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How BYU women’s cross-country coach Diljeet Taylor’s personal touch is building a winning culture in Provo

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BYU women’s cross country coach Diljeet Taylor celebrates with the runners-up trophy after the Cougar women finished second at the 2019 NCAA Division I Cross-Country Championship, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Terre Haute, Ind.

Nate Edwards, BYU

SALT LAKE CITY — Diljeet Taylor is making a major impact in the BYU athletic department.

Four years into her tenure as the Cougars’ women’s cross-country coach, Taylor’s BYU squad finished runners-up at last month’s NCAA championships, just six points behind national champion Arkansas.

Cindy Kuzma of Runner’s World recently broke down eight “unusual things” Taylor has incorporated into her coaching style to make her an elite-level NCAA coach.

“She got seven women on the line in their mind saying we can be national champions,” senior Courtney Wayment told Kuzma. “That’s a pretty remarkable thing for a coach to do. And now, we feel like we can accomplish anything we put our mind to.”

A few highlights from the eight subsections:

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BYU men’s cross-country coach Ed Eyestone and women’s cross-country coach Diljeet Taylor celebrate after the Cougar men won the national championship and the BYU women were runners-up at the 2019 NCAA Division I Cross-Country Championship, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Terre Haute, Ind.

Nate Edwards, BYU

Her honesty creates trust built on transparency. From the article:

Junior Whittni Orton, 22, said she appreciates Taylor’s honesty and bluntness. She doesn’t say things she doesn’t mean, Orton said.

So when Taylor shared her belief in Orton’s potential, Orton said, she couldn’t help but believe her — and subsequently improved her place from 115th the last time she ran NCAAs, in 2017, to seventh this year. She sees something in you, and she will push you and get it out of you, Orton said.

Taylor makes it a point to write each of her runners a hand-written note before each meet, a practice she developed after having received one from her high school coach before a section meet.

I have a whole drawer full of them, Orton told Kuzma. It’s nice to go back and read them and see a progression.

That personal touch isn’t limited to notes, though, Kuzma explains. Taylor takes the time to individually meet with her runners each week and during the weekly ritual “Tuesdays with Taylor,” a chance for teammates to discuss whatever is currently impacting their lives.

That knowledge of her individual runners, as Kuzma notes, helps Taylor know how to help them through the ups and downs. One example was supporting senior Erica Birk-Jarvis when she faced the decision to return to the team or give up the sport after having a baby in December 2017. From the article:

I felt like she valued me as a person and a runner and wanted me to come back but also respected my decision if I didn’t feel like that’s what I wanted to pursue, Birk-Jarvis said. With Taylor’s support, she returned during the summer of 2018 — then placed seventh at NCAAs that fall, an improvement from 34th two years earlier.