Motivating Swimmers: 10 Fundamentals to Reaching Success In and Out of the Water by Todd Larkin, Saint Xavier High School (2012)


[introduction, by Dick Shoulberg]
I am Dick Shoulberg, and it is my pleasure to introduce you to Todd. And when I see the word “Louisville”, I think of 1958 when I did my basic training at Fort Knox. That was not good memories, but I am glad I did it. So Todd, welcome, have fun, and we are all interested in hearing what you have to say.

[Larkin begins]
Thank you; Dick, thank you for that introduction. My name is Todd Larkin; I am the head coach of Saint Xavier High School in Louisville, Kentucky. And I really want to thank you: we have got a great… we have got a packed room here. I want to thank you for really giving me the opportunity to talk to you about motivation today and speaking to you on, kind of, maximizing your team through principles and fundamentals that are necessary to do that. But there are so many choices over this ASCA track, I really appreciate you putting this on your schedule and then taking the time to be here.

When I built this presentation, I wanted to do something a little different. This is my first time presenting at ASCA, but I have attended many of these World Clinics in the past and I wanted this presentation to be a little different. I have been to some that were fantastic and phenomenal presentations; I have been to others that basically just defined theories but did not really apply them. So, I wanted to kind of apply a personal touch to give you a little bit of some examples that can maybe be applicable to your program. Obviously, I want to affirm things that I am teaching, and I want you to learn. And I do not know how mind-blowing this is going to be, it might be more of an affirmation to you, but I hope that you do learn something or really understand these ten fundamentals a little bit better on how to maximize your program and be more consistent.

I am a high school teacher, also. I teach senior boys, which they take a lot of poking and prodding sometimes. So this will be an interactive presentation, I will ask questions; so feel free to raise your hands, I will call on you… no, I am not going do that—I am not in school today. So do not feel pressured: just sit back and relax and enjoy the material.

The first thing that I want to do though is, I would like to kind of see a show-of-hands on what levels of coaching you coach. How many… do we have any Age Group coaches out there—that is strictly or more? Even though this is an NISCA-sponsored talk, I just wanted to see where the room was. Do we have any head coaches out there? Head coaches of the team. Good. And any specific high school? Great, all right, fantastic. Any college coaches out there? Good, awesome. We have got a wide, wide range.

I am up here and I am representing pretty much all of you in the coaching profession, and it is something that I have done pretty much all my life. I have so much admiration for what you do, or what we do, and I want to highlight that a little bit in this presentation. But what you do is something that is very beneficial; it is beneficial to our youth. You are an asset, and I want to thank you for really what you do and how you represent the sport. Because I think it is very, very important, and I think coaches deserve that credit and I think coaches deserve that pat on the back.

A little bit more background on me. I do coach at Saint X. That is often confused with the Cincinnati Saint X, if you remember that. We have got my Reds fan right up here, who saw me on pool deck and asked if I was with the Saint X in Cincinnati. My meet record since I have been there: it has been 36 and 1—so we have had some really good success. Our program has won 24-straight State championships. But before I got to Saint X, I was a club coach; I was a club coach for 16 years. I got my start with a small club in Shelbyville. But most notably, coached at Lakeside, a swim club out of Louisville, I was the head coach there. They are a Gold Medal Club. I worked there for 10 years and really kind of formed a lot of my coaching there. And I have won some different awards. I have been lucky enough, as an Age Group coach, to win that ASCA-sponsored Age Group Coach of the Year, and some different high school awards since I have been there, and gotten recognition in Kentucky for the State tournament. So just to give you a little bit of background on myself.

Really today I think what we have is, we have an opportunity to come together to really congregate and share ideas. I think a lot of times coaching can be a copycat profession, where we kind of borrow things. I know that in my coaching I have borrowed some things from some coaches that have coached me that I have liked; maybe some things that deterred me as a swimmer, I do not use in my everyday routine—I think that is really what it is about. But I think we have this great opportunity to improve and to learn. And really what my goal is, is to give you bits and pieces of information that you can add to your toolbox. You hear that term mentioned a lot in these talks, because I think everybody here… you would not be here if you did not have a strong foundation. And I might be going on assumption there, and I apologize to any new coaches that we have. But if you are at this clinic, you have some type of foundation probably already built. So what I want to do is I want to increase that awareness and I want to add to that, is what I want to do. And I think any information that you come out of this with can help build your team in the future.

I have got a quote on there… and I am a big quote guy. On all of my workouts that I put out for my students, I always try to put a quote. I learned that from Roy Williams, the coach at North Carolina, if we have got any North Carolina guys down here, or UNC fans. He does that and I think that is really neat. What it does is it really stimulates them; it kind of gives them a mental picture to start. I always try to put some physical things on the workout, and really try to spell that out for our athletes to let them know and kind of introduce what they are doing. I came across this one and I really like it; I think it really coincides nicely with my talk today. And it is: Look closely at the present you are constructing; it should look like the future you are dreaming. I think if you can get Age Group kids, club kids, high school kids, college kids to really pay attention to the moment at hand; and to have that future in the back of their mind, that what they are practicing on, what they are working on, is so important. I think it eliminates a lot of anxieties for down the road. I just thought it was a new quote and I really liked it. I thought it was something that was really evident to what I am talking about.

