March 27



I’m at loose ends.

For the first time in 16 years, I find myself not coaching a baseball team. During those seasons, I’ve coached a men’s hardball team, and all three of my children at various stages of Little League, including All-Stars and competitive Travel teams.

Now it’s over.

All I’m left with are memories, some friendships, and my accumulated wisdom, which can be reduced to a single, short sentence. So I’m passing this along to the readers of the Nerdy Book Club because I think it connects to teaching. And writing. And maybe to everything else under the sun.

When I started coaching, my head was exploding with knowledge. I knew all this great stuff! Boy, was I eager to share it. I had an almost mystical awareness of the game: tips and strategies, insights and helpful hints. Baseball-wise, I knew about the hip turn and burying the shoulder, how to straddle the bag and slap down a tag. The proper way to run the bases, turn a double play, or line up a relay throw. As coach, I simply had to pour this information into my players –- empty vessels all –- and watch them thrive.

But something happened across the years. I found myself talking less and less about how to play. Fewer tips, less advice. It seemed like I mostly confused them. The learning was in the doing.

I became convinced that the most important thing I could do was believe.

I was the guy who stood in the coach’s box, flashed the signals, and believed. I’d look at that young player, eyes filled with doubt, and I’d say, “I know you can do this.”

Even when I didn’t really know, it was my job to believe. Because if I didn’t, how could that child be expected to. So I’d send that player up to the plate and say, “Now get in there and swing hard.”

That became my primary vision of coaching. I was the guy who knew you could do it, even during those times – or especially during those times – when you doubted it in yourself.

As a writer, that’s the same gift I’ve received from my editor Liz Szabla. During times of uncertainty, she is convinced that I can pull it off. She has faith in my ability. Yes, of course, Liz knows a lot about the craft of writing books for children. I’ve learned a lot from her over the years. But the greatest gift has been her faith in me.

Sure, I am still alone in a silent room with a blank page. But I am no longer utterly alone. Because Liz believes in me. And it has made all the difference in the world.

We all need those people in our lives. The believers. The ones who know we’ve got something special inside of us.

That’s what teaching is all about. That’s what the best teachers do. They believe, even when the rest of us aren’t so sure. Everything else about teaching -– the hours of training, the dynamic lesson plans, the fabulous classroom library — is secondary.

As a teacher, you stand there. You flash the signals. You look your students in the eyes. And you say, “You’ve got this.” Because that’s what everybody needs, in every walk of life.

Teaching is believing.


the courage testJames Preller is the author of a wide range of books. His newest title, THE COURAGE TEST, comes out in September 2016. He just finished writing a new Jigsaw Jones title, THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE, which will be published by Macmillan. Thanks, in part, to his editor Liz Szabla -– who still believes.