Foundation Stories: Valencia wins Horst and Helen Richardson Scholarship

November 29, 2016
By: Taylor Miller

Beverly Valencia, a Native American youth soccer coach for the Taos Pueblo first experienced the game of soccer in 6th grade on an old, dirt baseball field located on the San Felipe Pueblo of New Mexico.

Throughout the day, people would gather onto the worn, dusty plot and initiate a match that anyone was welcome to join regardless of their level of experience- a concept that captured Valencia’s attention.

“People came together to just have fun and play together,” said Valencia. “That’s what I noticed about soccer. It didn’t matter what level you were at, people came together and had fun.”

Although at the time she didn’t know it, her memory of soccer’s power to unify would develop into an integral piece of her future: a future in which she would utilize the game as a tool to influence the lives of children within the Taos Pueblo, a Native American community plagued by the temptation of drug-abuse.

“I didn’t play soccer in high school, I played volleyball. I’m not trying to brag,” Valencia laughed, “but I’m pretty athletic. I can pretty much play any sport.”

Although Valencia played soccer outside of official organizations, it wasn’t her focus.

Valencia (picture at back) with a group of young students she coaches.The summer after she graduated from high school, Valencia joined the AmeriCorps Vista  national service program, an experience she described as a domestic version of involvement in the Peace Corps. She was given the option to choose any state, and chose her home state of New Mexico. She was interested in health and public fitness, and after working for different organizations, she traveled to California for a week-long training and certification for sports-based youth development where she learned the ins and outs of coaching soccer.

“After all of that, I wanted to try something new. I like to try new things. Do something random. For the fall season, I decided to work with the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps which involved a lot of backpacking and being outdoors,” explained Valencia.

After her time with the Rocky Mountain Youth Core came to a close, Valencia saw a job opening in Taos, New Mexico. She went to the Pueblo to apply, and immediately fell in love with the scenery, the food, and the people.

“The first thing I noticed was the trees. They were amazing to me,” said Valencia. “It’s basically a desert in the part of New Mexico where I’m from, like a little dome surrounded by not the best weather. But in Taos, there were mountains. It reminded me of how small I was and how small my problems are. There was a fresh water river that came straight from the mountains. It was so fresh you could drink straight from it. Taos is isolated. I began to think, maybe I was meant to be here. It feels right.”

Valencia returned home from Taos over the weekend to wait for the job results and received a call for an interview.

“I got so excited,” Valencia laughed. “It was like everything was adding up and coming together. It was liberating.”

Valencia received the job and was warmly welcomed by the community. She began coaching a mix of boys and girls youth soccer at the Taos Day School, and formed many deep connections on and off of the field.

“Taos is a small town and everybody knows each other,” said Valencia. “They made me feel like this was my home too. That’s where I met my spouse. I don’t have any kids but I kind of feel like the kids I coach are mine. I have fun with them and feel like I can speak to them in the right way, like I have the natural instinct to be with them. I feel like an auntie. Whether it’s after or during school, I love hanging out with them. Watching how they progressed, it’s like I’m seeing them grow up. It’s amazing. Inside and outside of work they know they can come to me, and it’s so awesome that I get to be that person they can go to.”

Although Valencia has strived to create a positive community environment, there is a negative influence that trickles its way in, she said. According to Valencia, drug abuse is a problem in the Pueblo: kids have easy access to drugs which become a constant temptation.

Instead of accepting this dilemma, Valencia is intentionally using soccer to create a platform for a healthier lifestyle.

“Soccer helps keep the kids out of trouble and creates a positive environment where you can be yourself,” said Valencia. “I want to encourage them to pursue a more positive road. It gives them a voice where they can grow and reflect. My outlook is, we are on the same level, you can talk to me. Through that I have seen people progressing and growing.”

Last year, Valencia was the first soccer coach to be selected for the NSCAA Horst and Helen Scholarship award, an award dedicated to serving soccer communities in the American southwest.

Valencia plans to use the fund to develop sports and wellness programs within the Taos Pueblo for different age groups. She wants to focus on education and life skills- concepts that can be learned through soccer and applied in the personal lives of the players.

“It’s not all about sports,” explained Valencia. “If you are committed to something on the field, commit off the field in your life and in your relationships. If you are focusing on honesty on the field, focus on applying honesty to your relationships outside of soccer. For me, coaching is about creating connections. It’s awesome to be a part of something like that.”

According to Valencia, the meaning of sports is the qualities learned through the process of playing such as learning how to work with others, honesty, and respect.

From her days as a 6th grader playing soccer on the dirt field of San Felipe to her current days of coaching for the Taos Pueblo youth, Valencia has noted the potential soccer has to bring people together, a power she has chosen to use to influence her community.

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