Today, more or less, the goals or objectives of the talk, what I want to get across, is: I want to talk to you about the keys to motivating swimmers. We are going to talk about motivation a little bit more in depth. I do want you to understand team dynamics when you leave here; I have got some different models that I am going to show you. It goes back to my roots with teaching business to seniors, so a lot of that is going to be along the lines of that—kind of my comfort zone. I want to define what a positive environment is. It sounds very simple, but I think it is the key. It is the key to winning championships, it is the key to getting results; is being positive with your athletes, being positive with parents, and being positive with your staff. I want to discuss the ten proven fundamentals that are in our program, something that we work on daily that has really helped define our program. And also talk to you a little bit about expectations that I think are important, that really need to be understood between coaches and swimmers.

And I put all this up there, but it comes with a warning. And that warning is that I want you to understand that any of these behavioral changes, they are going to take time. I think a lot of times I have come out of these clinics as a participant and you have got this overload of information. And everybody is just really… if you come out here as a staff, you are excited, you are ready to get down; you go back to workout, you are excited to see the swimmers, the kids again, and you just start throwing these things out there. I think you have to know your audience, you have to know what they really are competent of understanding. And I think if you introduce these over time, and you are consistent with that goal setting, I think long-term that is going to be better-off for your program. Basically the bottom line is: take it one day at a time. I think if you do that, I think you will find a lot more success with what I am introducing today, and just more-or-less how to pace yourself, is the best thing to do.

I think every program, I think it starts with passion. I think that comes from coaching leadership. But if you have that passion and if you have that love, I do not think that is something that you can fake; I think that is something that is real. I think kids realize that. And whether you know it or not, those kids and those students that you work with—or those athletes that you work with—they are watching you all the time. That may be one of the downsides. You cannot go anywhere: if you are at a ball game, if you are in a mall, if you are on the pool deck, if you are sitting in your office, if you are playing on computer; those kids are watching you. And they are watching exactly what you do. That is why it is important to take your responsibilities as a role model with the upmost importance, because they are doing that.

Who out here… this is probably a talk that could go on for days, but who believes in motivation? Who believes that you can motivate kids? Motivate people? Good; you are on the right talk—I wanted you to raise your hand, so it was not a trick question. I think that motivation, it is a combination, it is a formula. And if you can bring your passion, your belief and vision to your coaching, to your team, to your athletes, that is how you develop a well-rounded and motivated swimmer.

I have got a video on here, and I went outside coaching a little bit. I brought a celebrity that really… I do not know if swim coaches know who this is, because in Louisville she used to air in the afternoons when everybody was at workout—so you might not even know who this person is. But I wanted to play it anyway; just kind of sit back and watch it and enjoy. I have got to take my mic off, so if you cannot hear it in the back, I want you to be able to hear this video. But just watch it and we will discuss it after that. (Can you hear that back there in the back?)

What I know for sure, from this experience with you, is that we all are called; everybody has a calling. And your real job in life is to figure out what that is and get about the business of doing it. Every time we’ve seen a person on this stage who is a success in their life, they’ve spoke of the joy and they’ve spoke of the juice that they receive from doing what they knew they were meant to be doing. We saw it in the volunteers who rocked abandoned babies in Atlanta. We saw it with pie ladies; those lovely pie ladies from Cape Code making those delicious pot pies. And we saw it even with prisoners, training puppies behind bars to be adopted by our wounded soldiers; many of those inmates for the first time got to experience what it meant to love and be loved, and it took a dog to do it. We saw it every time Tina Turner, Celine or Lady Gaga lit-up the stage with their passion. Because that is what a calling is: it lights you up and it lets you know that you are exactly where you’re supposed to be, doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. And that is what I want for all of you.

And hope that you will take from the show to live from the heart of yourself. You have to make a living, I understand that; but you also have to know what sparks the light in you so that you in your own way can illuminate the world. You know when I started, not even I imagined that this show would have the depth and the reach that you all have given it. It has been a privilege for me to speak to you here in this studio, in this country and in a 150 countries around the world, on this platform that is the Oprah Winfrey Show. You let me into your homes to talk to you every day, this is what you allowed me to do; and I thank you for that. But what I want you to know as the show ends, each one of you has your own platform. Do not let the trappings here fool you: mine is a stage in a studio, yours is wherever you are. With your own reach; however small or however large that reach is. Maybe it’s 20 people maybe it’s 30 people, 40 people, your family, your friends, your neighbors, your classmates, your classrooms, your coworkers. Wherever you are, that is your platform, your stage, your circle-of-influence. That is your talk show and that is where your power lies.

In every way, in everyday, you are showing people exactly who you are; you’re letting your life speak for you. And when you do that, you will receive in direct proportion to how you give and whatever platform you have. Of course the circumstances are all different for all of us, but the power, I know, is the same. You could help somebody, you can listen, you could forgive, you can heal. You have the power to change somebody’s life; look around and you’ll see. You may not have to look any further than your own family or maybe even your own self. The power is the same.

Everybody has a calling. Mine aligned with my profession, my job. But not everybody gets paid for it, but everybody is called. It may be your skill at listening, your talent from nurturing and mothering. Do not get it confused; it does not have to be some highfalutin something, or something that makes you famous—we’re all confused about fame versus service in this country. One of my favorite stories is Marcia Kilgore, who founded the successful Bliss spa; she was here years ago. And I remember going to her spa and getting a beautiful facial from her—so great. And I stood up on the table and said, “This is the best facial that I’ve ever had.” And she said, “That’s because extractions, popping zits, are my passion.”

My great wish for all of you who have allowed me to honor my calling through this show is that you carry whatever you are supposed to be doing, carry that forward. And don’t waste anymore time: start embracing the life that is calling you and use your life to serve the world.

