Chris Gabrielli just completed his ninth season as the head coach at Providence College.
A Long Island native, he played and later coached at UMass, and spent six seasons on the coaching staff at Duke, in the aftermath of the 2006 scandal that drew nationwide attention and changed the trajectory of many careers. He helped the Blue Devils reach four final fours and win the NCAA title in 2010.
Gabrielli joined host Jack Piatelli on “New England Lacrosse Journal’s Chasing The Goal” to talk about lessons learned as a coach, what it takes to be a Division 1 player and what college lacrosse players absolutely need to have.
The full podcast can be accessed below.
Jack Piatelli: You were a multi-sport athlete in high school. Did you always know you wanted to play lacrosse in college?
Chris Gabrielli: Yeah. I grew up playing every sport under the sun but by high school the focus was lacrosse and football, which it was for most lacrosse guys in our town. Growing up in Farmingdale (on Long Island), you saw guys going off to play at places like Johns Hopkins and Syracuse and Loyola and Massachusetts and Hofstra and everywhere else. … It was on the radar of all of us growing up.
JP: What did you learn at Duke (2007-12) that made you the coach you are today?
CG: We were fortunate to coach incredible talent during that phase, but for me, the biggest takeaway … that was right after the Duke scandal stuff of 2006 and that program was very much in recovery mode in so many ways. I would say Coach (John) Danowski should eventually write a book on that. He was clearly the best person for the job at the time in terms of taking an educator’s approach, a healing approach, and the psychology of it all. The amount of strain and pressure and healing that was going on with those players, you really can’t describe it or understand it unless you’re in it. I was very much an outsider coming into that experience.
It was such a dramatic learning experience for me, The first couple years, and also throughout my time with Coach Danowski, he really helps you understand what’s going on with the player as a person. What are they thinking about and what are the obstacles beyond what’s going on on the field?
JP: What does it take to be a Division 1 athlete in your program?
CG: I’m a strong believer that there’s no experience that quite prepares a student-athlete for what it takes to be a Division 1 player. It’s kind of sink or swim early on; you just have to keep your head above water and almost just survive that first semester. Even though you’re not even in-season yet, it can be overwhelming.
And we remind our players that we’ve all been through it — you go through the doubts, and everybody’s really good, and everybody is stronger than me and faster than me, and the coaches are yelling at me and I’ve never been coached like this before, and school is really difficult … the only way to really prepare for it is to be a young man of high character and just be really, really humble. Because it will be humbling.
JP: For players wanting to play college lacrosse, what would you say to them?
CG: We try to be very honest about how difficult it is and how committed you must be, but then also how rewarding it is, for sure, and what a special experience it’s going to be. At the end of the day, we ask recruits to really self-reflect: Do you have this passion for the sport that is just unwavering? Do you wake up in the morning thinking about it, go to bed at night dreaming about it? Because there are going to be difficult days.
But if you love lacrosse, if it’s at the forefront of your mind all the time, and you love being part of a team — the camaraderie, being around the boys — and you’re truly, genuinely passionate about the sport, then you’re going to be fine. If you have those things you’re going to get through the tough times.