Q&A: A Chat With St. Xavier (Ky.) High School Championship Coach Todd Larkin

Todd Larkin

Q&A: A Chat With St. Xavier (Ky.) High School Coach Todd Larkin

A former swimmer at St. Xavier High School in Louisville, Ky., Todd Larkin has continued to mold boys to men all the while advancing the nation’s longest streak of consecutive state championships.

Todd Larkin

Head Coach, Swimming & Diving

St. Xavier High School

Louisville, Kentucky

  • University of Louisville, B.S., College of Education, Workforce Leadership
  • St. Xavier High School, Class of 1986, four-year varsity letterman and co-captain of the swimming team his senior year
  • Head coach, St. Xavier High School, 2009-present
  • Has coached Tigers to 14 consecutive Kentucky high school championships
  • Dual meet record: 171-5
  • Team named national champion in NISCA Power Point Dual Meet Rankings (independent school enrollment 900+), 2021, 2022; second in 2020
  • Named by MaxPreps as greatest U.S. boys’ high school swim coach, 2021
  • National High School Athletic Coaches Association Coach of the Year finalist, 2016, 2022
  • NFHS Coaches Association Coach of the Year (Boys’ Swimming and Diving), 2011
  • Assistant coach, Lakeside Seahawks Swim Team, 1999-2009
  • 4x ASCA Kentucky Age Group Coach of the Year

SWIMMING WORLD MAGAZINE: You’ve coached at Saint Xavier in Louisville for 15 years and swam there as a high schooler. How did you become a swimmer?

COACH TODD LARKIN: My cousin, Kathy Cox, who had Olympic Trials cuts, introduced me to the sport and taught me the basics. I joined a local summer league team, loved it, and was encouraged to join Cathy’s club team, the Louisville Tarpons. The Tarpons folded when I was 9, so I moved to Lakeside Swim Team.

SW: You also coached at uber successful Lakeside Swim Club for 10 years. You got into coaching because…?

TL: Lakeside is an outstanding club with a rich Louisville history, where I formed many of my coaching traits. The journey coaching offers is such a rewarding experience. I’ve always loved motivating others to be their best and to pursue excellence. I believe investing in others and providing positive reinforcement makes the world a better place.

Building a great TEAM or program creates unity and lasting relationships. I am pleased to say that character development and peer leadership are trademarks of student-athletes I’ve had the pleasure to coach. I’m also blessed to have such an incredible wife, Mellisa, and children, Sydney, Zach, Grace and Andrew, who support me.

SW: Any mentors along the way?

TL: Way too many to count…I’m very fortunate in terms of how many people and how much time they have invested in me. Here are a few: Swimming—Mike DeBoor (head coach, Lakeside), Aaron Cooper and Dustin Schulten (St. X coaching staff); Leadership—Perry Sangalli (former St. X president/educator), Alan Donhoff (former St. X athletic director), Paul Collistra (current St. X president); Strategic planning/marketing—Chip Dumstorf (Bisig Impact Group); Support—St. X athletic department (Denny Williams, A.D.; Chris Tinius, assistant A.D.; Ruth Ray, administrative; wife, Mellisa).

Todd Larkin

Courtesy: Chip Dumstorf

SW: Swim coaching is not a copycat profession, but certainly a collegial one. What are some things you have learned from other coaches?

TL: Embrace the grind! You must put in the work to get results. Be present! Teams and goals take time, but provide an environment and culture to cultivate both.

SW: St. X has its own pool and an impressive weight room. What are those facilities like?

TL: Our facilities and physical campus set us apart, and are a huge competitive advantage. We are very thankful for the outstanding St. X alumni support. Every year, there is something new being built on campus, so it’s something we continue to work on and improve over time.

SW: In recent years, what have you emphasized to make your boys become better athletes and people?

TL: Our True North – Max Potential! Taking something from good to great or great to outstanding is what next-level-performance is all about—and it takes a growth mindset! Building elite performance, pursuing excellence, tracking personal bests and breaking barriers is something we stress daily. Everyone can be a champion!

SW: For the 2021-22 season, NISCA proclaimed St. X boys’ swimming national champions—this on top of winning its 35th consecutive state championship (now up to 37). How do you go about maintaining that excellence?

TL: Believing and representing our core values—respect, excellence, culture and details—in everything we do. Our Core 4 drives the program and maintains the consistency of next-level-performance.

