At the 2017 AFLPA MVP Awards, a host of retiring legends penned a letter to their younger selves. Steve Johnson has marveled fans, teammates and opponents across his successful 16 years in the game. He reflects on his journey, exclusively to AFLPlayers.com.au.
You’ve had a pretty good life so far, growing up in the country, playing footy, spending time with your mates and with lots of spare time to go fishing, play golf or do whatever you please.
Through your hard work, resilience and natural talent, you have given yourself an opportunity to continue doing it for a job. Being drafted is an absolute privilege, so don’t take for granted how extremely fortunate you are. So many other young kids your age would swap places with you in a heartbeat.
Here is some advice to help you on along the way in preparation for things you might be confronted with or equally need to cope with as you embark upon your AFL career.
First things first, getting drafted is no reason to feel a sense of entitlement. You have given yourself a great opportunity through years of practice and hard training, so make the most of it. At the end of the day, your dream has always been to have a long and successful AFL career, not to just make a list or play one game.
It’s definitely still OK to have some fun — clearly there will be pressures. Take the time to enjoy some quality time with mates and bond with teammates. It’s a great way to develop friendships and take your mind off things.
Pick your moments, if you think you can get away with things a country footballer gets away with, you will jeopardise your position and quickly become that wasted talent sitting in a pub somewhere telling everybody how good he could have been.
From the moment you walk through the doors of an AFL club with big ambitions, you only get one chance to make a good first impression — footy clubs are built on character, commitment and teamwork.
Keep your head down and bum up. Don’t think that you’ve achieved anything by just being selected. Work hard and earn the respect of your new teammates as fast as you can.
As time goes by you will realise how important it is to develop strong relationships — whether it’s with a coach, teammate or mentor. Find someone that you think will help you become a better footballer on the field and a better person off it.
Aligning yourself with quality people means you can lean on them for advice, they can have honest conversations with you and also understand when you need to relax.
Along the way you will be faced with many challenges, whether it be form, injury, criticism or some form of adversity. There will be times where you just want to jump on the next flight out of the country and sit on a beach in the Bahamas.
This is where you will learn a lot about yourself. Self-assessment is always important but so too is the advice you get from the people that matter most, so utilise them.
Understand that no matter how good or bad you’re going, there will be critics. It’s how you cope with them that will define your character. Sometimes it’s good to hear these things, it’s an opportunity to learn and motivate.
I know you’re a competitor with a lot of self-belief, so continue to prove people wrong and use as much positive reinforcement in times of adversity.
You have been to some AFL Grand Finals as a kid and I’ve seen the look in your eye. You desperately want to strut your stuff out there on the MCG in September.
Remember your body is now your business. If you work hard and make some sacrifices, you’re closer to achieving that dream than you probably think. Ask yourself this important question — is what I’m doing today helping me get to who I want to become?
The feeling you get when you know you have your teammates respect is far better than reflecting on a good night out together where you were the life of the party.
Your attitude will help influence others, so be aware they’re watching and if you can influence those around you, the opportunity to tell stories over a good night together might just appear for years to come. This will bring you much more joy.
That feeling of accepting a premiership medal and celebrating a premiership cup with your teammates is one I cannot explain. Go and give yourself every chance of experiencing it for yourself.