Community Heroes: Kevin Skousen-Maloney practices the positivity he teaches
Kevin Skousen-Maloney says he infuses “positivity, caring and patience” into his work in La Jolla as a tennis instructor and caregiver, an attitude that has served him well the past 10 years.
The 62-year-old is a former television, film and theater actor who left show business and Los Angeles a decade ago, picking up a job as a tennis instructor first for the La Jolla YMCA and later at the La Jolla School of Tennis at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla at Aventine hotel, where he currently works.
“The core philosophy of my business,” Skousen-Maloney said, is a Theodore Roosevelt quote: “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Skousen-Maloney, who played tennis while at Claremont McKenna College in Los Angeles County, said he doesn’t “love playing tennis … but I’m addicted to the people.”
While teaching tennis, “I just meet the nicest people. And I really, really care about them,” he said. “It’s fun to watch them grow. You develop these relationships over time and you get to know them, you get to know their families.”
Skousen-Maloney, who lives in Point Loma, teaches lessons to people of ages ranging from 4 to 82, he said.
Tennis student Gitfon Cheung said Skousen-Maloney “does much more than teach tennis. He also role-models how to play, how to learn and how to approach the game,” imparting expertise in body mechanics as well as “the psychological aspects of the sport.”
Skousen-Maloney said tennis offers mental health benefits in addition to physical exercise. “You get so wrapped up in the moment that you forget to count laps, to look at time, to count steps, because you’re focused on the ball, wherever it is,” he said.
Tennis “has you totally immersed in the present moment. A long rally is like time travel. It’s a spell; your problems go away,” he said. “That’s why I try to teach people, because … if you can keep the ball in play shot after shot after shot, then you go away to this ‘Neverland’ and before you know it, you’re sweaty, you’re tired, you didn’t even feel it.”
Cheung said Skousen-Maloney has helped ease her frustration over making errors on the court. “He explained in simple terms how athletes fall prey to negative self-talk and how to emerge from that self-perpetuating cycle,” she said. “After a couple of months of using his strategy, my frustrations have diminished and I enjoy the game more.”
Skousen-Maloney said that strategy is drawn from the past 11 years sober in a 12-step program and his discovery that “the critical voice you have inside never does any good.”
The only way to combat that voice, he said, is to bring yourself into the present moment and ask, “What can I do right now positively for me?”
“If you’re in that moment where you’re berating yourself, your mental health is getting in the way of your objective,” Skousen-Maloney said. “You’ve got to turn it around and make that mental language something that’s going to help contribute to your goal.”
In addition to his work on the court, Skousen-Maloney has served for the past eight years as a caregiver for a 55-year-old man who suffered a traumatic brain injury in his teens. Two days a week, Skousen-Maloney drives the man to art classes, errands and other activities.
The man’s sister told the La Jolla Light that Skousen-Maloney “brings a type of magic to the lives he enters,” infusing his caregiving “with a kind of grace and gregarious kindness that is hard to describe. He reaches out to others with kindness, a smile and offers a hand with a quiet presence that is mixed with wry humor. This touches people in their day.”
Skousen-Maloney said that “when you’re doing service work, you forget about your own problems. When I’m spending time contributing to the welfare of someone who couldn’t do it on their own, whether it’s there or [on the court], I can’t justify that voice that says ‘You’re ... worthless.’ … I am contributing to the happiness of another person.”
The La Jolla Light’s Community Heroes series for the holiday period highlights people who aren’t often in the news but make a difference in the lives of others. If you know such a person, email Editor Rob Vardon at email@example.com. Please limit suggestions to people who live or work in La Jolla or otherwise have strong ties to the community. ◆
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