Aline Reis epitomises what it means to never give up. After completing a successful playing career at the University of Central Florida (UCF) and having a brief spell playing professionally in Finland, she decided to turn her attention to coaching while continuing her studies in sport science. After three successful years as goalkeeper coach at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), she realised that it wasn’t too late to give up on her dream of playing for Brazil.
Watching A Seleção at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ was a turning point for her. With the support of her family and Amanda Cromwell, her coach at UCF and head coach at UCLA, she decided to get on a plane and head back to Brazil, and that’s where we pick up the story.
FIFA.com: What has it taken to get back to the national team and to be in this moment?
Aline Reis: The training is part of it but it’s more than that. I had to have a plan because working hard in the USA was not going to get the attention of the national team coaches. So I left everything. After living in America for ten years, I had to go back to Brazil, play in the Brazilian league, be in front of the coaches, let them know that I’m there and show them what I’m capable of and that’s what I did.
When I made the decision I was still coaching at UCLA and had a season to finish, so I started training and working hard while coaching. It wasn’t easy balancing the schedule. When I was done in December, I went back to Brazil and played for Ferroviaria, which has always been a really good team in Brazil and has this tradition and history. I got in contact with the national team staff because I wanted them to know I was serious. I said, ‘you know what, I know you don’t know a lot about me, but you have to watch me play. Please just observe me. Watch my games and see the work I’m doing, so I can at least get a chance and you guys can call me in to camp and see me up close.’
Specifically, what kind of sacrifices did you have to make to get to this level?
Getting to this level is one thing but then staying at this level is another thing. When I started training for goalkeeping again, it was hard because your body – I was used to getting hit and all of the hard stuff about being a goalkeeper – after taking a break for four years and going back to it, it isn’t easy. Then you realise that goalkeeping takes a whole different type of fitness. It was completely different than what I had been doing.
There were struggles, especially physically, I went from not playing for four years and going back and playing at a high level again. It’s more mental than anything. The mental toughness that I had to develop was cool to see. Different things are going to happen that you can’t control and you have to deal with it in the best way, so that you don’t give up on your dream.
Take us into the mind of a goalkeeper. What kind of mentality do you need to succeed in the position?
I think a goalkeeper first of all needs to like responsibility. It’s not the position everyone wants to be. Everyone wants to be a forward or midfielder and everyone wants to score goals. We do exactly the opposite. We stop goals. We can’t make mistakes. Mistakes happen because we’re human. Your mentality needs to be, ‘I need to be at the top of my game, my focus needs to be at 100 per cent every time I step on the field because if I make mistakes, there’s no one behind me to clean it up for me.’ The other positions on the field are a bit different. Small mistakes happen a lot.
Even though a goalkeeper plays a collective sport, it’s a little bit lonely sometimes. I think that’s incredible though. That’s part of the reason I chose to be a goalkeeper. It’s exciting and challenging. It’s different: you wear a different colour, you are a different kind of breed. That’s how I talk to the little kids I coach. It’s a special position. Sometimes you will make mistakes but that’s not what defines you. What defines you is how you behave after you make that mistake.
How has your mentality strengthened from a younger Aline to where you are now? What has that change really looked like?
As a kid, it was always a part of my personality, I was always very driven and very critical of myself as well. A lot of times I wasn’t waiting for my mom or my teacher to tell me, ‘Hey Aline, good job!’ I was always self critical. I knew when something was good and I was doing well or I totally needed to step up and do better. I always had pride in the fact that whatever I’m doing, I must do it well.
I had this mentality to start with going to college when I moved to the USA at 18 by myself. I was always driven and had a lot of discipline. But when I got to the USA the people around me helped me take that to the next level. I had those traits but I didn’t understand what they were or that I even had them. Once I got to college and we started studying it and talking about it, I saw how that mental strength really had a key role in football and helped athletes go from good to great. That’s when I realised that I had this mentality but I needed to keep developing that strength because it’s just like training for a skill.
When you make a mistake, what kind of self-talk is going on in Aline’s world?
(Laughs) I’m always analysing things and thinking about how I can do better. After a game, I’m always watching my highlights, the saves and the goals, trying to see how I can improve. When I was younger, the first thing that would happen when I made a mistake was me thinking, ‘What did I do wrong? What could I have done better?’ I kept replaying that in my head. It’s a good trait to have but not during the game. I had to learn how to leave the-fixing-the-game-part for after the game. That’s how I developed over the years. Now when I make a mistake, the first thing I tell myself is, ‘Aline, the most important thing is to keep your head in the game.
Did goalkeeping find you or did you seek it out? Was it a natural fit for your personality?
(Laughs) I think it found me because if I was being rationale, I wouldn’t have picked goalkeeping! I’m not necessarily the stereotype of a goalkeeper. Everyone looks at me and when they are guessing what position I play, they would never guess goalkeeping. So definitely goalkeeping found me when I was still young, because I didn’t know how big or small I was going to be (laughs). I always loved it.
I always had the support of my family. That was really big for me. In women’s soccer a lot of times because of prejudice and the way people view women’s soccer still, a lot of girls still suffer under their own roof. Their parents are telling them, ‘Soccer’s not for girls, so go do something else.’ That’s what gave me real strength, knowing that my family had my back. They’re always supporting me and want me to do what I love and what I feel good about. I say all of that because when I was ten they signed me up for a goalkeeping class and that’s when it all started.
What kind of goalkeeper are you?
The greatest advice I ever got from a coach was that you need to focus on the things you can control. You’re not getting any taller, right? You’ve stopped growing. Your height is something you need to forget about. You need to focus on everything else so you can go on the field and put hours in and improve and get better. If you do that, no one’s going to talk about your height anymore. So I became good with my feet at a time, after the 2014 World Cup everyone was talking about goalkeepers using their feet, but I was doing that before. In the gym I was making sure that, if I’ve not got the height, at least I need to be able to jump high. I need the power to make up for it.
As a goalkeeper nowadays, I’m a student of the game, I like to study and watch what I did wrong. I read the game well, at least I think so (laughs). I’m good at making decisions. That’s a big one. It doesn’t matter if you have all the physical requirements or if you are good technically, if you don’t make good decisions, you’re dead. The more complete player I can be, the better, even if I’m 5’4’.