This summer, Brookline teacher and local soccer coach Jeff Katz will lead the USA women’s soccer team in the 15th European Maccabi Games in Budapest, Hungary. As part of the U.S. delegation of over 200 athletes, Katz and the team will compete with Jewish athletes from around the world in the 10-day sporting event that celebrates Jewish identity through the competition and fellowship of sport.
Katz began coaching early in his teaching career at the Park School, and he has since developed an impressive soccer resume. He is currently the associate head coach of the MIT women’s team in addition to leading club and summer programs that enhance players’ skills and improve play strategies. When he is off the field, he can be found working on an ongoing curriculum about the mental approaches and techniques of the game, such as visualizing plays, designing an athlete’s game narrative, or working to foster team cohesion.
“He knows tactics better than anyone,” says Karenna Groff, a member of the MIT women’s team who is joining Katz at the European Maccabi Games. “He definitely does his homework.”
The Maccabiah Games is the world’s largest Jewish multi-sport competition that takes place every four years in Israel. The event, which began in 1932, brings together thousands of Jewish athletes to experience Israel while competing in high-level athletic tournaments. The European Maccabi Games occur two years after each Maccabiah Games and offer a similar experience for athletes in different European destinations. The first European Maccabi Games was held in Prague in 1929.
Groff, who participated in the Maccabiah Games in 2017, is thrilled to be participating in this year’s games. “It was absolutely incredible,” she says of her 2017 experience. “You’re with 24 other people who are super into soccer, and we got to go to Israel together, tour the country together, and train together. “
This team competing in Budapest is an elite group of young female athletes from across the United States. They will train in the Berkshires this summer before heading overseas.
In order to participate in the games, each player must raise $6,000 to cover their expenses and the coaches are responsible for $3,000. To ensure that his team gets to Budapest, Katz launched a fundraising campaign to help cover the costs that he and his players are responsible for, including the training camp before the competition. He is looking to raise $15,000 by the summer so that he and his team are guaranteed a trip to Hungary.
“The concept of the Maccabi Games is really special,” Groff reflects, “You meet all these really talented athletes from all over the U.S. Before that, I had never really had friends from across the country.” In 2017, Groff’s team won a gold medal at the Maccabiah Games. She was still in high school at the time, and this year she is especially excited to take her game to the next level by competing with women in an older age group.
For Katz, the European Maccabi Games is a continuation of his tireless passion for coaching soccer. “The core of it is enjoying taking a group and forming a team that has a shared vision, understanding they are part of something bigger than themselves,” he said. “Ultimately, whether you win or lose, knowing that they have given everything, the life lessons come through, and the team grows together.”