[Larkin]: I think it is a great message. And I saw that and I came across that when I was putting this presentation together. Does everybody know who Oprah Winfrey is? I think she is pretty recognizable. That was from her last show. But I think what makes Oprah great is she is a great communicator. And what makes her a great communicator, whether you agree with her or not: she could walk onto a movie set with million-dollar directors, communicate clear and precise; she can turn around in the same day and talk to the average Joe watching her show, and still get through to that person. And I think that is what makes her so unique.

And I guess, maybe, I might have a little chip on my shoulder, and I do not know if any of you all have ever been this. When I was coaching club—I coached club for 16 years that I put in my background—I remember when I would be out or I would be with my wife or I would be at one of my kids functions. And people would say, Well, what do you do? “Well, I coach; I’m a swim coach.” And the next thing you got was, Is that full time? Is that what you do? “Of course.” If you coach club, you are on a deck for weekends and weekends out, you are traveling. You are at the pool in the morning, you are at the pool in the afternoon. And I took kind of offence to that, a little bit, like this was a hobby. But this was my career. So I started to play around with language a little bit and I got smart in my old age. And toward my older club-days, people would ask, What do you do?, and I would be, “I’m a professional swim coach.” Wow!, they were, this guy is a professional; he coaches professional. And I think that just that one word, putting that one word in front of coaching—I’m a professional swim coach—changed their image about what I had been doing for 16 years. And I think Oprah illustrates that really, really well; and I think she does pick her language and communicates so well with that. I think that is why I chose that clip, and I think that it is important to choose your language when you communicate, and we are going to talk about that a little later on in the presentation.

This [book] is kind of in the works and it should be out in November. I have been working on a book; it is called Bright Lights. And basically, it was born out of this presentation, and it is still in kind of the editing phase. If you are interested in what I am speaking about and you want to look at that more in depth, it is basically a larger volume of what this presentation is about. It will be available in November. I am really excited; I have got Pat Forde, former ESPN writer, as my editor; he is with Yahoo Sports right now, and he does a really wonderful job. I am really looking forward to see this come about. And we have a campus store at Saint X and if you just look-up, it will be available on there. I have got my contact information up here if you are interested in purchasing that or want to get some for your athletes. It has been a culmination of work. I think it is a really, really special piece, so I am really looking forward to putting that out.

Wooden’s Pyramid of Success
Early on in my coaching, this [on slide] was it, this was the key. Is anybody here familiar with [John] Wooden’s Pyramid of Success? What a great document. If you are not familiar with it, familiarize yourself with it—it is fantastic. Coach Wooden, what he put together here is something that I used early-on in my coaching. And I want to walk-you-through the pyramid a little bit, but not spend too much time on it. Basically you are going to look at the foundation first. And Coach Wooden was an excellent teacher, he was an excellent coach. And I will go through this slide of success here in a little bit.

If you look at the cornerstones of his championship teams, on the one corner is industriousness and the other one is enthusiasm. And he really built all of his teams around those two principles. With the industriousness, it is about the work. And everybody knows that; everybody knows the work has got to be put in. But when it is fused in with the enthusiasm, that is what makes it special and that is what makes it unique. And that is what builds success, and that is what climbs you to the apex of the pyramid. Now also on the bottom there, on the foundation there, he has got your life skills: he has got your friendship, your loyalty, your cooperation. And then you step-up, and he has got intentness, he has got initiative, he has got alertness, he has got self-control. Things that all athletes need to have; things that all teams need to have. Then you go-up a little bit more and you have got condition, skill; but I really liked how he still puts that team spirit, he still puts that team pride even, that high up on the pyramid. And then you have got poise and then you have got confidence; which is something that has to be earned, it is not something that is given out. It is something that you have got to go through the work to understand that; you have got to go through the work to get that. And then the top, it is about competitive greatness.

And I think… what I like so much, and what we are talking about today, is: how to maximize that moment, how to get your athlete at the big meet, how to get them to perform, and how to get them to reach that goal. The secret is every day. It is not… and I think that is one of the hardest things about coaching is that constant evaluation process. It is so time consuming. When a kid sits down and writes down their goal, and then it gets crumpled away or gets taught, and all of a sudden the big meet is here. You have to track that, and you have to hold them accountable to that every day in workout. I think that is one of the number one things in our program: it is accountability. And it is accountability on a daily basis. And I never feel like we go into any meets… I feel we are always prepared, I feel like our students are always ready-to-roll, and I think they understand what they are about-ready to achieve—I think they get that. And I think the more time that you can spend and the more energy that you can put into that daily effort, I think the more rewards and the more success you are going to have with that.

This is my model that I am going to talk about. It is a basic business model, but it is the one that we have built our program, or we built our foundation, around. A little different from Coach Wooden’s, but it was influenced by that. And you are going to see some of the same influences. And what you are going to find is… I really picked a 360-degree model—it is big in business right now. From Louisville, one of our big corporations in town is Yum! Brands. I do not know if you have heard of Yum! Brands. I am sure you have heard of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC; that is all under their umbrella, their corporate umbrella. They are really big into the 360 feedback, the evaluations of employees; trying to get their employees to maximize their on-job performance.

So what I did was the circular flow of it is your environment; those were going to be your five Cs: where you got your communication—I am going to go through each one of these on each slide, so do not feel that you have got to write them all down right now. You have got your consistency, you have your training culture, you have what you create, and then you have your competency. In the middle of there, those are your fundamentals. And they are not in any listed order, they are basically pretty much just revolving around the circle. You have got technique, you have passion—which we have already spoken about—positive thinking, enthusiasm, confidence, attitude, goal setting, discipline, leadership and then competition. In the center, it is your athlete—it is your individual. This model encompasses that athlete. And what it does, it brings that motivation, or it brings that dynamic or that safety net, of allowing them to believe through the support of the team, of the program, of the coaching staff.

