick turnaround, but he would have it no other way.

“I’ve had the time of my life,” Danowski says.