Diljeet Taylor takes BYU women’s distance runners to the next level
The BYU women’s cross country team is running in unison during a grilling practice and in the distance, all that can be heard is a coach yelling, “This is fun!”
Meet BYU women’s track and field and cross country coach Diljeet Taylor.
Taylor’s journey to success at BYU began five years ago, when she took a leap of faith to move from California to Utah and built a championship team.
Not only did the move pay off with the Cougars winning the 2021 NCAA National Championship in March, but Taylor has also developed her athletes to become women with vision, to be confident and to empower others. That is her secret.
“When people ask them ‘What was it like being coached by Coach Taylor?’ 20 years from now, I don’t want people to say that, ‘She helped me become a three-time All-American,’ or, ‘She helped win a national championship,'” Taylor said. “I want women to say, ‘She changed my life.’ That is hard and you don’t get to reach everyone that way, but that is a goal of mine.”
Taylor had a female distance coach in college that helped her become a three-time All-American, but didn’t change her life, according to Taylor. She wants her athletes to become the women they needed growing up.
“She invests in my life as a whole,” All-American cross country runner and 1,500-meter national champion Courtney Wayment said. “Yes, she wants me to be competitive and yes, and she wants all these goals for me in running, but she wants me to accomplish the goals I have outside of running too.”
Wayment came into the program as a freshman the same year Taylor moved from California.
“Coach Taylor is very intense, which is good. It takes us good places,” All-American Aubrey Frentheway said. “I think that the biggest thing is that she really opens your eyes to your potential. Even when you don’t see, she always sees it.”
Why She Coaches
Taylor ran for Frank Gagliano, also known as “Gags,” after college for a Nike farm team. She said that he instilled the importance of caring about people and believing in them.
“I wasn’t an Olympian,” Taylor said. “I wasn’t even the best kid on the team with him, but I could see him doing it with others, and immediately when someone believes in you and they know that you believe in them, it takes you to a different level, and it allows you to flourish in ways that you might not be able to without that faith.”
She said that this principle she learned early on became her staple for coaching, and now she wants her women to win in life.
“I think as I believe in my athletes, they are learning how to believe in themselves. They then learn how to believe in each other and in me,” Taylor said. “The most powerful thing a coach or a person can do is believe in someone. It’s probably been my greatest tool in coaching.”
Frentheway said that she admires Coach Taylor’s confidence and belief. “She’s all about empowering women. She loves to show us that and for me, it just really helped me see ways how I could be better, not only in running but also in my life later. Whether I become a coach, a teacher, a mom, whatever it is, it’s the lessons that I am learning here that can reach so many other places in our lives.”
Taylor never expected to end up in a coaching career, but is now very passionate about her chosen profession.
“I coach because that same man that coached me after college saw something in me,” Taylor said. “He saw the coach in me long before I saw it. I attribute a lot of what I am doing to him seeing that and having that vision.”
Wayment said that because Taylor is a woman who is also married, and ran before and after college, she knows what it’s like to relate to them on every level.
“I think of where the course of my life could have gone, and if it wasn’t for her, I would not be where I am,” Wayment said. “She has been one of, if not the most influential person in college (for me).”
Taylor even made sure to get to know Wayment’s husband and said that he was part of the family. “If we are being honest, I always want to be in someone’s corner when it comes to chasing their dream and following their passion because I didn’t necessarily have that same support system growing up.”
Taylor goes above and beyond, handmaking cards on race days for each player and planning elaborate dinner parties for the team.
“What people don’t know about Coach Taylor is that she is very artistic and has an eye for design,” Wayment said.
Winning 2020 NCAA National Championships
“I always talk about that my role here is to bring in girls with dreams and watch them become women with vision,” Taylor said.
The cross country team ran well to take a close second at NCAA nationals in 2019 and missed first place by six points.
“That 2019 team is what prepared me for this 2021 win,” Taylor said.
She said it wasn’t anything they did differently in training to win in 2021, but it was because of what they have been doing for the past five years.
“It wasn’t just this season, it was a combination of so many seasons before,” Taylor said. “It wasn’t just these seven women, it was all the women that came before them. It’s going to be about all the women who come after them.”
She believes that a program is more than the athletes that are currently here. “I feel like when you can buy into that and truly represent that and that’s when magic happens. And I think what people are seeing is magic happening with women’s distance at BYU. And it’s because these women know they are running for something bigger than themselves.”
Wayment received this text in 2019 from Coach Taylor after the NCAA Championship, telling her that they would win next season because of that team and all the ones before them.
The Sisterhood of Being Coached by Taylor
When she looks for new talent, Taylor said she looks for two things: passion and dreams.
“If girls come into this program with those two things, they will leave the program with a lot more than they came in with,” Taylor said.
The distance teams have two hashtags that are unique to them. #BYUrun4her and #Taylormade are attached to Taylor’s social media accounts and were made into temporary tattoos that her runners wear during races.
#Taylormade originated from her athletes in California at Cal State Stanislaus, where she coached before coming to BYU.
“I go back to that belief,” Frentheway said of the hashtag. “Coach Taylor made these workouts, she’s been training me and she believes in me, so when I am on that line I can look at her and think ‘she believes in me, so I can believe in myself.’”
Ira, Taylor’s husband, surprised them all with the “Taylor Made” tattoos this season. He put them in Taylor’s purse before a meet so she could find them.
