The Catanzaros Are a Coaching Power Couple
By Rebecca Foster-Goodman
Catherine and Jim Catanzaro were living in North Carolina when they met on a blind date in October 2005. Four months after that first date, Jim was offered a coaching position at Lake Forest College and moved to Illinois. Cathy joined him. Sixteen years later, Catherine coaches the Lake Forest High School girls lacrosse and field hockey teams, while Jim is the athletic director for Lake Forest College as well as the head football coach.
Jim and Catherine Catanzaro Their achievements are impressive. Catherine's field hockey teams have captured a number of state championships. This past fall, Jim's football squad finished 10-0 in regular-season play before falling in the playoffs.
I recently spent time with Catherine and Jim and discovered their different approaches to coaching as well as how they keep a healthy balance between sports and raising their two children.
What strengths do you admire in your spouse as a coach?
Catherine: Jim is phenomenal at what he does. And because he is so good, I just sit back and watch him. Even though we coach different sports, I can adapt certain elements of his coaching style to my own, whether it is his attention to detail, his incredible organization, or how he focuses on watching game film. He is also great at strength and conditioning. I have used him numerous times to build programs for my girls.
Jim: Because we teach different levels, our approaches are going to be different. They have to be. But what I really admire is how she approaches different situations. The personal connections she makes with her team members is something I watch and try to imitate. The girls really respond to how much she cares about them. She is also a letter writer. She takes the time to writes letters to each player, personalizing them for each girl.
You have two young kids (ages 5 and 9). How do you balance your work as a coach with your time as a parent?
Catherine: Coaching is not a part-time job. It is a big part of who you are. With two coaches at home, it is sometimes hard to find a balance between coaching and family. These teams are an extension of our family. If a kid calls me, I’m there. Having two people in the house with those commitments sometimes makes it hard to find a balance. One of my favorite times to connect is on our morning drives to school.
Jim: Putting the cell phone away is a big one. If I don’t detach from my phone, I would be recruiting all hours of the day. It is important for us to carve out our uninterrupted time, even if it is just watching Netflix for a short show.
What is your most important role as a coach?
Catherine: Being a mentor, for sure. I might not be able to tell you the records of each of the teams I’ve coached, but the relationships that came out of those teams are vital. High school is really the first opportunity for athletes to fail. So, I help them build the skills that will keep them moving forward. I am there to guide them through the disappointment.
Jim: My role is to bring athletes from Point A to Point B. College is where they begin navigating their paths without their parents. They are finding their way, trying to settle on a career path. I am there to help them. If I can’t do that as their coach, then I have failed.
When you were growing up, what sports were important to you?
Catherine: Growing up we weren’t given a choice about playing sports. We had to be involved. Luckily, I loved competing. It became part of who I am. The things I learned playing sports are some of the greatest lessons I’ve ever learned. I can’t imagine my life without sports.
Jim: I think I was part of the last generation of unorganized sports. We left the house in the morning and didn’t come back until dinner. Sports was how I passed the time. Sports helped me choose my college, my career.
You two have a fun and lighthearted way of interacting with each other. What is the value of a sense of humor in coaching?
Jim: You are undoubtedly going to fail as a coach. There is no way around it. You could have the most amazing practice plan that completely falls apart, so you must use those opportunities for growth. If you can’t laugh at yourself, you can’t enjoy what you’re doing.
Catherine: Humor is one of the greatest ways to connect with kids. If you’re willing to look silly and make mistakes, kids will appreciate and respond to it. It is really important that kids not only see us make mistakes, but also see us learn and move on from those mistakes. Jim and I both use humor as a tool, at home and at work.
What is your coaching philosophy?
Catherine: If we do things the right way, we will get to where we want to go. It has absolutely nothing to do with the wins and losses. It is how we go about doing things. It is showing up, working hard, and doing things the right way. Only then will we get to where we need to go.
Jim: Catherine and I share a similar philosophy -- be better tomorrow than you were today. If you commit to doing that every single day, you will undoubtedly be successful. It doesn’t have to be huge jumps. If you find something to improve on every day, you will be successful.
How does the Lake Forest community add to the success of your team?
Catherine: I have the most supportive parents of athletes I could ever ask for. They will do anything to help these kids succeed. Having that kind of support really helps me to do my job well.
Jim: There are a number of former collegiate athletes in the Lake Forest area that are now successful entrepreneurs and business owners. We have been extremely fortunate to have many of them available as mentors or to offer our athletes internships. That is a great benefit to our athletes. What do you hope your athletes will say about you when they leave your program?
Jim: I hope my players can say I loved them. If they truly believe that I showed them care and love, it would be the greatest compliment I could ever receive.
Catherine: I totally agree. If they can say they were part of our family, truly loved and cared for, that will measure my success as a coach. Wins and losses aside, their value to me has nothing to do with their value on the field. I value my athletes for who they are.