And you will see… you are going to find within that, you are going to find different things that do coincide. You are going to see that enthusiasm and attitude, they are going to play off each other. You have got technique in leadership; you have got competition with passion and discipline. You know, how you control your pace? How do you control your speed? How do you hit take-outs? You are going to see all of that, and we are going to go into that a little bit. But that is basically what I am going to speak to you about in simple business type form.

And really what this does, this simply builds a trust—that is what this does. It builds a trust in your program, it builds a trust in your athletes; that is what it does.

Environment: the 5 Cs
Let us start with the environmental portion of this.

Communication. One of the things that really I think is a cornerstone or something that has to be established right away in your program. You have to employ, really, a triangular relationship. And what I mean with that is communication has got to flow with the parents, it has got to flow with the athlete; and it has got to form that triangle. If not, credibility will be lost. If you have got… and maybe some of you are parents; I have got four children, here, and I try to practice what I preach. When one of my kids get in the car… believe it or not I do not really have any swimmers: I have got a runner, I have got a club baseball player; they all stayed away from swimming—imagine that. (They are around it enough when dad comes home.) My son will get-in after baseball practice, and Ah man, the coach just wrote…. And I am not going to side with him; I am not going to say, “Oh yeah, you’re right that coach is nuts, he’s a lunatic; I’ve seen him out there.” The credibility is lost, I am basically cutting that coach off at the knees, and you cannot do that. You cannot do that to your athletes. And I think that is why it is important to have that professional relationship or have that good communication flow.

And I really think technology backs that up, with social media, with websites, with handbooks. There are so many different venues that you can communicate [through], I really do not really think you have an excuse there. It is just finding the right one and finding the right model or that sense of communication that works for you. At school I am limited; I use something called Edline is what I use, and you cannot send attachments and you cannot send documents. So I have to be a little bit more creative. If you are a club team, you might have a little bit more room, or you might have a little bit more room to build that.

Be professional. It drives me crazy when sometimes on the pool deck and I hear the coaches when the swimmer gets out, Hey K-dog, and all the slang that is thrown across the deck. They get that from their peer group; they really do not need that from a coach. Kids want their coaches to be leaders. They want that communication and they want that language to be strong. They want that sense of security. They do not want the same thing they get from their buddy that they drive to practice with or they would go home from the meets. So, I think you have to be different, and I think you have to have that in the back of your mind when you do choose your language.

And when you choose that language, treat all of your students with dignity. I think it goes… I think everybody probably has had that time where maybe they have lost their cool, or they have been flustered, or they have had maybe a bad… something is going on in their personal life and they have brought that to the pool deck; be careful. I think that you have to treat your athlete with dignity; you have to show them that you care. And unfortunately, maybe getting back to the Oprah video, sometimes we are not all paid to go that extra mile. But if you are going to be a great coach and you are going to be in charge of an elite program, you have to do that. I do not think kids are disposable—I do not, I have got four kids myself. I think you have to treat them with that love and I think you have to care about them every day, even throughout differences.

Culture. I think it is very important to distinguish this early. If you have not already done so, I think you need to know how to handle that. It really is what sets your team apart, and I think this gives your team definition. It is a simple way to define. And I am giving a talk tomorrow about coaching leadership and team design; and I will go into leadership and I will go into culture a little bit more in-depth tomorrow—at this same time and I believe I am in the same room. But it sets-up your developmental stages on how to progress the athletes. So they have kind of some mind… this is where you teach them how to control what they can control.

And I have got on there in caps: you have to turn in a positive way. If you do not, the model collapses, the model falls apart. And I cannot reinforce that enough, how you have to do that. I do not think programs… you are not going to get the long-term success by fear. You are going to get it through love; you are going to get it through that positive reinforcements and through caring about those athletes.

Your culture is where your team is going to form. I heard a great talk a few years ago in Indianapolis from Coach Teri McKeever about the storming and the norming and how teams come together, how you bring them to the performing phase, and then you basically transform: you say goodbye to the ones… we say goodbye to our seniors, we recognize their accomplishments, and then we start building for the upcoming year. Your team will go through those phases: you are going to go through that endurance phase, you are going to go through that wrestle for control stage… it is there, and you all know what I am talking about. And I think having the structure and having the culture to handle that, and having those definitions, help you through that adversity.

The deep practice… has anybody read The Talent Code? Anybody familiar with that book? Good book. Basically, bottom line, it talks about just practicing correctly over and over again; no shortcuts, no cutting corners, you [have] got to hold that line, you got to hold that discipline with your athletes, you got to hold that discipline with your students. When we get into technique, we will talk a little bit more about that. But it is getting involved and being comfortable when uncomfortable: all of that philosophy. It is very, very important to your culture.

Consistency is another key to environment. It basically backs-up all of your training and your discipline. Basically you are backing what you sell, is what it is. When you map-out and say, we’re going to do this this month; and we’re going to train this way in this month; we’re going to go to this meet and we’re going to perform this way; we’re going to swim fast when we’re not rested, we’re going to rest, we’re going to swim even faster. It is having that consistent structure—is what it is. Swimmers feel comfort in this, I think; as having that and understanding. You do not have to go too deep into it, but I think you do need to provide that outline.

