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Just over 20 years ago, my youngest son played in his first baseball game. It was an exciting day for a five-year-old. The team had practiced catching, throwing, and hitting as the coach pitched. They had certainly enjoyed the after-practice snacks after practice, a highlight for the majority of young players.

On opening day, the team appeared ready to compete. Uniformed up, names on the back of their jerseys, I bet they felt as close to their hero players as they ever had. The excitement was palpable, and as my son stepped in the batter’s box for his first at bat, just like any other parent, I was nervous for him. The coach pitched the ball and whack! A hit! As he approached first base, the coach told him to keep running. Well, he did—way out into right field. It was then that the coaches realized that with all the preparation, the boys hadn’t learned to run the bases. Ready, but not quite.

That was a long time ago, and since then, my son has become a professional baseball player. It has been hard work, and like many of us amateurs have heard, success for batters comes as they learn to hit a curveball, learning to adjust to the ball when you don’t know what kind of pitch is coming at you. Sound at all familiar? I believe leadership can be likened to that; learning to adjust when we don’t know when a curveball is coming our way. 

In my lifetime, I have pitched thousands of garbanzo beans, ping pong balls, and baseballs, but never a curve. There are thousands of articles on how to hit the curve, but my son’s advice? It’s all about being prepared. Study patterns, practice, and be on your toes, ready for a curve, ready for any pitch, for when it comes.

That sounds a lot like being a leader of a school. We study what the experts say, we find mentors, we regularly talk with others who are in the same business, and then we put those things into practice. That works most of the time. The job descriptions that we each have are generally quite similar. There are usual patterns of the year to follow—strategic planning, orientation, events, budgets, hiring, evaluating, leading with Biblical intentions. However, we all know that there will be curveballs along the journey. (I imagine that each of you reading this can mention a number of unexpected curves that you have had come at you.)

On a curve, the best advice a coach can give is to get the ball in play, hit it to the opposite field, just get on base. A coach isn’t looking for a home run necessarily, but there are masters of the curve who can see it hang just a tiny bit and take advantage of a pitch that isn’t quite as perfect as the pitcher intended. Be ready to see the opportunity in the challenge.

For Christian leaders, we know that our “coach” is using every opportunity, every “at bat,” and every attempt to refine us individually as we grow in leadership. There are days that the curve will strike us out, but just temporarily! As we continue our practice, think about just a few things that will get us through when we doubt our ability to hit the curve:

  • Submit to the process—A batter has to practice, practice, practice throughout his career. It’s not “One good hit and I’ve got this.” Keep doing what is right as you grow in your leadership capacity.
  • Trust God—Through the struggle, through the job, God walks beside us as we persevere and thrive.
  • Cling to God’s promises—Lean into prayer personally and with others who may have hit that same curve before you. Remember that you are not alone.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)

Author Jenn Thompson

Jennifer Thompson has served in Christian education for almost twenty-five years in various roles from basketball coach to science teacher, elementary principal to head of school at schools in both Florida and California. A native of Vermont, Jenn has an undergraduate degree in Sociology from Wheaton College and a master’s in science in Educational Leadership from Florida International University. She completed the Fellows program at the Van Lunen Center for Executive Management in Christian Schools at Calvin University and currently serves on the Council for American Private Education (CAPE) board. Jenn is the chief executive officer of Christian Schools International.

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