Kevin Broene, a 2004 graduate who studied education and business, has been aiming to teach young people what his Calvin basketball coach taught him many years ago: grit and endurance. With his work as an athletic director and leadership trainer, he is helping young people develop the attributes needed to persevere through difficult experiences.
What are you currently up to? And what do you love about it?
I work at Grand Rapids Christian Schools as the middle school athletic director and assistant high school athletic director. I love working in a Christian school, partnering with families in a highly organized, passionate, and driven community that aims to put Christ at the center of all we do. We view athletics as another classroom where we can positively impact students, their families, and the wider community. In addition, I founded a leadership development company called Grit Leadership for Educational Athletics.
You try to instill grit and drive into young people with your leadership development company. Can you tell us about what led you to that work?
Six years ago, I was ready to quit being an athletic director. But then I attended a session about college readiness at an AD conference in Chicago. It was the last session, and I wanted to skip out early, but I stayed—and it changed everything! I learned how schools were filled with acronyms—ACT, SAT, GPA, AP classes—but they weren’t necessarily focused on developing the attributes—grit, perseverance, self-motivation, gratitude, teamwork, etc. The net effect was that four-year college graduation rates were dropping and smart, capable students that should be making it were not. This motivated me to want to learn more about how we could reverse this trend. I dug in and did a lot of research on growth mindset, grit, and how to be a better learner. Then I set about applying it to my spheres of influence: coaching, teaching, athletics, and athletic administration. That is how Grit Leadership was born.
Grit Leadership exists to equip and empower leaders to build gritty, more resilient kids. I began with teaching our coaches and our athletic community how to develop grit in those we lead, then extended that work to rethinking how we evaluate our leaders and coaches according to these principles to maximize their impact on those they’re leading. It’s not about developing winning teams, though more effective coach leadership and grittier athletes tend to do that. I developed a coach evaluation software tool that helps me more efficiently and effectively gather feedback from athletes, parents, and coaches themselves to identify strengths and target areas for development. With this software, and also through a partnership with Baylor University’s Center for School Leadership, I’ve been helping schools and companies around the country build better leadership, stronger sport cultures, and more resilient learning communities.
Was there someone at Calvin who had a big impact on you?
The list is long: Kim Gall, Brian Bolt, Gary Schmidt, Nancy Meyer, Tim Walker, Mark Christner, Tim VanDyke and many others. But the person who had the greatest impact on my life was my basketball coach, Kevin Vande Streek. He was the reason I chose to go to Calvin in the first place. While other college coaches told me how great I was and how I would start right away, Coach Vande Streek led with honesty. I’ll never forget it; he said, “I think if you work really hard and continue to improve, you could possibly play here someday.” His integrity and kind but firm approach taught me to be more than what I thought I could be. He taught me that if I wanted to do something special, I couldn’t just do what was required—I had to do more. His consistency, Christian faith, and dedication to his job and building relationships with his team set an example for me that I will forever be grateful for. Little did I know that his leadership and my athletic experience at Calvin would serve as a four-year training ground for how grit and perseverance would shape my future as a husband, father, employee, and business owner.
At Coach Vande Streek’s retirement party, the guests talked about how he brought so many amazing players to the program, many of whom are still my good friends. They were great basketball players, but more importantly, Coach attracted quality, honest guys who loved God and wanted to work hard. I didn’t realize how lucky I was to be part of that until I graduated and experienced a variety of teams that weren’t always like that. His email signature embodied his leadership style, and it was and still is a constant reminder and inspiration to me: “Success is not about talent. It is about commitment.” Don’t get me wrong—Coach would be the first to say that talent matters. But what matters more is how we use that talent. He wanted us to be workers, to earn things, rather than expect things to be given to us. It was an important message from the most impactful leader I had in my Calvin experience.
What is one of your favorite Calvin experiences?
I loved the first day of Passport, when I saw my future wife Stephanie for the first time and started an awkward conversation with her. I loved the memories I had living in the dorms. I hope my wife doesn’t take this the wrong way, but a memory that has always stuck with me is walking out of the starting lineup line in my last Calvin vs. Hope basketball game, looking around at a sold-out Knollcrest Fieldhouse and thinking about how fortunate I was to be in that moment. There were so many people and a great God who made that moment possible. As I look back, it was an incredible intersection of faith, sport, family, community, hard work, grit, perseverance, and passion.
What makes you proud to be a Knight?
I’m proud to be a Knight because of Calvin’s culture of excellence—from athletics to academics to continuing educational experiences, like the Festival of Faith and Writing and the Global Congress for Sport and Christianity, to seeing the amazing things that Calvin graduates are doing in the community and the world.
What do you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?
My number one hope is to bring honor to the name of Jesus Christ through my life, my relationships, and my work. I hope to follow in the footsteps of other Calvin alumni who have used the gifts God has given them to make their area of influence in God’s world a little bit better. If I can positively impact students, coaches, and leaders in our country through my work in education and business, I will be thrilled. More importantly, if I am fortunate enough to continue to partner with my wife to raise our three children to become adults who want to follow the Lord and put Christ on display every day, that will be true success, a true accomplishment.
What is your advice to students who are looking to make an impact?
Be vulnerable enough to opt in and do something. Despite what our culture communicates to students, talking about something from an internet soapbox, posting about something, or posturing to look a certain way is a hollow form of action. If we care about something, we have to do more than talk about it! A well-known quote I always try to keep in mind is, “All it takes for evil to exist is for good people to do nothing.” Or, as Joshua Medcalf, author/entrepreneur puts it: “Greatness is not for the chosen few. It is for the few who choose.”