You know, another form: it is like starting on time. Like I said, I coach high school boys and they are… ugh. I mean, I started right when I step on the pool deck. I had it in my mind that we were going to have an elite program where we were going to have one of the top teams in the country, so we were going to act like it. I refused to go in the locker room and pull those guys out. They know we start at 3:00, they know they have got four minutes to change-out of their coats and ties, they know they need to be in their suits and they know they need to be in the water, not coming out. And at 3:00 we start; we are moving forward. And if they are not there, they are missing out. And I do not put up with it; I refuse to put up with it. That is not the way… coming in late and being unprepared is not the way that we want to define our program. And I back that up with my coaching every day, and the boys know that. And sure enough, we had some freshman that come into the program and do not know that, and boy, they learn real quick. And I do not even have to get on them: our upper classmen, our captains, the leaders of our team, they get on them for me. And they say, “Welcome to Saint X. We don’t do that here.” And they get it real quick.

I think positive habits… we talked a lot about positive thinking, we talked about it does need to be there every day. And I think really coaching that standard, where athletes understand your language, they understand your coaching. And this is where the team goals come in:
• What do you want to accomplish as a team?
• What do you want to do?
• What do you want to achieve?
• How can you get your athletes into that?

Create was also a part of the environment, or part of the five Cs. This is where you introduce change. I do not know how many of you like change; I do not think anybody likes change; I know high school boys do not like change. If I go into my desk in my office and there is a pen moved, I do not like that; I am kind of a creature of habit. But change is going to happen. And you really cannot do anything to stop it, so you have to embrace it—is what you have to do. It is taking the initiative of the coach and being in control—is what you have to do. And that helps you create and that helps you control that.

Embrace innovation—I have that. Never to stand still. I know that is something that we are always trying to push in our program. We came out with a really good handbook that really defines our program. We have it listed online; we have it basically in book form. It has got records, it has got information, it has got rules. We came out with these—the swimmers love these. We came out… these are actually our swimmers, and we came out with cards for our swimmers—is what we do. And we use it for recruiting. And our school is $14,000 a year to attend our school; so recruitment is part of the process. But what we do is we put little simple facts on the back of them. We will put meet schedules on them. We will put some did you know about the program. We will pass these around at our open houses; we have prospective students coming into our building, they will walk out with it. Just little things like this. Did not take much, these… beside the photography, these cards to print-up about 700 of these cards costs me about $50. But every kid that walks into our school that is interested in Swimming, they walk out with them. And the guys love it, they think it is great—I have got my own baseball card, how cool is that?

It is little things like this that keep your program or define your program. We do college résumés. We do different things for our kids. We do a lot of homework for parents so they do not have to do it. And it is a way that basically we say, this is where you want to go to school; this is why you want to be a part of this program. A lot of your inspiration is going to come from here. And I think you always want to push to be the best, but you want to have fun. And I think in our program, we do.

Take the time to recognize that achievement. It is a critical skill, but I think it is hard in coaching because there are always the breakdowns, there is always the film analysis. And you will go in this trade show and you will see 18 million things on how to breakdown a stroke and how to make that stroke better. It is understanding the achievement, understanding that effort, that human spirit; I do not know if there is something that measures that. It is up to you to let them know they are doing a good job and to recognize that.

Be involved with your team unity. I like to think of myself as a swimmer’s coach. I do not ignore kids when I see them in the hallways. You know, they are, “Coach”. If you yell that in the hallways, we have got so many coaches at our school everybody turns around. It really is… embrace that. I think it is something that is important, and understand that they are talking to you and they do understand you.

Competency. It is pretty much why these clinics take place. We are here to improve our skills; we are here to add to our toolbox. And I think we all are students; that is why we are here. I think this clinic provides… there are resources like this. I have got a NISCA form that I have got to promote because I am a high school coach; these forms are up on the table. Another great resource is NISCA [National Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association], where you can see… they have great literature. And it is easy for you: pick-up one of these applications, fill it out. Join some different organizations, expand your portfolio. Like I said, I rely on this because I am a high school coach—but it is not limited to that. Understanding technology and how to use technology is important. And just reinforcing those skills on a daily basis, it really allows you to do so much more.

I have got a question for you—and you do not have to answer out loud—but just take a moment to think about it. It is about your working environment and your program. And the question is: Who wakes up every day and is excited to go to the place where they work? Take a moment to think about that; it is not something I have to think about. I have been at Saint X, I graduated from Saint X, it was a great opportunity to go back and coach there. A lot of teachers who taught me thirty years ago are still there. I go to work every day and I am excited to be there; I am excited to walk in that building. And I hope I never lose that; I am not planning on that. If you said no, and you might be feeling a little burned out, your swimmers will be feeling the same way. So sometimes you have to put yourself in their position. So, I hope you answered yes to that.

Kind of some proof; I have spent a lot of time talking about environment. I have got a little two-minute video here—this is Swimming-related. It is a relay. We set a State record a couple of years ago, and somebody put this together for us. I think what makes it amazing is not the time—they went 1:23 in the 200 Free Relay which broke the State record by a couple of seconds—but it is who is on it. What we put-together on this relay in a year’s time.

We had a student that was cut from the basketball team; 6’6″-guy jumped-in the first time, swam a 26, 50 freestyle. But could jump out of the gym, and could dunk the ball. His split on the relay was 20.6—in a matter of a year’s time. And his athletic existence was over at our school, it was done. He was cut! He walked into the pool as a last-chance, walking to his car, because at one time he swam country club. And now he is an All American.

