Federal Way FC Coaching Director Fawzi Belal is a visionary.
You have probably walked by him over a dozen times at the Commons Mall or stood behind him at the Starbucks on South 240th Street where he works nearby and never even knew it.
Here is the thing, Belal has returned the city back into the soccer town it was years ago. He has transcended Federal Way FC into the city’s premier club soccer program, which, over the last year, has sent a handful of kids to the Seattle Sounders Academy and various international programs.
But Belal’s work is far from over. He is currently working on a partnership with iSoccerPath, which works to connect soccer players with their desired colleges and their intercollegiate programs. In the coming weeks, the organization will give a presentation to the club, its players and their parents.
Belal seems to be making it a personal mission to ensure that Federal Way FC players are in tune and excited about higher-education opportunities, something other club organizations may not have the time or resources to emphasize, but which is something that Belal says is necessary in club sports.
“This is such a unique opportunity for them,” Belal said. “This program encourages them to shoot for the specific college they want to go to. It allows them to put college first, followed by the athletics program.”
But what makes Belal a “visionary?”
Well, as a former Sounder and now coach and executive for Federal Way FC, he has a rare gift. Belal sees the whole picture.
He has eyes everywhere.
He is not just familiar with every name on a Federal Way FC roster, he has relationships with Decatur, Federal Way, Thomas Jefferson and Todd Beamer soccer coaches and players.
According to Belal, what they all have in common is that many soccer players on their rosters are first-generation students.
They have parents at home who never went to college, some who may not even have a high school diploma or GED.
So, where are these athletes getting the opportunity to learn about potential options within higher education?
Schools only have a certain amount of staffing and resources for that. As a higher-education employee, Belal knows that, so Federal Way FC is picking up where schools are leaving off.
“College isn’t always within the scope for our first-generation students,” Belal said. “So, we want to guide them and help fill those gaps with information that is useful for them to plan ahead and think about college.”
Lack of information and awareness is a big problem. It’s a good thing Belal recognizes that and is now working to fix it.
What Belal and the staff at Federal Way have discovered through first-generation soccer players is there is a disconnect.
Some players think that, because their parents did not go to college, they cannot go to college. Or, because English may not be a first language, they might believe they will not succeed in a college environment.
In Belal’s experience, many of those players believe, “Oh, it must not be for me,” so the interest and pursuit comes to an end.
With the help of iSoccerPath, Federal Way FC is hoping to eliminate the mental constraints and misconceptions.
“These kids see a brother or sister or parent not go to college,” Belal said. “For us, it is about how we can find that hope, get them to take charge of it and work at it the way they work at soccer.”
For Belal, the purpose of partnering with iSoccerPath is helping the first-generation students who complete his program find transferable skills.
The kids already know they are good at soccer, so Belal is hoping iSoccerPath will help teach the Federal Way FC staff how to translate academic or workforce skills from soccer.
“Why are they good at soccer? Because they’re determined,” Belal said. “Can they be determined off the field with something? It’s about bringing out those qualities.”
This program and partnership does not reap outfit benefits for Federal Way FC. The only purpose is to empower families who may lack knowledge about higher education by connecting them with iSoccerPath and dispel misconceptions.
At the same time, Belal knows that attending college does not mean the same thing for everyone.
He knows that some kids may want to go to college only to continue their career in soccer, while others may be playing as a means of an entry point to college.
For Belal, though athletes’ motivation for going to college is not what is important. Belal’s plan is simply to help kids envision themselves going to college when they thought they could not.
“We want to help the education system push for college,” Belal said. “Just by itself, it doesn’t have that drive that soccer or sports can offer. It gives them another layer to be encouraged to go college.”
Jerod Young is the sports reporter for the Mirror. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.