Rachel Fattal was just eight years old when she started playing competitive water polo with her first club team practicing at the Ken Lindgren Aquatics Center at Long Beach State.
Now at 28, she’s back, not as a player, but as an assistant coach to Shana Welch for the women’s water polo team.
“I’m excited to be here and to learn this year. Obviously Shana is an amazing coach, she’s had this program for a long time,” Fattal said.
Fattal, raised in Seal Beach, grew up playing volleyball, swim, softball and a lot of sports including water polo.
It has been a long journey for her with water polo. She made the swim team before age five and remembers her first time being introduced to water polo at six.
“My swim coach would throw balls in after practice,” Fattal said.
By 8 years old, she started playing competitively and continued to play throughout high school.
She went through the Olympic Development Program in high school and got cut from the national team multiple times before securing a spot during her senior year at Los Alamitos High School.
“The fear of failure is massive, especially in sports. It’s tough to not get picked, or to lose, or any of those negative things, but I also think that that’s one of the best parts and one of the biggest reasons people like competing,” Fattal said.
Among training with the national team as they were getting ready to leave for the 2012 Olympics in London, she also received and accepted a scholarship opportunity from UCLA to play water polo at the collegiate level.
Her freshman year at UCLA was her first year as an official member traveling and playing for the professional team.
“It’s a pretty challenging sport, you know most sports, you’re on land. This sport you’re in a whole different element, so it’s pretty challenging. I think I really like that part of it, it makes you tough,” Fattal said.
Her first World Championship win was in 2015 before winning her first gold medal at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, then again at the 2020 Olympics in Japan.
She graduated from UCLA in 2017 when she decided to move to Australia to play for the professional team before COVID-19.
Despite so many big moments throughout her career, Rachel says it is the little moments that have made her water polo journey so special to her.
“Sometimes there’s just little things like an everyday practice that turns into something that’s way more joyful than you thought it was going to be, just purely from teammates and the people that you are around and that you get to know through the process,” Fattal said.
Water polo has taught her a lot, but one of the biggest lessons she has learned throughout her career is finding her reason to keep showing up even on days when she doesn’t feel like it.
“You have to find your ‘why,’ like what’s your reason behind ‘I’m still going to show up,’” Fattal said. “Being able to discover that in yourself and finding your ‘why,’ I’d say that’s one of my favorite lessons that I’ve learned.”
Fattal has coached water polo and volleyball before, but this will be her first time coaching at the collegiate level. She is also playing for the national team concurrently, training seven hours a day, six days a week, following some time off after the world championships this past summer.
“You know it is an interesting balance, but I’m excited for it,” Fattal said.
Fattal hopes to bring her love, knowledge and experience with water polo to the next generation of players at Long Beach State.
“Coaching is something that I think is really enjoyable, giving back to the sport that’s obviously given me so many things in my life,” Fattal said. “I would love to give any of that back to these girls that will come through this program and show them what an amazing place Long Beach State is and how much water polo can give to you.”