We have a kid on this relay who had two picks for touchdowns that year as a safety on our football team. Not too many people say this. These are not club guys; they are guys that just jumped into a high school program and decided to buy-in to what we were doing and swim very, very fast. There is a kid that came to us all the way from Dubai, because he had grandparents in Louisville and was never really that disciplined. And really… when we talked about kick, he really did not know what we were talking about or any of the training. So he had to learn a new language, learn a new school, learn a new training; in about five months. And then we had a wild-card on there: a kid who had bounced around but never really found his way in any of our club programs in town. Got into trouble a little bit: got into a fight two months before and could not put his goggles on because his eye was so swollen. And it is accepting that; it is pulling that kid in, to be a part of this and be a part of something really special. (Let me see if this plays here.)

In this next race, Saint Xavier set the State record yesterday with a 1:25.30, which tells me they did not hold back at all. I mean, if you’re setting a State record, that’s very impressive. And don’t look for this to be much of a contest here, Saint Xavier’s just put their thoroughbreds in this relay and those guys know exactly what to do when it comes to relay time. This place will get extremely loud as this nears the end and they’re racing the clock.

Nice first leg for Saint Xavier but Manual’s put a nice first leg out there too. Here’s where we’re going to start to see a little bit of a separation as you see a great start from Saint X. Like I said, you like to start with a really faster swimmer, maybe your second-fastest; like to anchor with your fastest—that’s typically the way they setup. But when you don’t loss much from the first second and third and so on, it’s really easy to put a nice relay together. And there’s another nice start from Saint X. They’re getting there at the 41.96 mark for the first 100 of this 200 Free Relay. And they’ve really got… they’ve got the lead going now. And here, you’re starting to hear people getting pretty fired-up, because you about to see a pretty big boy, in Bo Blythe, hit the water momentarily. He’s in. They came in at the 1:02.62 mark; and as long he doesn’t swim a 23, they’re going to look to come home with a State record. Here he comes, far-and-away, we’ve got people jumping all over the place. They’ve got a huge lead. And, oh man, they’re going to crush the record.

Crushed it. Almost two full seconds, a 1:23.87 for a State record—that is lightning fast. You never see a 200 Free Relay finish a full-four seconds between 1st and 2nd place.

Pretty cool, and really cool how it all came together. It is kind of one of those moments that… it just all came together beautifully, and happened at the right time.

10 Fundamentals
Ten fundamentals: I do want to go into this. But basically here is your list; this is what was in the circle that you saw:
1. Technique,
2. Passion,
3. Positive Thinking,
4. Enthusiasm,
5. Confidence,
6. Attitude,
7. Goal Setting,
8. Discipline,
9. Leadership, and
10. Competition.
If you look… I mentioned the success that Coach Wooden has had with his, and kind of matched-up—not to compare to Coach Wooden—put our success over there on the side. And if you are not familiar with the UCLA Basketball Dynasty that happened in the ‘70s, it is pretty amazing what they did with all the championships and the wins and the 88-consecutive victories. But I think what Coach Wooden did such a great job of, and what I know from his teaching, is how he really reinforces the parallels between life and sports. And I think we have to recognize that as coaches.

A little bit about our program and our undefeated seasons, our dual meet record, our victories. And I think one thing that defines us is we know who we are. We know where we want to go, we know where we want to be, and we are on track to do that. I think you have to know who you are when you create a program.

#1: Technique
Technique is everything. I think you probably heard a lot over the talks about quality-over-quantity concept in training. You know, fast swimmers are going to be the ones that hold their races together at the end—that is how they finish. And that is the key to swimming. I think understanding that deep practice, that perfect practice, and really stressing kids. Your warm down: do not let your kids jump-in the showers to go to warm down. Like I said, I coach high school boys—like herding cats—do your warm down. So we went to a philosophy of: I want you to do 4×25, and I want you to do perfect technique. I want you to leave here, I want you to leave the pool deck, practicing perfect. And that’s how I want you to set-up the next day.

Do not cut corners, and you constantly have to evaluate that technique—I think we all know that as coaches. I think this encourage kids to be engaged in what you are doing. You know, we work a lot of quality in our program. We have kind of gone to a system where we will go… we do not do a lot of recovery. We will just hammer-out four days of quality, and then do a day of recovery, and then we will just hammer-out another four. And we do really try to do that. And I think that we do that also in the weight room. You know, you saw that a lot in the Olympics, if you saw some of those pieces on Lochte. Do not forget that, obviously from an injury stand-point, you need to obviously stress good technique if you are in charge of the weight program or strength-and-conditioning in your program. It is something that we really put a lot of emphasis on in our program.

#2: Passion
Passion. To go back to the video a little bit, it needs to be demonstrated every day. I think loving the sport, promoting the sport, really shows that willingness to work. And I think as a coach you need to display that for your students. It is like anything else, when you are coaching… and I made mention of this earlier in the presentation about how the swimmers are watching you, they are constantly looking at you. Do not try to beat them out the door, to your cars. I have seen so many coaches do that with my kids in some of the sports—not swim coaches. You have to take the time. They might not want to approach you, they might even be afraid of you a little bit; but try to engage that conversation, engage that communication. Because if you do not, you are going to lose them. And I do not think anybody in this business, or any of us or any of our teams, want to lose [them]; we want to retain kids—is what we want to do.

I have got on their pride is much more than words. If you saw our records, it is 36-1. I remember the loss to this day, and one of the reasons why I remember is because it was a big meet. It was a rival meet, and we did a special t-shirt for it and we put pride on the back of the shirts. We got stomped; I mean, we got absolutely crushed. And I remember talking to the boys: they had lost to this team [for] twenty years in a row before my staff and I had gotten in there. And I had never gotten beat that bad, never. I just said enough, we got to do things differently. They were not really that overwhelmed with it as much as we were. And I said, “This is a wakeup call or this is a setback.” And I wanted all the shirts back because I told them that the pride that was on the back was false advertisement. It is not just something that goes on the t-shirt; it is something that you have got to believe. We came back, we beat the team the next year, and have continued to roll on through with what we have been doing. It was a real eye-opener, it was a real defining moment for me at Saint X; and one the boys, they really responded to and did a really good job. And I think it did relate back to that passion and that commitment that the coaches had to that excellence.

