As the newly appointed University of Hawai‘i swimming and diving head coach, Elliot Ptasnik constantly seeks to invest his time in keeping the winning culture going.
“It’s always been my intention to stay here at UH, do as well as we can, do as long as we can,” Ptasnik said.
But before his time as a coach, he invested his time as an investment banker. Ptasnik graduated from the University of Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in finance and entrepreneurship. He said that his experience as an investment banker helped him develop skills to interact with others.
Heading into almost three years at UH, Ptasnik said becoming head coach happened sooner than expected. But to him, it was a dream come true.
After becoming an assistant coach in 2016, he spent over three seasons under former head coach Dan Schemmel, who recently accepted a job offer as the head coach for Stanford’s men’s swimming and diving program.
Ptasnik said that it was not surprising that Schemmel received the offer, as he has been on the top of his game.
“I know when he first applied to Stanford, he let us know and we kind of laughed about it, like ‘Good luck!,’ but then once he got called out for the interview, at that point we knew it’s probably going to happen,” he said.
While Schemmel was on the verge of getting his new job, Ptasnik did not have any idea that his dream of becoming the head coach was knocking at the door.
Towards the end of May, Schemmel and his staff sat down for the year-ending evaluation when the question of ‘getting the job at Stanford’ came up in the agenda.
Ptasnik said there was some anxiety because assistant coaches usually follow the head coach, so they knew that they could be out of the job when a new head coach comes in.
Ptasnik mentioned that all these confusions faded away thanks to the strong relationship between the current team, the athletics department and the swimming community.
Ptasnik credits Schemmel for being a role model, for making tough decisions, being a good leader and showing great character.
“The quote that he always told the team and we always talk about is ‘entitled to nothing, grateful for everything,’” he said.
Ptasnik said that this quote especially relates to Hawai‘i because the team isn’t provided with a sufficient budget or with the latest training equipment. But the common thread that ran among the team and the staffers was that they are grateful to be here.
Ptasnik said being head coach means to be a CEO or manager for the entire team by handling the travel, administrative and financial sides.
Ptasnik was always around a pool and his whole life he was considered a “pool rat.” He mentioned that his parents would drop him off at their local pool at 8 a.m. and pick him up at 5 p.m. every day throughout the summer.
Ptasnik admitted that he was not the best swimmer, so he joined the University of Iowa’s swim team as a walk-on.
“When you are not the biggest or fastest, your senses and ears are always turned on to how to get better,” he said.
During his years at Iowa, Ptasnik was a four-year letterwinner, Academic All-Big Ten honoree and was awarded the Jim Marshall Memorial Award for his contributions to the team.
Ptasnik says his role model is swimmer Anthony Ervin, who won a gold medal in the 2000’s Olympic at the age of 19.
“He quit the sport for eight years, and then started teaching kids and rekindled his love for the sport by witnessing their joy for the water,” Ptasnik said. “He came back in, and won a gold medal again in 2016.”
Ervin happens to be the youngest and the oldest male to win a gold medal. Ptasnik’s inspiration came from the part where Ervin quit, came back and was able to triumph by sharing his story with the rest of the world.
As a head coach, Ptasnik says he has to be more patient with the athletes.
“When you are a younger coach, you want instant results, the fastest swimming possible at that time,” Ptasnik said. “Whereas now, I can step back and realize it’s more about growth and development and being fast at the right time.”
Swimming culture at UH
During his time at UH, the team has claimed three consecutive Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Female Swimmer of the Year honors, two MPSF Male Swimmer of the Year awards, 66 MPSF All-Academic Honors and 42 UH school records.
On the national scale, Ptasnik has helped produce three All-Americans: Franziska Weidner, Phoebe Hines and Kane Follows. Out of all his memories, he stated that winning the conference in both men’s and women’s last season was his best moment.
“We want to repeat that and make sure anybody who’s competing in the conference level is contributing, whether you are the fastest or not you’re still contributing in scoring points for the team,” he said.
His positivity is also his strong side, on and off the pool, being supportive of everyone’s academic and athletic endeavors.
He didn’t forget to mention to have fun in the pool because he thinks “fastest swimmers are usually the happiest swimmers.”
Ptasnik is confident that he can maintain the winning culture in the program.
“Myself, Marcus Gottmann (assistant swimming coach), Ivy Martin (graduate assistant) and formerly Dan, we operated as a team,” he said. “It wasn’t just him and it won’t be just me. It really takes everybody to win certain championships. So, we want to keep that culture going.”
Ptasnik emphasized that the relationships he has acquired in his time at UH helped him solidify his position as the head coach. The relationship consists of three folds: the team, the athletics department and the community.
“The outpour of love from the community; whether it’s the kids that have done our swim camps, or other local coaches, or master swimmers just doing open water swim, like everybody had our back,” he said.