MISSOULA— During her sophomore season playing for the Montana Grizzlies soccer program, Alexa Coyle found herself battling the highs and lows of the sport.
The former Bozeman High standout struggled to balance her identity as an athlete and her identity away from the sport she loves. Through some introspection, talks with family — including her ella pro football ella playing elder brother Brock — she worked to improve her mentality.
As her mental health started improving, she started playing better and was happy in the sport. She went from treating adversity negatively to embracing challenges and using it for growth and improvement after she built a support system that worked for her.
By doing so, she said, her career took off on and off the pitch.
“I feel like when I learned how to really utilize the power of my mind in my sport, my performance just grew so much,” she said Monday afternoon during a phone interview. “… It made me overall a happier person, and in turn a better athlete. Because, I think the happier you are, the better you’re going to be at whatever you’re doing. I think it’s all intertwined.”
That experience brings Coyle to now. She recently returned home to Bozeman after she finished her first year of pro soccer overseas for Hibernian FC in the Scottish Women’s Premier League. Her de ella pro career is on hold, for now, as she works toward new ventures to expand her non-playing aspirations.
Coyle and her former pro teammate and roommate Toni Malone co-founded The Female Edge, which aims to give young female athletes the support that Coyle and Malone wish they received in the early days of their playing careers. It also fulfills lifelong goals for Coyle, to start her own business and help the next generation of female athletes.
They worked on the details for months with conversations about what their business model would look like. Eventually, they had things down and launched on March 18.
Their mission idea sprouted from shared experience. Both Coyle, who has an MBA from UM, and Malone, who is from Springfield, Oregon, grew up in smaller towns with less than 70,000 people and played in college at Oregon State, far less than many of the places their pro and college soccer teammates they have been around. Coyle believes the two of them, knowing what it is like to be recruited — in some cases under recruited — while living in a non-major city and not so close to one in both of their cases gives them the perspective needed.
“I think we’ve experienced some of the hardships that come along with that,” Coyle said. “We experienced being recruited out of high school to get to a good college and that there were more hurdles you have to jump through than if you were living in California, or places that play year round and are very populated. … Of course We want to provide value to girls everywhere but that is part of our passion. We feel proud of how we’ve made it from our small towns and want to help other girls so they can as well.”
Beyond the sport — which is an important part of what the two are addressing by offering college recruiting help, film analysis, personalized training plans and pro sport services for athletes — the goal Coyle holds the closest is to support.
They call it “mindset mentoring,” which, in its purest form, is Coyle and Malone taking time to talk and open up with athletes about what they are going through. Coyle is an advocate for the mental health of athletes, especially younger ones who are still learning how to best navigate the struggles that sports will bring.
A healthy sports identity differs from person to person. For Coyle it starts with acknowledging athletes play sports and are, simply, athletes. But they’re also humans with other things to offer off the court, pitch, track or diamond.
She learned that truth herself while at UM, and hopes to guide other female athletes to find a balance that works for them at whatever level they are at.
“We really want to be mentors for these girls and be a resource to help them in any way they need and want to elevate them in their sport,” Coyle said. “… We wish we learned at a younger age how vital the right mindset is in sport and how powerful it is. You’re able to develop skills and leverage your mind and your sport in a way that provides you an advantage.
“The reality is, as sports get more intense, your identity can be very strong in your sport — which is not a negative thing at all,” she added. “But it’s very important to have that balance. We want to be able to teach these girls and mentor them that your worth is so much more than your performance on the field.”
In the short time since the launch, Coyle and Malone have a handful of athletes ranging from young players in Bozeman, to Scotland and the professional level.