Josie Johnson provides the Power at Port Stephens
The AFL is lucky to have so many amazing, community minded people who love our game and who contribute to it bringing people together. Josie Johnson is a shining example of one of these people.
In Women’s Coaching Month, we spoke with Josie who is a major component of the Port Stephens Power. She’s the Senior Women’s captain and team manager, the U13s girls coach, the Auskick Coordinator and Coach, on the club’s committee and is its canteen manager. That means Saturdays and Sundays in footy season are dedicated to her club.
Feel exhausted? Josie gives a lot to the team, but she gets plenty in return…
Humble beginnings to club figurehead
Josie started playing in the Power’s inaugural season in 2018. Having grown up in Queensland, she admits she “knew nothing of AFL, never played it and never had anything to do with it.” It was her first contact sport and she was nervous.
But, she put those concerns aside saying, “from the first bounce, I just loved it. It’s a great game.” Five years since her first season, her life revolves around footy and advocating for the game that gives her and her community so much.
Josie knows footy can bring out the best in people. As Captain, she sees the benefits a contact sport and team environment brings her players. “I think it’s absolutely the most important thing for mental health,” she said. “It is physical and has outlets for all those emotions we carry by getting around a bunch of awesome women. When we go home after footy we’re happy with our life, we’re happy with our kids and we’re happy with everything because we had somewhere to put all that negativity. I can’t sell the game enough.”
In its five-year history the Port Stephens’ women’s side has turned into a community hub for its players. New coach, Beth Innes, identified there were a lot of busy mums in the team who struggled to make two training sessions, so she reduced it to once a week. This goes against football tradition of Tuesday/Thursday training and game on Saturday, but it has improved team cohesion as all players turn up now. And if not, there’s understanding, not a guilt trip.
Josie explains about the team pre-Beth Innes: “Most of the women on our team were single mums. For us to get to training on a Tuesday and Thursday at six o’clock after working all day, we were getting up at four or five in the morning, putting dinner in a slow cooker, going home after school, getting our kids showered and into pajamas, setting them up at the footy with the dinner we’d cooked them in the slow cooker, just so we could get to training on time.”
This was unsustainable and unreasonable for second grade football on the Central Coast. Now, it’s different. “I always take extra dinner,” said Josie. “So if someone hasn’t had time to get dinner for their kids there’ll be dinner there for their kids as well. We have an inclusive and understanding training environment. If you can’t make it to training or if you have sick kids, there’s never any guilt that goes with footy.”
Coaching U13 girls
Josie’s daughter plays in the under-13 girls’ team she coaches. It presents different challenges to the senior women’s side, but the rewards are equal.
“Girls have a lot of emotions,” she said. “I often have three or four girls on the sideline crying halfway through a game. And I’m coaching and I’m hugging them, and they’re all crying and feeding off each other.
“I say to my girls, if you need to have a cry, have a cry and then after half time come back on and try and tackle someone to feel better.
“Then the next week the girls are walking off and they’re so strong and tall, and I think it’s two different teams! It’s very different coaching girls, especially teenage girls.”
Josie also believes footy is a vessel for adolescent girls to be proud of their physical attributes, regardless of how they present: “Young teenage girls have such a fixation on body image, and what I love about AFL more than any other sport I’ve played is each body as a position and a way to use your body. Whether you’re a bigger girl, a taller girl, short and quick, or whatever, each body has a position on the field and we want you on our team.”
“As long as we’re playing footy, it doesn’t matter what code”
Port Stephens Power club has also brought together two footy codes not known for collaboration.
To ensure both clubs could field teams every week, Port Stephens Power and the Medowie Marauders rugby union teams share players, asking players to backup on a Saturday across different codes.
Josie loves it, and it’s a testament to her and the community to have such willing (and durable!) players who are happy to get in and have a crack.
After establishing Josie’s weekend routine includes two games of footy, coaching Auskick, coaching an U13 girls team and running a canteen, how does she unwind in the off-season? Unsurprisingly, she plays AFL 9s and is looking to build a local competition and run a bunch of gala days.
For now, Josie’s taking it one week at a time as her Power looks to make finals for the first time in its five-year history. On-field success is barely mentioned in a chat with Josie, and although she said it’d be a dream to play finals, she’s got plenty of others things to think about it.