Dwayne and Gabe Pean have been competing their entire lives.
Whether it was playing card games like rummy or spades with their father, or seeing who could finish a book the fastest, the two brothers were always in some sort of head-to-head competition.
That mentality followed them onto the basketball courts of youth centers across the country, where they found themselves coaching and mentoring students as each of the brothers progressed in their own basketball careers.
In 2013, the Pean brothers formed Next Step Training, a small business focused on helping student athletes succeed.
But, just as their business was ramping up for the travel basketball season, COVID-19 forced them to pump the brakes.
"A lot of our kids during this time are going crazy," Dwayne said. "They've been messaging us nonstop, you know, 'what are you guys doing? Can we go out and do the hills again?'"
There was a glimmer of hope that things would return to normal in May when recreational facilities reopened in Florida. Dwayne, Gabe and coaches began preparing for a traveling season with some of the student athletes.
But, as the second wave of the virus hit Broward and Miami-Dade Counties, Next Step was forced to adjust again.
Nearly a third of athletes left the program as well as a few coaches due to pay.
“We did apply for the loans, but unfortunately we didn’t get them,” Dwayne said.
But Next Step isn’t out of the game. The business is making do with safety and health protocols.
Some of those include sanitizing equipment, washing hands before and after drills, keeping athletes six feet apart and always wearing masks.
“We went from, ‘OK. We're training 10 kids. We're doing practices. We're preparing for a travel season. We're setting up tournaments.’ and then all of a sudden it's like, ‘OK, you're not doing any of that,’” Gabe said.
Being the kids of a military father, Dwayne and Gabe found basketball to be a haven, keeping them out of trouble as their family continuously traveled throughout the country.
“We just had that instilled in us from such a young age, that competitive nature, that it took us throughout life” Dwayne said. “But then it was like, ‘okay? Can we take a step back and actually give back to people who aren’t as competitive?’”
That question led the brothers to creating Next Step. Dwayne and Gabe found themselves having one-on-one basketball training sessions with high school athletes.
The children would not only be drilled on the proper fundamentals of the game, and given proper nutrition tips, but also be put through many mental exercises, playing out stressful scenarios over and over to gain a mental advantage in a real-life game.
Over the course of six years, the 12-person clientele soon grew to 60 student athletes, with several coaches and full on tournaments.
However, Dwayne says the heart of the business is about family. Coaches want to be mentors for the student athletes.
“We really want to get to know them,” Dwayne said. “We really call it the next step family because we truly are family. And, you know, we're going to fight sometimes and we're not always going to agree. And and that's OK, because at the end of day, you know, family is family and you're gonna go through those things.”