Kristyna Bertolone, "Coach K"
Growing up the daughter of a high school coach and physical education teacher, I always knew I wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps. From a young age I was always a helper, a leader, a captain, a competitor, and a mentally tough individual. I grew up surrounded by strong male athletes and coaches who I emulated daily. We were always quoting sports movies and spending weekends on the fields where my dad coached. I worked hard to be not only a great athlete, but a great friend and teammate. I wound up playing field hockey and softball in high school, captaining both teams, and going on to receive a softball scholarship for college after I graduated.
I went to Southern Connecticut State University, where I pitched and was Captain of my team at the end of my career. I also experienced a career ending injury and played for a coach who played major mind games (which is definitely a story for another time) that played a pretty big role in who I became after college. I graduated with my degree in Exercise Science and soon became a physical education teacher/high school coach. I did this for 14 years in the state of CT and honestly, sitting here writing this, I’m looking back thinking of all that I experienced within that time that has set me up to be the person I am today. I learned a lot, and unfortunately a lot of those lessons weren’t great ones (again, another story, another time). But I will say that everything I have gone through from high school to college to my first career, I wholeheartedly believe has set me up to be the person I am today, the owner, founder, and head coach for Game Changers Mental Performance Coaching. I may not have realized it then, but I totally see it now. I had to go through the struggles, the pain, the discomfort, the disappointment, to learn just what I am capable of. And that brings me to my story…
Imagine coming home for lunch one day to find your husband of 10 years saying he no longer loves you, hasn’t loved you for over a year, and is leaving you. Just days after we were looking at homes in our neighborhood to buy. And just one day before we were supposed to go pick up the dog we had just adopted. The man I had pledged my life to, the person I wanted to spend forever with, the one who made me so happy every single day, was just done and out. Oh and did I mention that I had to go back to work to teach Kindergarten that day? Yeah. Hello May of 2021, you were a rough one.
Immediately following that incident, my life was a blur. My ex had moved every single thing of his out of our home when I had gone to pick up our new dog. I came home to an empty house and a very empty heart. The next few weeks I went to work every day as an elementary PE teacher, came home and trained my dog, and spent time with neighbors and friends who were determined not to let me be alone. The summer came, my favorite time of year, and I just powered through. Acted as if I was completely fine. Told myself I was completely fine. Then I was hit with divorce papers. And now it was real. It was like life was moving forward completely without me. I had zero grip on anything. Except Game Changers.
I had started Game Changers in 2018 as a way to connect with the athletes and students that I taught and coached outside of my time with them in the classroom and on the field. It was originally a website of resources that they could go to, download from, and even schedule an appointment to meet with me on zoom (back way before zoom was “cool”). It was always considered a “hobby” in our household and at the time I guess I was OK with that because I had a full time career. Fast forward to COVID shutting down the world, it gave me the opportunity to do more with Game Changers, more than I ever imagined it could be. I started “coaching” and “teaching” virtually, posting on all social media platforms and that’s how I started to grow my own clientele. I had athletes, coaches, and parents reaching out for more resources and more help with their athletes in regards to their mental well being and I was totally up for the job. It literally happened overnight and I could not feel more blessed for this new chapter unfolding.
When my ex had walked out on me, I was in the midst of something truly special building with Game Changers. I often think about how working with those teams and athletes really saved me from myself. Every day I would talk about having optimistic outlooks, mindset shifts, controlling the controllables, understanding and allowing emotions to come and go, responding to adversity and dealing with disappointment/failure. Honestly, this “hobby” of mine actually saved my life (as well as therapy, which could be a whole other story of how I turned my own heartache into actual lessons I use with athletes on a daily basis).
When the 2021-2022 school year started I had built a pretty big client list where I was working with teams and athletes everyday after school hours. So 8am-3pm I was teaching, and 3pm-10pm I was “online coaching." But then as things began to shift back to normalcy, teams (mostly collegiate) wanted to shift back to in person coaching, and with my schedule that was really impossible. I had a pretty big decision to make. Either stay teaching and only do Game Changers as a side gig, or go all in with mental performance coaching and leave the career I had just spent the last 14 years building. Oh, and I should also mention that when my ex left, I was 5 months into teaching in a new district where I didn’t really have many relationships nor did I feel very connected to where I was, who I was with and what I was doing. I took this new job because it was in the town that my ex and I had always dreamed of living in, where we wanted to start our forever, where we had been house hunting since the beginning of COVID. What happened though is being in this new district, alone, and now alone in life, I often found myself quite checked out. I remember there was this one week in October where I legit just didn’t show up to work for a full week. I had allowed myself to slip into a bit of a depression. My friends and neighbors were amazing and took care of my dog and brought me food, but I just couldn’t shake the fact that the life I was living wasn’t “my life,” it was still the life “we” had been building together, the one that was taken from me with no explanation.
And that was it. That week was my wake up call. I remember crying to my parents one night over FaceTime and they told me to come home, and not just for the weekend. I feel like that was the nudge I needed. To know that I could just “come home,” even at 36 years old. The next few weeks went quickly, I had resigned from this new job, broken my lease, and in February of 2022, I packed up my life, my dog, said goodbye to the home I had been in for almost a decade to hit the road back to Long Island. Giving up a full time career, with consistent income, health benefits and lifetime perks was NOT an easy decision, more like a necessary one for my head and heart.
I will say that the first few months home I slept, A LOT. But I also put 110% of my effort into Game Changers. I legit slept, woke up for Zooms, slept some more, and traveled to work with teams. It was scary and awesome all at the same time. Here I was, starting a new business with ZERO business background, and honestly just winging it all. But I could not have been happier at the same time. Like I was “doing it.” Turning this “hobby” into a full-time career all on my own. It’s amazing what happens when you shed dead weight and focus all your attention to optimistically surviving (enter a winky face here).
The next few months to the present day have been some of the best days and experiences of my life. Game Changers has 100% changed the game for ME. I have been able to work with some amazing athletes, teams and coaching staffs, helping them understand and use the mental game to their advantage. I’ve met wonderful humans, in real life and on social media, who have become great beacons of hope for me moving forward in this direction. Today I get to travel, make my own schedule, meet new people, and most importantly, share my story and the events that have shaped me into the mentally tough person that I believe I am today. It is through my own experiences that I hope those who I meet feel empowered to get through their adversity, as I did with mine.
From what could have been a very sad story, I chose to build my own path back to happiness through controlling my controllables and working through my thoughts and feelings. Now I am on a life mission to teach others how to change the game for themselves, in sport and in life. I also wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the amazing support of; my mom and dad for giving me a fresh start after almost 20 years being away from home… my sister who dropped everything to be with me in CT when I needed someone most… my neighbors and friends in CT, who were my lifeline and happiness during those sad, sad months… my former administrators for being so understanding when I “resigned” one year after I “signed"... the athletes and coaches I get to work with and share my story, for believing in me and embracing my teachings… and last, my therapist, the real MVP for showing me that life is all about perspective and choices and at the end of every single situation, there’s a lesson we can ignore or embrace. With arms wide open (which is good, because I’m a big hugger) I choose to embrace all that my story entails, the good, the bad, and the eye-opening.
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