Sunday, September 20, 2020

Person of the Week

Kevin Joyce: Paddle Tennis Anyone?

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When outdoor tennis season winds down, Kevin Joyce switches gear (and strategy) by shifting to paddle tennis. Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier

When outdoor tennis season winds down, Kevin Joyce switches gear (and strategy) by shifting to paddle tennis. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)

Do what your physician recommends: exercise. But how to do it in the era of COVID-19, especially with warm weather dissolving into fall and winter? Kevin Joyce has a suggestion. Play paddle tennis.

Kevin is a board member of the Essex Platform Tennis Club in Centerbrook. (The game is called both platform and paddle tennis.) The club’s four-paddle tennis courts are located behind Scotch Plains Tavern and reached by a driveway off Route 154 next to the Essex Veterinary Clinic.

“Nobody knows they’re here,” Kevin says.

Kevin would like to change that. The club is holding two events to showcase the game: a mixed doubles match open to the general public by nationally ranked players on Saturday, Sept. 19at 4 p.m. and an open house on Saturday, Sept. 26 from 9 a.m. to noon and Sunday, Sept. 27 from noon to 3 p.m.

“We’re looking for new members. It’s a fantastic sport,” Kevin says.

To begin with, paddle tennis is played when other outdoor games stop—from September to April.

“It’s a fantastic COVID sport. It’s outside; it’s played in winter; people are social distancing,” Kevin says. “It can be below freezing and people are out playing in shorts because it is such a good workout.”

Paddle tennis, played on a court that looks like a tennis court but only one-third the size, uses solid paddles and a hard rubber ball. The court is surrounded by a net stretched tightly so balls can be played, like squash, off the mesh on the rebound.

Even a layer of snow won’t stop the game. The net has flaps that can be raised at the bottom so the snow can be pushed off the playing area. Heaters under the raised deck melt what remains.

Kevin says the paddle tennis strategy is entirely different from traditional tennis, where players strive to hit winning shots. A tennis exchange can be three or four shots. A paddle tennis rally can go on for 30 or 40 shots.

“In tennis, you play to win. In paddle tennis, you play not to lose. You win by attrition,” he says.

Kevin should know. He plays both tennis and paddle tennis. Tennis is his summer game; in the fall he switches to paddle tennis.

In high school in Old Saybrook, he twice won the Connecticut state tennis high school championships and for the last six years he has just missed the championship of the club where he now plays, losing in the finals to a much younger player. In his mid-50s, he rejects the notion that he might be ready for a different age category.

“I am not playing senior tennis,” he says.

Kevin graduated from St. Michael’s College in Vermont, where he met his wife Kristen. When the couple, who have three grown children, returned to town after 20 years living in different parts of the country, people asked Kevin how much Essex had changed during those years. His answer was ready: “I would look at them like they were crazy and I would say don’t think anything has changed in 20 years; as a matter of fact, I have the same mailman.”

At college, Kevin was a history major but he has spent his entire professional life working for computer technology companies. In fact, he adds he in some situations, he has been the only non-engineer working for the business. He says his liberal arts college major actually gave him an advantage in sales and marketing.

“Because I wasn’t a career engineer, I could ask dumb questions. What does that do? How does it do it? I could ask the basic questions, the customers wanted answered. And I could articulate technical things in a non-technical way,” he says.

Most of Kevin’s employers have been overseas companies; his present employer is headquartered in Tel Aviv. He is ready to go early in the morning for telephone calls coming in on Israeli time. There is no commute to his office. It is above his garage. Still, before the pandemic, he traveled to company headquarters as often as every six weeks.

Working remotely, a change for many people to cope with the present unsettled situation, was nothing unusual for him, nor was it unusual to supervise employees remotely.

“That is something I’ve done before,” he says.

Most weekdays, work is over in time for Kevin to play paddle tennis at 5 o’clock. He plays five days a week. For people who have never played paddle tennis, he compares it to a far more familiar pastime.

“It’s like ping pong and who doesn’t like ping pong?” he asks. “It’s not that hard and it’s just genuine fun.”

According to Kevin, the adult trepidation about looking silly when starting something new should not be an impediment.

“Being afraid shouldn’t hold you back,” Kevin says. “Most enjoyment comes from trying something you were afraid of.”

For more information on the Essex Platform Tennis Club, call 203-918-3201 or email paddle@essexpaddle.com.

Paddle Tennis Exhibition Match

The Essex Platform Tennis Club hosts an exhibition match on Saturday, Sept. 19 at 4 p.m. and an open house on Saturday, Sept. 26 from 9 a.m. to noon and Sunday, Sept. 27 from noon to 3 p.m. at 112 Westbrook Road (Route 154), Essex; driveway entrance next to the Essex Veterinary Clinic.


Rita Christopher is the Senior Correspondent for Zip06. Email Rita at news@shorepublishing.com.

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