SW: What’s a weekly practice schedule look like?

TL: We have three levels of training at St. X: varsity, JV and sprint groups. Varsity trains six days a week with eight-to-nine workouts per week. JV trains four days a week, while sprinters train three.

SW: Many high school teams benefit considerably from team members who train regularly with club programs. You have 110 swimmers on your team. How many of them train with Lakeside?

TL: We have 55 club swimmers who are members of our program who train with various clubs. Having coached club for many years, I understand their schedules. We don’t try to pile on or make them attend any of our workouts on campus. Swimming is a data-driven sport, and we have a very competitive team.

No matter where you train, you must continue to improve. Our system: two pushes one, three pushes two, four pushes three, etc…. I monitor their practices through communication with the club coaches, so everyone works together. We are always available if they need anything.

SW: As a coach, how do you integrate those athletes into a cohesive, well-functioning unit?

TL: We do extensive team building and education regarding our team culture. Our students respect tradition, and I’m a firm believer in peer leadership. We do multiple team activities and service projects as well. Our program is about relationships and the team aspect. The club swimmers love the environment and want to contribute. They feel motivated and proud to build on our strong tradition.

We also prepare our students for college swimming. We are a college preparatory school in academics and feel our athletics mirror that philosophy as well. By preparing them for the next level, they will have one less adjustment at a crucial time in their development as young adults. We are very proud of our amazing students.

SW: Teams succeed when athletes take ownership of their program. How do you help St. X athletes feel invested and take ownership?

TL: Our team captains play a critical role in our success and executing excellence throughout the program. Extreme ownership is vital. Mental toughness is key here. It allows one to stay the course…and overcome obstacles. Our mission requires total buy-in for us to reach our program goals.

All of our students have elite responsibilities no matter their ability level. We are always looking for ways to improve, ways to get faster in our racing details. Everyone in our program has the mindset they can improve if they’re consistent, work on the details and listen. We provide our students with depth charts, goal progression charts, training data and practice percentages. Our staff and coaches all play a pivotal role. Coach Aaron Cooper is one of the best data analysis coaches in the country.

SW: You tell each team they need to form their own identity. In the course of a season, how do you manage that?

TL: We promote a culture of recognition. We are big on social media (@StXTigerSwim), which really allows us to reward achievement. Mission and identity are everything to a program. Keeping goals simple and defining the path to success for students is also very important. The beauty of success is that there is never one road, but multiple ones.

Goal setting is also key. Making sure each student has goals and is working toward those goals feeds into identity and promotes ownership. The team that won five, 10 or even 15 years ago won’t help today—you have to go for it and invest in continuing the pursuit.

SW: You have led NISCA seminars on marketing one’s swim program. St. X produces extremely high-quality marketing materials promoting the swim team in myriad ways to internal and external audiences. How did those efforts start, and what are some program elements that are particularly effective?

TL: It started in the very beginning and allowed us to accelerate our goals. Building our brand is very time-consuming and vital to our program. It has allowed us to attract outstanding partners such as arena, and it has also created many relationships that have benefited our students. Our students buy into the media and have grown to be very comfortable in participating in our high level of marketing.

It’s a part of what we call executing excellence, which allows others to be a part of what we are building. Chip Dumstorf at Bisig Impact Group is the best. He keeps us on the cutting edge.

SW: How have you involved businesses outside the school in those marketing efforts?

TL: It’s a total team effort! Other businesses have given us support and created opportunities for our students. Our students are at the center of everything we do: They drive the bus! Relationships are key to building and maintaining the excellence we strive for.

SW: America loves lists. In 2021, MaxPreps cited Todd Larkin as the greatest boys’ high school swim coach in the United States. Congratulations. Any thoughts on that?

TL: Don’t believe the hype! Humility has always been very important to me. I’m a product of so many who believed in me and supported me throughout my coaching career. I’m so thankful to my family, other coaches, administrators, students, parents and fellow faculty who have helped me in so many ways. I have great respect for the sport of swimming and am deeply grateful to play a role in creating tomorrow’s leaders!

Michael J. Stott is an ASCA Level 5 coach, golf and swimming writer. His critically acclaimed coming-of-age golf novel, “Too Much Loft,” is in its third printing, and is available from store.Bookbaby.com, Amazon, B&N and book distributors worldwide.

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