Faith, Football, and the Future

by  Deb Costello  |  Leadership Development

“Aw man…  don’t call a time out.  Coach, are you a moron?”   This one sentence, shouted from the stands at my son’s football game last weekend froze me.  I was suddenly ill at my core.  We were down 22-0, but I couldn’t believe it.  Were the fans actually attacking our coach during the game?  Who said that, I wondered and looked back into the crowd.  I couldn’t tell.  Then I heard a woman’s voice.  “Hey Mike?  Zip it.” Some titters from the crowd, but Mike remained silent.  Perhaps it was his wife, perhaps a friend.  I’ll never know who it was, but I know I was grateful that someone stood up and stopped the man in his tracks.

I work at a Christian school, but we have students from every faith, from Muslim to Buddhist, Jewish to Christian, atheists, agnostics, and plenty that are unsure.  Every week we have chapel, and it is an exercise in respect.  No one is required to participate, but everyone is required to be respectful.  We sit and stand together, no cell phones, no talking, no reading, no sleeping.  We hope the lessons will strike a chord with all in our community, regardless of faith.  Our core values include helping all move forward on a spiritual journey.

Our middle school students generally attend chapel at a different time than our high schoolers and the rare joint chapel is usually a formal event for Christmas, Easter, Ash Wednesday, or other important days in our calendar.  I have been attending high school chapel for years and it is a very quiet service.  I can hear students reciting the prayers, but they rarely sing.  It is an interesting phenomenon for me, as the music in church is always my favorite part.  Having students shun it so completely has always made me sad.

Last week, due to some schedule changes, we celebrated a regular chapel with the whole community for the first time in a long time.  Imagine my surprise when as the first hymn began, our middle school students began clapping.  The music is generally contemporary in these less formal chapels and the middle schoolers sang enthusiastically. There were hand motions that went with the song!  They were enjoying the music and having fun.  The high schoolers looked on.  Some were smirking.  A few joined in.  Most remained silent and over time our young ones lost some enthusiasm.  The big kids, their role models, didn’t sing in chapel.  I could almost hear the wheels turning.

So what do I take away from these two very different events?  I think there are a lot of good lessons here, and I would love to discuss them in the comments.  But let me pick one to kick off this discussion.  What if everything we do matters?  What if a rude shout from the crowd could demoralize a team?  What if four words from a bystander could stop a heckler?  What if the determined solidarity of a middle school choir could bond a community?  What if the whispered mockery of a few could crumble a child’s fragile faith?  I work with our youth, our future, every single day.  Does everything we do matter?  And if so, how do we deal with the enormity of this responsibility?

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What People Are Saying

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach  |  26 Sep 2011  |  Reply

Dear Deborah,
You ask a *very deep question. Does everything we do matter? Yes.

Your second question: What do you we do with the enormity of this responsibility?
#1 – Think of impact before taking action.
A simple quick pause where you picture those in your work or life provides instant perspective.

#2 – Own what you do. None of us is perfect. Being accountable for our actions can actually start the reversal of negative impact.

#3 – Learn how to sincerely apologize. Here’s one of my posts that has helped many with this

#4 – Get up in the morning and set an intention to have a positive impact on others not a negative one. The mind is very powerful. It can change what we say and do.

I love your post and I think it would make a great #leadfromwithin chat topic on Twitter. If you want to submit it there, get in touch with

Many thanks for this post.

Deborah Costello  |  26 Sep 2011  |  Reply

Thank you so much for your support Kate. I think it is so easy to be overwhelmed by the idea that every single thing we do has significance and importance. There is nothing I love more than an actionable list of intentional thoughts and behaviors that help us make better choices day to day. You mention an important part if this in your post, what to do when you mess up. We all make mistakes, and it is easy to throw in the towel, but the idea of apologizing, owning our actions, good and not, and finding ways to move forward and improve are definite keys!

I so appreciate your comments and will think on the twitterchat as well. I attended one last month and it was an amazing experience.


Sarah Secoy  |  26 Sep 2011  |  Reply

Wow, I have thought about those very questions so often. As I work with the students in the college setting, and so often when the get to me, they are either student leaders or in trouble. With the students in the judicial process I have to put myself in their shoes, is this because of peer pressure? Are you just not yet mature enough to make the right decisions? And what can I do in an educational approach to discipline to help you become the person in the crowd to speak up in that crowded football stand. And I am not sure if it is because I trust the educators of my children, the age groups, or whatever it may be – but I feel more pressure to educate the students I work with than I do my kids (probobly because I expect more from college students ). I would absolutely agree with Kate, those are some of the very principles I use everyday, both at work and in life, if only everyone could live by them, even sometimes.
Great post!

Deborah Costello  |  26 Sep 2011  |  Reply

Thanks Sarah for stopping by. Lots of research has shown that our youth lack the frontal lobe development required to make adult decisions all the time. That being said, I think the more we expose them to good behavior, the more we will see it from them in the future. I hope that I teach my students two important ideas. First, act intentionally, as Kate mentioned above. Sometimes bad decisions come because youth are impulsive. With intentionality comes better decision making. Second, know that for every word and action there are consequences. Some are anticipated, some unexpected, but all belong to you based on your own words and deeds. As teachers and parents, we do not serve our youth well when we allow them to avoid the consequences of their actions.

I too would like to see more people live by the principles Kate outlines. I love the leadchange group because we agree that there can be a character-based model for leadership and members work hard to model these tenets and instigate this revolution in thinking. I sometimes feel like a lone educator here. Thank you for joining the discussion!

Nickey  |  26 Sep 2011  |  Reply

We all certainly hold a responsibility to be aware of what we say and do; the enormity of that is overwhelming at times when you stop to think how much something you say / do can shape the opinions – and maybe even actions – of someone.

Great food for thought, Deb

Deborah Costello  |  26 Sep 2011  |  Reply

It is an enormous responsibility, but it is also an amazing opportunity. Not only can our words and deeds have significant negative consequences, but they can also be life changing in a positive way. And wouldn’t you work pretty hard to do good if you knew that somehow, something you said or did was going to change someone’s life for the better?

We humans are remarkably resilient and adaptable. i see good happening underfoot in the smallest of deeds, the simplest of gestures. Every single person has yet another chance every day. Today your kind words made me smile, and I will sleep well knowing that our conversation furthered the discussion of how we might make our communities stronger and our lives better. I appreciate the kind words of a stranger and wish you well. Thanks, Nickey, for keeping on the journey to make a difference.


Erin Schreyer  |  27 Sep 2011  |  Reply

Deb, I love the notion that “you matter”…simply because we all do.

Have you heard of the “Butterfly Effect?” Andy Andrews recently wrote a book on the scientific phenomenon. Basically, researchers found that even the simple flapping of a butterfly’s wings sends a ripple out that ultimately affects other things. The point is that everything we do matters, whether we can directly see the difference or not.

Now, if only we could all take responsibility for that effect we have on others. Then, we’d see some radical change in our world, don’t you think?!?!

Deborah Costello  |  27 Sep 2011  |  Reply

Oh my, Erin! I am grinning ear to ear! As a math teacher you have stumbled into a long held love. Chaos Theory and the Butterfly Effect are wonderful examples of how mathemtics and life intersect in compelling and amazing ways.

I know you didn’t come here to talk about math and fractals, but I so love that you see this connection. Maybe I should write a little something about that some day! Hmmm… you so have my neurons all firing! :)

You are so right about the responsibility aspect. Knowledge that we matter is the first step. Then owning what we do is the second. Maybe then as a third step we move toward making better and better choices. Continual improvement!

Thank you Erin for stopping in and talking. I am always so inspired by the leaders around me.


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