Stephen Huss blog: The coach-player relationship

March 20, 2017 10:23 AM

Stephen Huss currently serves as a USTA National Coach for Women's Tennis in the USTA Player Development Department. Huss 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 the relationship between a player and a coach.

By Stephen Huss

The tennis coach of a serious tennis player is an incredibly influential person. The coach and player spend a lot of time together both on and off the court. That means that often the coach has a responsibility to develop the person as well as the player. This is particularly evident in young, up-and-coming players.

I have seen the dynamic of the coach-player relationship change over the course of my life, and, I must confess, I do not believe it has been for the better. As I was growing up, we were always taught and abided by the fact that what the coach told us to do we did. My coaches were not particularly authoritarian in their approach, but it was a given that they were respected and were certainly much more knowledgable than us.

These days, it seems that the player is much more often dictating to the coach. You see it on television with the way certain players interact with their teams who are watching, and you see it sometimes at WTA events, when the coaches visit the player for the change of ends. There are abusive words, stony silence, strong disagreements and disrespect. It is important to note that these are often stressful and emotional situations and that perhaps those relationships are totally respectful in private.  You also see it with the huge turnover in coaches that some of the top players have. The best players most often have long-lasting coaching relationships, while many below seem to be turning over coaches looking for a quick solution.

I do believe some of what we see at the highest level has filtered down and that there are too many situations where the player feels like they hold the cards and that they can decide when they want to work, or listen. Sometimes coaches let this go because they want to retain their jobs, and I understand that, but that situation is not healthy for either the player or the coach. There must be mutual respect, both parties should have a voice, and there should be honest discussion about the best way forward for the athlete.

Players need to realize that a coach sometimes has to deliver tough messages and let them know about weaknesses that they do not want to confront or admit to. It actually shows that a coach cares more, not less, if they are able to take these realities to the players.

I asked a well respected and experienced former tour player, and now coach, ‘What do you think about the trend now of players dictating to the coach?’ He immediately cut me off and replied, ‘No good coaches allow that.’

I agree.