Stephen Huss blog: The Pre-Season

March 1, 2017 02:48 PM

Stephen Huss currently serves as a USTA National Coach for Women's Tennis in the USTA Player Development Department. Huss (pictured above left) 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 importance of a pre-season.

By Stephen Huss

Here at the USTA, we are really big on the importance of players putting in a pre-season. This is a great time for players to try to make significant gains physically and mentally, tinker with the technique of a certain shot or try to add a shot to their arsenal. During tournament play and in between, we certainly know that players are naturally learning and improving, but it is hard to include really physical work, alter technique or introduce new mental concepts during that time.

A pre-season should be thoroughly planned out. From talking to our strength and conditioning staff, they tell me that they need four to six weeks to really make gains in an athlete. From the mental side, our players do a multitude of activities, including getting better at the core skills of mindfulness, visualization and breathing. I also try to incorporate other activities, such as reflecting on practices and earlier matches, scouting future opponents, looking at videos of the players who have been tagged and sharing/reading relevant articles on anything from politics to different sports around the world.

Here is an example of what a typical day for my players looks like early in the pre-season, when fitness is very much the priority:

8:30 a.m.: Run. Take a 30-min run to warm up and build aerobic base.

9 a.m.: Work out in the sand. This includes lots of intervals moving in all directions, change of directions, jumping, bounding, etc.

10 a.m.: Long stretch. Flexibility is a huge part of the pre-season. This can be on their own, with a fitness coach or a partner stretch with another player.


10:30 a.m.: Fuel, hydrate and rest.

12-2 p.m.: Gym session. With younger athletes, it is important to establish a base strength. More strength equals more power in the longer term, which is what you need as a tennis player. This session also often incorporates medicine-ball work, footwork with the speed ladder, core workout, stretch and foam roll. The programs are individualized for each player.

Post-gym session: Fuel and hydrate.

3:30-4:30 p.m.: Tennis session. As a tennis coach, I have to be very mindful of the fatigue the athletes are carrying in their bodies. We do not do much all-court movement, instead working on areas of focus for the players. I do demand great engagement mentally for this hour, but I do not ask them to do too much physically. It does take some patience as a coach because the execution is often average at best. It is important to remember that at this stage of the pre-season their actual tennis shots are not the No. 1 priority.

5-6 p.m.: Mental session with our mental skills specialist.

As the pre-season progresses, the focus turns more to tennis, so eventually the two tennis sessions are done first in the day and the one fitness session last.

It would be rare for a player trying to climb the rankings to be ready to roll out his or her current game and automatically be a Top 50 player, which means it is imperative to take time away from tournaments to improve. I encourage all aspiring pros to take the time to plan and implement a pre-season.