#3: Positive Thinking
Positive thinking. Positive mental attitude: it has been around for years. We have something in our school called study skills, where we have all our freshman take it; it kind of sets them up for our school. And we do a swim camp in the summers, and we happen to do it in the viewing room where they have this study skills program. And I found one of the manuals. And I attended study skills at Saint X at 1982, and the same picture that I had in 1982 was the same cover shot. And what it is, our mascot is the tiger and he is walking up the steps to success. And it is that self-motivation through that P.M.A.; through that positive mental attitude.

As many things that have changed in the world since 1982, I was glad to see that we were teaching our students exactly the same thing. That it starts with that positive attitudes, there was comfort in seeing that illustration, and it gave me a good laugh when we were putting on our camp. But I think it is true: it starts with that, it starts with that belief. And I think really positive thinking, we have talked a little bit about how this needs to be one of these cornerstones. And it starts with being great. I think believing that and displaying that positive attitude really is how you become great. I have mentioned that fear is short term, but positive promotion is long term. And I think you need to keep that mind when you are really selling the positive thinking. You have to believe it; you have to buy into it.

#4: Enthusiasm
Enthusiasm is about bringing it every day; you have to build that excitement and you have to create that buzz. When I was coaching Age Groupers, this was their socialization for the day: they came to workout to hang-out with their buddies. Getting them to step-up and set State records and getting them to achieve results in the water, that was kind of the by-product of that. And I never wanted them to peak in the Age Group program; I always wanted them to continue, I wanted them to enjoy the sport, and I wanted them to get better as they matured physically.

But I think that if you bring… our workouts were fun. And if you bring that enthusiasm to the deck, sure it is tiring; but the investment is great. And at Saint X, we really play on this brotherhood thing: it is an all-guy school, and we try to create that sense in workout, we try to create that sense in really anything we do. It is not… enthusiasm just does not have to happen at meets; it has to happen on a daily basis, it has to happen in workouts—is what it has to do.

#5: Confidence
Confidence. I do feel like this probably unlocks all of the locks here, to your obstacles. It is getting them to understand that, and getting them to realize they can be confident. It really helps maintain and creates that success. And it reaffirms that environment that we talked about creating and setting-up that belief. And obviously it allows you to reach heights as a program that maybe you never thought you could. We just came out of an exciting summer with the Olympics. And I try to tell all of the kids that come into our program that: sure that’s a great dream. The people that make it to the Olympics are the people that do not place limits on themselves, or allow others to place limits on themselves. And it is that belief and understanding that: yes, people do make it to that level. And getting kids and students to realize that is very important.

Speaking of that—we do not really have a whole lot of time. I have got to touch the Michael Phelps-thing, because we all watched Phelps. I think we were all spoiled in ’08. But did he swim as inspired in London as he did in Beijing? You know, I don’t know. I was not there, I was not on the pool deck—and maybe some of you all were. But at least from a TV standpoint, I do not know. I was really proud of Michael for coming on one of the Today shows, or one of the things, when he got out-touched in the 200 fly, and said I got what I deserved. I didn’t practice that; I practiced floating my walls for two years in practice, got out touched. And I thought that was a great message, and I thought that was really great of his character to step-up and really admit that to the world. And I think it really reinforces what we do as coaches, and how he was willing enough to admit that. That maybe he was not as locked-in or he did not quite have that tunnel-vision like he had just four years ago.

#6: Attitude
Attitude. Walking and talking like a champion, I have got that on there. It is about body language. I think it is about getting your athletes to believe in that attitude and then demonstrate that body language. Watching when they step-up to the block. I do not think you really need to grill them if they believe in that goal or if they understand that goal; just look at them. Look at their body language, look at how they represent themselves.

Take a look in the mirror, too, as a coach. I am not going to lie to you; I would love to say I am always confident as I am here and I am on the pool deck standing-up straight. I have got a great coaching staff—my coaching staff is with me here today—and I am up here today talking to you all because of them and the support they give me. My grandma passed away a year ago, and I remember walking into the big meet—the State championship meet. And I remember one of my best friends, Manny, who has been with me 11 years, 12 years; he pulled me aside and said, “Stand-up straight”, because I was letting something from my personal [side] kind of creep into my profession. And you have to be careful. So I think it is something that we all need to practice. Luckily I had that strong support system to say Hey man, pull it together, because I am human, I make mistakes all the time. And I try to make mistakes to get better.

The attitude… you will see the clever phrase of the swim to win or the refuse to lose. But I think, really, attitude is about showing sportsmanship; it is about having class. You know, we are upon the NFL, football, and you are going to see a lot of touchdown-dances over the course of the weekend. I do not know if there are any from last night that made Sport Center, but… I mean, act like you have been there. Somebody who has scored thirty touchdowns, I do not know if that is really needed, if you have that kind of talent to play on that kind of level. I think it is one of the things we try to teach kids and boys in our program.

