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  • Writer's pictureH. Paul Putman III, MD

Character Sketches: Creating & Maintaining Self-Esteem

Updated: May 27, 2022

“…everyone else would have done it.” Mallory Holtman, Central Washington University

On April 26, 2008, senior Mallory Holtman played in her final home softball games, yearning for a first chance at a playoff game for herself and for Central Washington University. Her team began the day one win behind their first-place opponent, Western Oregon University, and lost the first game 8-1, putting them one game from elimination from postseason play. With the second game tied 0-0 in the second inning and two players on base, Sara Tcholshy of Western Oregon hit a home run over center field.[1]

Admittedly excited by her feat, Sara missed first base and turned back around to make the tag. During the turn, her right knee gave out from a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and she collapsed several feet from first base, unable to return to her feet, though she did painfully crawl back to first.[2]

The umpires for the game, misinterpreting National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules, determined that as an injury prevented Ms. Tcholshy (now Bradley[3]) from completing her run, Western Oregon’s only option was to replace her at first with a pinch runner, recording the hit as a two-run single; any assistance from her team’s coaches, players or trainers would result in an out. As her coach Pam Knox reluctantly began to replace her, though, Mallory, the Central Washington senior with high hopes for this game, spoke up: “Excuse me, would it be OK if we carried her around and she touched each base?”[2,4]

As the stunned crowd watched and, to their credit, burst into a standing ovation, Ms. Holtman and shortstop Liz Wallace of Central Washington lifted their opponent from Central Oregon and supported her around the basepath, stopping so she could gingerly tap her foot on each remaining base, putting her team ahead 3-0. Central Washington would lose that game, 4-2, and their chance of extending their season.[1,3]

Coach Knox told reporters how this act of kindness, compassion, generosity and sportsmanship was one she would never forget – that it changed her and her players that day; that they learned that “it’s not all about winning.”[3]

But what is most significant about this story is that it didn’t change Mallory Holtman – she was already like that. Her behavior showed her character, demonstrated her values. Her thoughts were

She hit the ball over her fence.

She’s a senior; it’s her last year…

Anyone…would have offered to do it, just because it’s the right thing to do. She was obviously in agony.[3]

Ms. Holtman felt confidence in her automatic decision to sacrifice her own dreams to her ideas of fairness and compassion because her self-image was composed of these and similar values. She wanted to act selflessly, generously and fairly because she owned these character traits and she knew herself well enough to realize it. Her actions and self-esteem embodied these values- she could only feel good about being herself.

If you have followed this series, you may have been working on identifying your own list of values that you truly care about. If not, here are the instructions. After several weeks of measuring how often you behave according to traits you thought you valued, you should have a pretty good working list, even if it surprised you a bit. The next step is to take this list and build self-esteem with it.

As before, you will need a written list of these values: perhaps honesty, loyalty, kindness, independence…whatever you found fit you best. Remember, these are your values, not necessarily ideas others would have you choose. Make room on your list for a series of stars or checks to the right side of each word. As you did when you when you created your list, review it each morning to consciously reacquaint yourself with what you value and what the opportunities for reinforcing self-esteem will be that day. At the end of each day, place a mark beside each word, one for each instance in which you consciously acted in support of that value.

For example, if honesty is on your list, give yourself a mark for every time you told the truth when it would have been easier, or even advantageous, to tell a lie. Remove a mark, or add a minus sign, however, for every time you could have told the truth, but did not. When you were creating your values list, we counted only the positive behaviors because we were attempting to identify what character strengths your behavior would support. To build self-esteem, though, you need to make conscious choices to support these values, more often than not, on a daily basis, until, like Mallory, you can’t imagine doing otherwise because you already have such a strong sense of your own character.

Pat yourself on the back, literally, if possible, every day you see that your behavior is something you feel good about. This reinforces what you value, who you are, and your self-esteem. Should you see yourself going in the other direction, however, frequently missing opportunities for positive self-regard, take the following steps.

First, make sure that you were correct about a value. Over time, your values may change due to experiences, influences and maybe even opportunities. This is not necessary a bad thing; it may be part of growing and learning. So, if you are not regularly behaving according to a value on your list, ask yourself why: Are you afraid to tell the truth in your current work or social circumstance? Are you under the influence of someone else’s values and fear their rejection for being yourself? Has the value been replaced by another value, such as independence by generosity or empathy as you enter a relationship? There can be many reasons for a change, and not all of them are worrisome; being aware of your values over time gives you a stronger sense of self. It is in your best interest to remain self-aware as you grow and evolve, making it less likely that you will make mistakes in your behavior that will cost you. So, if there is a healthy reason to replace a value, congratulations – you are growing.

Secondly, though, if you were correct about a value and you find yourself consistently unable to live up to your own standards, this self-knowledge offers you the opportunity to change directions, even if you need to seek professional help in doing so. Many good psychotherapists stand by, ready to help you identify and circumvent roadblocks to happy, healthy behavioral choices in your life. Once you find these detours, alone or with assistance, you can either live out the original value(s) or create new ones that better fit the new you, proceeding to build and maintain your self-esteem.

Mallory’s coach Gary Frederick called her behavior on the field that day in 2008 “Unbelievable.”[1,2] Actually, though, it shouldn’t have been, since he knew his player. He had even evidenced his own character years earlier when his baseball team won the first game of a district playoff, then was awarded advancement when the field became unplayable for the final two games. Feeling that unfair, he found a drier field and played the remaining games, both of which his team lost, saying “I don't want to back into a championship." His wife, Bobbi, dying of Lou Gehrig's disease, shouted during the CWU-COU game incident to come take her wheelchair to get their opponent around the bases.[1] It is clear Ms. Holtman had good examples, inside and outside her family, of living according to values.

Mallory Holtman, now Mallory Holtman-Fletcher, went on to coach the Central Washington Wildcats from 2011-2015, setting a school record for wins during a five-year span.[5] She saw that the home field, the site of the 2008 “unbelievable sportsmanship,” was named for Gary and Bobbi Frederick.[1]

[1] Thomas Lake, “The Way It Should Be: The Story of an Athlete’s Singular Gesture Continues to Inspire. Careful, Though, It Will Make You Cry.” Vault, Sports Illustrated Web page. Published June 29, 2009. Accessed May 4, 2022. [2] “Unbelievable Act of Sportsmanship,” CBS News Web page, Published May 1, 2008. Accessed May 4, 2022. [3] Bryce Weedman, “Bringing home an incredible run: The moment that changed sportsmanship forever,” The Observer Web page, Published February 21, 2019. Accessed May 19, 2022. [4] Graham Hays, “Central Washington offers the ultimate act of sportsmanship,” NCAA, Web page, Published April 28, 2008. Updated April 30, 2008. Accessed May 4, 2022. [5] “CWU Softball's Mallory Holtman-Fletcher Retires from Coaching,” Central Washington University Web page. Published June 11, 2015. Accessed May 4, 2022.

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