People and Places
27/10/2019
Football club tackles the big issues

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Rikki Johnston takes his coaching to another level at Dromana Football and Netball Club. Using his position to help young people means everything to him as he highlights such important issues as mental health, suicide prevention, respect for women, and education. Ultimately, he inspires young adults to become leaders in his community. 

The senior team includes players aged 17-40 and Rikki, who has been involved in the club for more than 17 years, has coached them for the past four. After retiring as a player/coach this year, his attention turned towards using the club’s position in the community to address matters that affect the community as a whole as well as his players.  

“We’ve created forums for the guys to deal with different types of issues, including depression, bipolar, and various other health issues,” Rikki said. “We’ve set it up in a way that they’re comfortable to talk to the coaches or other players if they have any questions or issues. It especially gives the younger players confidence that they can speak up; they feel like they can talk to the coaches, players and mentors.

“When I started in football, no one spoke about it (men’s health). It was taboo. It’s done a full 180 since I was playing. The guys in the group know who is struggling and they’ll put up their hands to support them. It’s a sign of strength to the other members when everyone pitches in. We aren’t just playing footy; we are setting up a community environment.” 

The coaches have also put mentors in place to structure their leadership group and look after the young players transitioning into the senior team. “Our mentors drive the standard of the footy club. They map out the rules and standards. They are solid guys and excellent mentors.”

Rikki is about to embark on a new challenge — an indefinite trip around Australia with his wife, Elizabeth, their three young children and another on the way. “We’ve got a rough idea of where we want to go; we’ll see how we go timeframe-wise. If it’s too hard with the four kids, we’ll just aim to travel for a few months; if we love it, we’ll keep going. We’ve done a few big holidays before. Last Christmas we went to the North Pole. Our daughter tells people we went there and no one believes her. They just laugh!”

KATE SEARS

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