Joep Stevens works on me like a detox. He is almost hypnotizing in his self-control and he talks cheerfully, with a tendency to be thoughtful, at his own pace. He is never afraid whenever a silence falls in the conversation. Carrying no visible baggage, he is simply someone who enjoys life. It is only after I have played back our conversation at home and have deciphered the soft tones of his voice, that his playful optimism really hits me. Initially, you think it's a feel-good act, but you can really taste the helping of positivism he has been served in life. It is delicious and healthy. Like a soothing smoothie. A ‘Joepie Smoothie’; just the thing to fight hangovers, moaning, cynicism and futility.
Joep Stevens | E.S.T. Fellenoord | Club Hero of the Year Nominee | Eindhoven | Tennis | Electrical Engineering | Biomedical Engineering | Joepie's Racket Stringing Service | Waalwijk
For Joep, the beauty of sport lies in the togetherness it offers, being together and doing something together. “I have a very positive attitude towards life; I have no time for negative people. My positive DNA is something I've inherited from my recently deceased mother. We Stevens' children don't like investing time in annoying or pointless things. Now and then, of course, you have to spend a little time doing something you find less enjoyable - but I prefer to invest time only in activities that boost my energy levels. My voluntary work at Fellenoord gives me a lot of energy; it is fun to do, it's good for my self-development, and it gives me a chance to relax. Besides, I think it's only natural to do something in return for an association that does so much for you.”
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For the past seven good years, Fellenoord has been the primary beneficiary of Joep's industrious take on life. He has likely done more hours of voluntary work than he has won sets on the court. “I started on the Technical Committee, where we set establish the broad outlines of all our sporting activities, things like planning the teams and which courts are used. We also organize fun events, like ‘glow-in-the-dark tennis’ and beach tennis. For the rest, I've helped organize the Fellenoord Open, sat on the sponsorship committee and done countless minor jobs. At the moment I'm organizing ‘Student Cities Tennis’.”
Despite doing two Master's and having a lovely girlfriend, whom he naturally met at Fellenoord, he always manages to find time for his club. This is because Joep has a natural talent for planning and time management. His strategy involves two simple steps: first, in a slight Brabant accent ask yourself this question: ‘Can I fit that in?’. If the answer is ‘Yes’, then the credo of Johan Cruijff, the footballer with a talent for quirky logic, follows, ‘If it fits, it should be possible’ and just like that you have embarked on a new adventure. This line of thinking led him to set up his company 'Bespanservice Joepie' (Joepie's Racket Stringing Service). “I don't just string rackets, I also give advice about stringing. I have a reasonably large customer base in Waalwijk. When I finish my studies, I will probably wind up the company but for the moment it's a nice way to cover my study costs.”
Delving into all kinds of circuitous possibilities, I've searched for a deeply psychological explanation for his industriousness, but there is none to be found. He simply finds it “fun”. “I don't know where it comes from. Even as a child I was good at amusing myself. For hours on end I'd play with LEGO, but not playing for the sake of playing. Really building something. It wasn't a matter of quickly putting pieces together and then taking them apart, I wanted to really create something. In high school, like other adolescents, I didn't spend my time in any mega-useful way but I was always doing something. Often, I'd arrange to meet up with friends and I spent most of my time on the tennis court. Moments of relaxation? As a teenager I didn't need them, I was in excellent physical shape then,” this Waalwijk-born man says with a laugh.
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Joep attributes his now lost excellent physical fitness to his sporty childhood. At the age of four he started playing soccer and at the age of eight he took up tennis. “My parents always supported me and my brother. We were free to play any sport we liked, on the condition that we first passed our swimming diplomas. At the age of twelve I had to choose between soccer and tennis, because the training sessions coincided. I had more natural aptitude for tennis, so that's what I chose. There was also the fact that I found it hard to make the transition to the large soccer pitch from the E’tjes (juniors).”
At De Mattenkloppers tennis association, Joep worked his way up to level 5 in singles and 4 in doubles, and at Fellenoord he is now a good 4. Professional ambitions are not something he's ever had. His 21-year-old brother Bart, by contrast, is active at a high level. At the end of 2018 he was hovering around the 500 mark in the ATP ranking for doubles and was flirting with the top 1000 in singles. “I am fanatical but my main motivation is having sociable fun. On court I'm calm and collected. Now and then I let rip a tremendous yell to release the tension I feel, but afterwards I simply carry on playing, happy as Larry. I don't let myself be put off my game by opponents, and certainly not by myself. Nor do I need to win at all costs, and I can't abide a cheat. Out on court it should simply be enjoyable, that's all.”
Having fun with other people is something he has managed to embed in his own initiative, ‘Student Cities Tennis’. “We set this up together with two other Fellenoorders. I thought it would be fun to play against other student cities. Straight away I made a plan, approached other student tennis associations and in October we got the ball rolling. Owing to the traveling distances involved, for the time being we are playing against Maastricht, Tilburg and Nijmegen. In every city, all the cities play against each other one time. A team consists of sixteen people ranging from category 2 to category 9. The team plays nine singles matches, women's and men's, and nine mixed doubles matches.”
He is clearly proud as he talks about this, his latest brainchild, which he hopes will one day develop into the Dutch ‘Students' Davis Cup’. “The GNSK (the Olympic Games for students) only has room for good tennis players, but everyone can take part in Student Cities Tennis. It's a fun vehicle for encouraging integration between student cities, and it brings in new members. There's huge interest; with every round new members are taking part. It costs no more than 12.50 euros per player, including an evening meal and an evening program of events. And, of course, you can always sleep over in the city you visit and go out on the town. In the words of Cruijff, ‘Any day you didn't go, is a day you've missed’, don't you agree?”
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Although Joep is still doing so much for Fellenoord, he is slowly looking further afield than tennis. As a true time economist, he has found a sport that is better suited to his busy life and his team spirit: padel, a mix of tennis and squash played in a glass cage. “It takes so long to pick up all the balls when you're playing tennis, in padel you don't have that; they stay within the confines of the cage. Padel is much more dynamic, because you are standing closer together and the teamwork is much more varied than in tennis. You are working together as a pair the whole time. At De Mattenkloppers they opened a court and I was instantly hooked. One day I hope we'll have a padel court at the Student Sports Center.”
Despite his gift for planning, Joep doesn't yet know exactly what he'll do when he graduates. “I may want to do something related to brain research, like developing software used in the analysis of MRI-scan results. Anyway, before then I have to complete an internship, I'm looking for one now. As soon as I've finished my studies, I'll think again. I do everything step by step. Going into politics? No way, too much negativity. And it's very time consuming, my girlfriend wouldn't like that,” he says, laughing.
Where he will live and work after his student years is similarly something he doesn't yet know. “How my future takes shape won't depend on Fellenoord, I'll make sure of that, but I will certainly come back regularly. After all, Fellenoord is the place where I have spent by far the most of my time as a student. I've been able to develop as a person and have got to know great people.”
One thing is sure, the question, 'Can I fit that in?' will never apply to a visit to Fellenoord.
Raymond Starke works at the TU/e Student Sports Centre, in the midst of more than 13 thousand sport card holders who frequently (or less frequently) do sports to their heart's content. Once every four weeks, he interviews a student or employee for Cursor on the topic of ‘the beauty and consolation of sports’.