#7: Goal Setting
Goal setting. You know, it has been referred to as a final destination, which it is. But it also, I think that some coaches the way that we try to play on goals, I think we do try to start with that dream and we try to do it deductively is how we set our goals in our program. We start with that dream: Where do you want to go? Where is your vision? Then we go to the long term, then we go to the short term, and then we work on that daily goal. And I think if you can get kids locked into that, I think it is true. Sure, goals have got to be specific, but I think if you can start and you can really hone in on that dream, I think that it really, it does carry them and carries them through their training—is what it does.

#8: Discipline
Discipline. It is going to be your detailed work, is what it is going to be. It is about taking ownership and it is about really exploiting those excellent fundamentals, which are very important to a high caliber or an elite program. It is really bringing that every day, is what that basically boils down to.

#9: Leadership
Leadership—what I am speaking about tomorrow. I put that quote on there from Coach Wooden because I think it is a great quote: the ability to get individuals to work together for a common good and the best possible results, while at the same time letting them know they did it themselves. Ownership, accountability. Leadership is about making decisions; it is about assuming risks and having the guts to stand-up there and pull the trigger when you need to pull the trigger. And it is courageous. Being a follower is courageous also. But no doubt about it, leadership, the position, might be more glorified, but it is still about the same. It takes courage and you have to reward that courage. It is about being unselfish and it is about really just teaching others and setting that example. But that will be a little bit tomorrow.

#10: Competition
Competition. We talked about that, the moment; and about how, really, you want all of the fundamentals to come nicely together, to really help you maximize that moment and seize that moment. And, you know, it is really about: training can only take you too far. I think there is the training aspect of it, there is the competition aspect. Some of you have heard, maybe you have coined that or heard that phrase: they are a good practice swimmer. And I think it is getting that student, or getting that swimmer, to really step-out of that and to embrace that. To put the workout into the meets, and really understanding the magnitude of that competition. So it is important. And as I talked about earlier, it is the moment of truth, it is about hitting your mark. And it is really about performing when the lights come up.

The Athlete
I put on there: don’t forget about the center, the athlete. We have spent 90% of this talk about environmental things and about fundamentals that you need to teach your athlete; but you have to engage the center. And the swimmer is the upmost core of the model presented, and you have to engage them. You have to communicate. You have to make sure that they are doing things correctly. You have to promote their self-esteem on how their hard work is going to pay off. I try to coach everyday like it is my last. And I think if you can get swimmers to swim every race, every workout, every set, like it is their last—and if they can bring that intensity—the results will be outstanding.

I think we are all here to make our programs better. I think the way you do that is you do make mistakes. I think you move forward from those mistakes, you take those expectations and you just be better. I think everybody is qualified, not even knowing where you are from or what club you are associated with: you have those skills, you do. You have to make it personal, put that stamp on your program. Promote being positive—you would not have gotten into coaching if you were not.

It can be as simple as making it… just knowing your kids’ names. I have coached some… at Lakeside we had 400 kids. You have got a whole bunch of new kids that come into the program. I have 115 guys on my high school team; I always try to take the time when those freshman come-in to get to know them right away. And I always put pressure on myself to know their names that first weekend. And it is hard, because they wear ties every day to school and then I have got look at them with a wet head and then I have got to try to identify them in the hallways. So it is work, but you have to do that—you have to do that. We talked about dignity and understanding that: that is what it is all about.

So to kind of close the loop on this: what does this hour mean? I think it has multiple meanings. And I do not really know if there is a bottom line. If you are looking for it, I would say: be open to growth in your program. And take this model, collaborate and just try and influence others. I think you can try to take advantage of what you have seen. I think if you want to break it down to more importantly from the Oprah video: walk out of this room and understand how lucky you are to be in the position that you are and that you have an impact to make on someone’s life. I think that I can get lost.

This speech was really about maybe a call-to-arms, on how to care for your athlete and how to take an interest in that athlete and how to make a difference and really about doing what is right. I guess the ultimate take is really, it is about being available and just being yourself. Because I think probably every one of you all out there could have delivered this and put this out there.

I want to thank you for taking, again, the hour to be here. Really this was a great honor, this was a great opportunity to speak to you. When John approached me with it, I was really exciting. Does anybody have any questions? I know we are up on the hour right now, but does anybody have anything else? I will take the question if you have one.

[audience member]: You were a club coach for 16 years; I teach middle school, I coach high school and I coach the club. Why did you stop coach club when you started teaching high school?

[Larkin]: Family, priorities. It gave me an opportunity to spend more time with my kids. It was an unbelievable opportunity. I love my club team, I was happy, I was not really looking; but it was a chance to come home. I have been very fortunate because I swam for Lakeside, I also went to school at Saint X. So I had a chance to come home twice. We do clinics, we do a lot of other things there, and so I still have involvement. And, really, I thought it was a risk. But the mission of the school and my mission in life are exactly aligned. And it has just been a great opportunity for me; it really has, it has all worked out.

Anybody else?

[audience member]: Is your team solely composed of high school athletes, or do you have club swimmers?

[Larkin]: No, we have club swimmers, like I said. We have three predominant club teams in the city of Louisville, and, basically, the way that I… I do not make the club swimmers practice with us. I coached a lot of them when they were 8, 9 and 10 years-old, so I do know a lot of them. But the way that I work the club swimmers into our program is we do a lot of activities. We will do some social activities that will bring them out; we will do some philanthropic projects like the Project Warms and some things for charities to bring them out. And I try to involve them in our program that-a-way. And I try to get them involved because I do feel that is an important part of the team unity. I am not going to make those club swimmers come-in and swim more laps: they do not want to do that, I do not want them to do that—I respect the club system. So we try to involve them in other ways, so when we do come together for the big meet, they feel ownership in that team.

Anybody else? All right, thank you very much.

##### end #####

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