“Taylor Made represents every athlete I have ever coached,” Taylor said. “The tough workouts, the hard office talks, the excited post-race hugs, the not so excited post-race talks. It’s the hashtag that binds every athlete I have ever had.”
She said that it makes her two groups of athletes, at Stanislaus and BYU, one.
“To me that’s why its special, the opportunity to go through the things you go through when you are coached by me, which is different than when you are coached by someone else,” Taylor said. “And it’s not all the good stuff. There are a lot of hard things these athletes do and endure.”
Wayment said Taylor is real and transparent and will tell you if she thinks you can run a certain pace, but will also tell you if she thinks you are not doing all you can.
“You know I have had times in my life that she would pull me into her office and she would tell me, ‘I don’t think you are doing this right’, and I would think ‘Oh man, she knows,'” Wayment said. “Honestly it’s the best thing ever, because when she says, ‘I’m proud of you,’ you know that she means it.”
Taylor said #BYUrun4her is about remembering the little girl who fell in love with the sport and running for her. All the runners wore the hashtag as a washable tattoo on the back of their right shoulder on race days as a reminder.
“It’s just knowing I would give anything to be where I am now and (to not) ever give up on that,” Frentheway said. “It’s running for your teammates and running for the ‘her’ right next to you, and whenever you are going to do it for yourself, you are going to do it for your teammates.”
Coming to Provo
Taylor said that she knew it was where she needed to be when BYU gave her an opportunity, even though it was hard to initially come.
“I’m shocked sometimes when I look at that leap of faith I took,” Taylor said.
She said that she had no plans to leave Cal State Stanislaus, where she coached men and women at the Division II level, producing 16 All-Americans, but decided to interview at BYU while making a visit to her in-laws.
“There was a very little percentage of me that would ever jump into this opportunity, but when I came on campus, it was completely different than what I had envisioned,” Taylor said.
Taylor was impressed with Liz Darger, senior associate athletic director and senior woman administrator, who changed her view of what leadership looked like at BYU.
“I liked that I could have complete control over the women’s program, and that’s what attracted me to it,” Taylor said. “But more importantly it was just a feeling that I got when I was here.”
She said that it was a huge leap of faith to leave the beach and sun to come to the mountains and altitude, but that she is so grateful she did and for what she has been able to build.
“I didn’t take the safer choice. I took a risk. I never could have imagined that this was the impact that I could have had,” Taylor said. “I can’t tell you I knew all along that this was what I was going to build here because the leap of faith is blind. You don’t know why you are doing what you are doing, but I am very proud.”
She said the athletes at Stanislaus made her into the coach she is today and though it was hard to leave them, this was her next step.
First Years at BYU
“In 2016 BYU had been in a slump, and originally, I just wanted our program to be the best in the state because we really hadn’t been,” Taylor said. “Internally looking out, I just wanted to build confidence. I knew we had women who had talent and so one thing I noticed we lacked is the ability to line up against women from other universities and not be intimidated by them.”
BYU became the best in the state and made it into the top 10 in the nation in Taylor’s first year at BYU. She then created a cycle of developing talent.
“As you develop talent, the women get even more confident and that self-belief gets stronger,” Taylor said. “Self-belief has been our stepping stone to success here at BYU, and I attribute that to women who bought in and trusted me.”
For Taylor, it was about having the right combination of women who gave her a chance.
“That is what you are seeing now, is that internal strength that we’ve built, that people didn’t see in year one and year two because they were looking at just the outcome,” Taylor said, “But now it’s that internal strength that is showing that has created this empowerment at BYU.”
Running Through the COVID-19 Season
“I think in the beginning, we were all shell-shocked, but what COVID allowed me to do was take a step back and realize why we do what we do and how much we love it,” Taylor said. “It really taught me this is my call in life and when you find your calling in life, you love it and you do it with gratitude and with joy.”
She brought that energy to practice and put together a fall “competition calendar” to have her own races. Her team wore their uniforms, had an announcer, and printed out number bibs. Taylor also had an Olympic gold medalist and author Damon West talk to the team over Zoom to stay motivated and focused.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say it was hard,” Taylor said. “It was hard to see women lose opportunities.”
Wayment said that their practices haven’t changed since her freshmen year in 2016. Monday, Wednesday and Friday practices are going to be the same and she always knows what she will be running on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Excellence comes from the mundane and from doing the same things over and over again the right way, according to Daniel Chambliss, who studied Olympic swimmers.
“There was no magic plan. I didn’t have someone telling me,” Taylor said. “It was just me trying to say, ‘Hey, we are going to get better through this and we are going to win the wait.”
Future of BYU Women’s Distance
Taylor said that people are wondering what her next move is, and according to her it’s to stay here in Provo.
“I am drawn to BYU. I’m here at BYU because we can win the right way here and that’s what we did,” Taylor said. “When it’s about the people and not performance, when it’s about creating memories and not just chasing trophies, it is so much more meaningful. That is what draws me to staying here.”
She said her team ran to the best of their ability and the plan for next season is to not worry about the outcome.
“It’s not about winning again,” Taylor said. “It’s about being the best version of ourselves and seeing what that does for us.”
Taylor said how important it is for her to remind herself to stay true to doing what works, and not cutting corners.
“I just think anyone who gets to be her athlete or friend is incredibly lucky,” Wayment said.