Take 5: An interview with Team Breck U-16 coach Scott Ptach
The athletes with Team Breck aren’t the only ones juggling homework and snow time.
At 23 years old, Team Breck U-16 coach Scott Ptach is one of the youngest full-time staff members on the tight-knit team. That makes him college-aged, and, this December, he expects to graduate from the University of Colorado-Boulder with a Master’s degree in accounting. He’s been balancing the degree with coaching time at Team Breck, his newest gig, and Team Eldora, his first coaching gig.
The Steamboat Springs native grew up racing just about every discipline with his hometown club, then spent four years at Eldora coaching between credit hours for his undergraduate. He was with a slightly younger group there, the U-14s, but he’s always been drawn to clubs that balance athletics and life skills — just what teens (and busy college students) need.
The culture at Team Breck was calling his name, so, when alpine director Chelsea Lynch offered Ptach the gig this fall, he was ready for it. Before the holiday race slate, the Summit Daily sports desk caught up with him for his thoughts on school and skiing, leaving Boulder for Breck and why free skiing is just as important as gate training.
Summit Daily News: You’ve had a busy early-season, finishing a Master’s program and starting a new coaching gig. What’s it been like to juggle the two?
Scott Ptach: It’s really not too bad. I think the big thing for me is I grew up skiing, getting 60-plus days per year to ski race in high school. That’s where I learned all my time management skills. But I’ve been coaching for four years already while doing undergraduate and Master’s stuff. And, to be honest, it’s almost easier in college because I don’t have as much of an obligation to be present in class. It’s been easier to be a coach and split college work at the same time than be an athlete and go to high school.
SDN: What brought you from Eldora to Team Breck?
SP: Well, I had job offers to coach with Steamboat and Vail, as well. With Steamboat, I just wasn’t ready to go back home yet, so the decision came down to the culture. The culture around Breckenridge feels incredible. It’s a culture around not only being a good athlete, but also being a good person and teaching life skills, which is something I learned and was grateful to have when I was in high school. Learning those skills is as important as learning to become a great racer. They have a friendship and family culture there at Team Breck — the team is smaller, the groups are smaller — and that’s something I value.
SDN: How does that small family atmosphere at Breck compare to other clubs, like what you had at Eldora?
SP: Oh, that’s everything for me. I’ve been wanting it for a while. At Eldora in the U-14 program, I had about 36 athletes under me with four other coaches. That’s quite a big group, and so it became more numbers management than coaching. Not that I don’t like that side of things, designing training programs, but I just couldn’t get that one-on-one interaction with kids.
Now, at Team Breck, I have five athletes underneath me with the U-16 kids. I can get in-depth with those athletes, I can create my training to really fit their needs as opposed to succumb to the bigger group’s needs.
SDN: Is it important to have that one-on-one time at a youth ski club? I imagine it’s the same as teaching in an elementary classroom — the smaller, the better.
SP: It can be beneficial and detrimental, I think. When I say it’s beneficial, I think it’s important for the coach and athlete to have that personal touch. That can really help an athlete understand what’s going on and immerse themselves in the sport.
I think it can get detrimental in the sense that, if you don’t have another athlete around to push you, you might not improve as much as you could. With a small team of six elite athletes, they will all be pushing each other and out-doing each other every day, so you get that personal touch combined with the athlete interaction. If you have that, then it’s incredible.
SDN: As a coach, how do you encourage friendly competition between the kids in your group?
SP: I think a little bit of it is ingrained. You see it in a lot of sports — kids either have a competitive nature or they don’t. But, at the same time, I think there’s something to be said about how a coach creates a culture in their own group. That’s how a coach pushes each athlete: the training techniques they bring to a practice, like doing duals on the slopes. You can even take it to free skiing — first one to make it to the lift, no matter what route you take. That’s something these kids love.
SDN: You’re working with older racers. By now, have most of them started to specialize in a discipline, or do they have a bit of freedom?
SP: When I was racing, I really strived to just do my best in all of them. I didn’t want to specialize. It’s like other sports — I played just about anything imaginable. It was the same with skiing. I didn’t want to be good at just slalom or just GS, and that was the same with free skiing. I didn’t want to have just one discipline. I just wanted to be a good skier. There is so much to be said for free skiing. I think you can become the best skier possible if you’re heading into the backcountry and dealing with variable terrain. A racecourse is so rigid and teaches you to ski a certain way. There’s something to be said for being a good skier and not just a good racer.
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