Stephen Huss blog: What do I look for in players that I coach?

March 2, 2017 08:12 AM

Stephen Huss currently serves as a USTA National Coach for Women's Tennis in the USTA Player Development Department. Huss (pictured above right) competed on the pro tour for 11 years and, in 2005, teamed with Wesley Moodie to win the Wimbledon men's doubles title, becoming the first team ever to qualify into the tournament and go on to win the championship. Huss, a native of Australia, played college tennis at Auburn University from 1996-2000, earning All-America honors in doubles in 1998 and singles in 2000.

After retiring from tennis following the 2011 US Open, Huss moved on to coaching and has had a successful career ever since, highlighted by working with the women's doubles team of Abigail Spears and Raquel Kops Jones and serving as an assistant coach for the Virginia Tech men's tennis team. Since joining the USTA in January 2016, he has worked with up-and-coming players Caroline Dolehide and Kylie McKenzie.

For the next several weeks, Huss will be blogging for about his life as a coach. In his latest blog, he writes about what he looks for in the players he coaches.

By Stephen Huss

Tennis really is a complex sport that requires so many different skills. Players are asked to be proficient on both sides of their body, above their heads, off the bounce of the ball on different surfaces, and hitting it on the full. It is a game of movement. Many players can hit the ball great when it comes right to them, but can they still hit good shots when they are on the move? It is played with the eyes, hands and feet. It engages your brain to concentrate, problem solve, and I firmly believe it requires emotional intelligence, which is the ability to respond intentionally and with flexibility to difficult emotional experiences.


Huss (left) talks strategy with his partner Wesley Moodie while playing Bob and Mike Bryan in the men's doubles final at 2005 Wimbledon.

A quick look at the Top 10 women’s players in the world shows there is not one prototype to be successful. Some are physical and powerful, some are petite and rely more on counter-punching. Some are tall, others are small. Several have big serves, some don’t. Some play with lots of spin, others hit flat. To me, there is not one single way to be successful, so we, as coaches, need to be careful about what we look for.

Can you imagine trying to talent ID the Romanian player, Monica Niculescu? I wonder how many times people dismissed her as being unable to ascend to be a successful pro because she still, to this day, slices her forehand 90 percent of the time. I can put my hand up and say I probably would have been one of those coaches! Niculescu is currently ranked No. 39 in the world, all credit to her!

So what do I look for in a player? I look at what makes them special, what they do well. Sometimes it is obvious and stands out right away, like a forehand or athleticism. Other times you have to look more closely, as it may be a personality trait, like determination, resilience or being particularly receptive to coaching.

Try to bring out their strengths as much as possible and allow them to flourish. Then put in time and effort to add to their toolbox of skills, and look to improve in all the areas that tennis requires if you want to be successful at the highest level. I find a helpful approach is to actually look ahead. What will this player look like in five years if they are to be a successful professional? Not just stroke-wise, but as a competitor, as a person. Then work your way back, make a plan and go to work with a growth mindset.

Good luck!