Brandon Gilliam has only been the Head Coach of the BYU Cougars since the fall of 2015, but he is no stranger to the university’s soccer program.
Gilliam is an alumnus of the university, playing his first season in 2002. He attended BYU through the years as it transitioned from playing in the NCAA to playing in the PDL, and he was a key part of the team during his time there. After his final season for the Cougars in 2008, he jumped straight into coaching for the program. Hired as an assistant coach under long-time Head Coach Chris Watkins, Gilliam remained in that role with the team until Watkins stepped down last year.
“When I finished my career in 2008, I had already been coaching youth with my Academy, Better Goalkeeping, and so it seemed a natural fit to stay onboard as a coach and give back to something that gave me so much,” Gilliam said.
“Along with being the Head Coach at BYU, I am also the owner of WSP-World Sports Partners. We are a company designed and focused around developing youth soccer players. We run two indoor facilities that are focused around development and not leagues. I also run a goalkeeper program called Better Goalkeeping that trains well over 200 keepers annually. The best goalkeeper school around.”
Whether he’s running his business, goalkeeping program or leading the Cougars in the PDL season, Gilliam wants the focus to be on player progression.
“We have a growth mindset in our program,” Gilliam said. “It doesn't matter where you’re currently at, it only matters what we do to get where we want to be tomorrow. Soccer is similar to life -- it has a lot of ups and downs no matter how prepared we are. We want the players to understand that you can always get better both as an individual and as a team.
“The PDL develops players by giving them the highest level of competition to play before making the leap to pros. Players get to experience how difficult it is to play against players whose main objective is achieving pro status and that means every game is worth everything. Our objective at BYU is for all our players to go pro. It might not be in soccer, but it's our desire they make it in some fashion. We have created a structure that allows job opportunities with a degree from a top-level university, soccer opportunities through a professional tier system and spiritual and family opportunities through high standards.”
Recruiting is one of the main challenges Gilliam and his staff have to face on a year-to-year basis. Unlike other PDL teams, all players attend the university. Despite the obstacles, Gilliam and the Cougars strive to build a cohesive, strong and tight-knit unit to compete on the field during the summer and to succeed in life after graduation.
“Challenge One: Not only do they have to be full-time students they have to get accepted into BYU completely on their own challenge,” Gilliam said. “Two: BYU is one of the hardest universities in the nation when it comes to getting admitted into school. The next hardest challenge is balance. We have some players who dream of playing pro and are working towards it, then we have a lot of players who are balancing playing at a high level, going to school full-time, working full-time and creating a career with internships, experience, etc. And then adding family life on top of it all. All these things would seem like challenges, but it's what makes our program unique and gives the players such a great experience.”
And no one knows that more than the man who played for and now leads the Cougars.
“As a player, I learned nothing is ever handed to you,” Gilliam said. “Every bit of success has to be earned, and to achieve something, great sacrifice has to be made. As a coach, I have learned a lot about the principles of formations and team shape, but at the end of the day, it's more about the culture and environment that you create that makes the different.”