May 9, 2023
"My advice to the younger women is: If you're passionate about this, pursue it. That's what it is. That's how it's going to change for the next generation of women to get to where I'm at now."
My guest for this episode is Diljeet Taylor, the head women's cross-country and distance coach at BYU. In her eight years there, Taylor has transformed the BYU women's distance running program into a national powerhouse, coaching the cross-country team to top-10 finishes at Nationals every year. They’ve been on the podium three of the last four years – including winning it all at the 2020 NCAA Cross Country Championships.
She has guided more than two dozen BYU runners to All-American honors, and several individual titles. Standout performances have become the norm. Taylor's dedication to her runners' whole lives, not just their running, is a refreshing approach to the pressure of purely results-driven programs that we see across the country.
In our conversation, we discuss her approach to coaching and how she balances the various demands on her time, including being a mom and a wife. We’ll touch on her journey to becoming a Division I coach, the challenges she's faced, the impact she's had on her athletes and what she hopes to leave behind for the sport.
You can now listen to our conversation on The CITIUS MAG Podcast. Catch the latest episode of the podcast on Apple Podcasts. We are also on Stitcher, Google Play and Spotify.
What was the original challenge when you arrived at BYU and how has that changed over time?
“The original challenge was: Let me see if I can bring these women back to national relevance. And I really didn't know what that looked like. Was that a podium team? Was that a top 10 team? And now, the mission is different. We have national relevance, right? We've finished in the top 11 the entire time of all eight seasons that I've been here. It's less about the outcome and proving that we can be there or even proving that we belong. Now, it's more just changing the landscape of what women's athletics looks like. I want to be a part of that. I want to make the experience for young women and girls in sport to be different and feel different. If we can inspire young girls to chase their dreams and to expect and demand to have positive student-athlete experiences, then we're doing something for the sport. And that's what it's about now.”
What’s your hope for more women in coaching roles?
“I would love to see more women in these roles…I just want women to be in an environment where they look like the sport was built for them and they feel that. And so when you see women in these roles, it's all about visibility and representation. We need to get more women in these roles so women can feel like there's a place for them on the coaching side of it. It's going to take time. I'm not sure what the exact recipe is. If I knew, I would be able to really fix it. But my advice to the younger women is: If you're passionate about this, pursue it. That's what it is. That's how it's going to change for the next generation of women to get to where I'm at now. I'm hoping that some of these younger female coaches are inspired by what we're doing at BYU and they're seeing here that she’s a mom; she's a coach; she's at a D-1, she's successful and she’s ‘kind of’ has it together, right? And hopefully, that inspires them. If she can do it, then I can do it.”
With you and Laurie Henes heading the recent NCAA Cross Country champions, are we making progress with female coaches at the NCAA level?
“I think at the upper end of it, you see some more women that are getting podium finishes for their program. But overall, the landscape still has a long way to go. We're still looking at 13%, which is not good enough. And so we have to do better.”
In recent years, we’ve seen more women come out of BYU and continue their careers as professional runners. How has that been a change in mindset that your running career can continue beyond BYU?
“It's about dreams and investing in dreams. And so as soon as women start tasting a little bit of success and that initial accomplishment opens their ability to dream even bigger. And if that dream is, ‘Hey, I want to be a professional athlete.’ I'm going to help invest in that dream. I've been really fortunate that the three women (Courtney Wayment, Whittni Orton-Morgan and Anna Camp-Bennett) have had that dream and I've been lucky. I'm still a part of that journey to help them to chase it. That's why I couldn't say no when they asked me to coach him professionally. I was like, ‘Well, I'm the one that talks about chasing dreams and I want to chase history with you guys.’ I think it's going to change what it looks like for the next freshman that comes into BYU. Now, her mind is open to this idea and the possibility of even having the dream.”
What makes your job fun?
“Winning is the best drug in the world and we're all chasing it. But it's different. The journey looks different and their worth can't be tied to this one thing that they're doing. This is something we get to do. It's not something we have to do. They're choosing this every single day. And I think as long as we keep that perspective and keep it fun. It has to be fun. And what is fun? Fun isn't that I get to go to the track every day and it's easy and I'm just laughing all the time. Fun is I get to go to the track every day and I'm loving the idea of perfecting my craft. That is fun. The pro workouts are way different for me than college workouts. I'm a stress case. I’ve got 30 women that I'm trying to manage. I got three stopwatches going. I can't blink or I will miss a group at the college practices. I show up to my pros’ workouts and it's just a different vibe. I can joke with them differently because our relationship is different and it's, ‘Hey, we're all getting better at this thing together.’ That's fun.”
What’s your favorite part of your job?
“Investing in these dreams – that's the favorite part of the job. It's watching these women grow. It's being invested in them. It’s learning. It's being a part of the journey together. I think we're doing it differently at BYU. I'm very proud of that. We don't always get it right. I see that in every talk I give. There are going to be people that don't fit in our program and that's okay. I want to inspire other programs and other young girls in the sport to look at what we're doing here and say, ‘Hey, you can do it. You can win the right way. We can build these women up from the inside-out.’ The things these women are doing – I'm shook. This was going to be a rebuilding year for us. I have freshmen in here that are running amazingly fast. I'm like, ‘Wow, I don't even know what to do with you guys.’ That's what it's about for me.”
What has kept you at BYU?
“My women. The administration is super loyal and values me in a way that I don't think I will get at other places. I just went to India at the beginning of January with my two athletic directors for 10 days. It's different here and it's hard for me to explain it to people. Most of my colleagues don't understand. They're like, ‘Oh, you have to sign the honor code. You have to live this way and you're not a member of the church. Like, how are you there?’ And if you look at my women and you look inside who they're becoming, they keep me here. As long as I'm able to do that and make that the focus and keep that the focus, then what I'm doing here can't be replicated somewhere else. I feel that. So I feel a loyalty to these women. And I love BYU. I've been here eight years, but I like in my heart I have a lot of passion and love for this place.”
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Chris Chavez launched CITIUS MAG in 2016 as a passion project while working full-time for Sports Illustrated. He covered the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and grew his humble blog into a multi-pronged media company. He completed all six World Marathon Majors and is an aspiring sub-five-minute miler.