Eighteen months out from a doctorate in clinical psychology, Clare Jones is in the ideal place to try get the best from her Celtic Dragons team as they seek an end to their winless run when they face another Vitality Netball Superleague double header this weekend.
“I’m probably a bit biased on this because I would say that the mental challenge is more important than the physical challenge that we’ve got,” laughs the Welsh international.
“On paper and as it stands, it’s a winless season for us but actually, I’m really, really proud of the girls and the character that we’ve shown.”
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Jones is in the final stages of completing the final stage of her journey along her chosen career path and dealing with a losing run has proved to be an early practical test.
Whether it’s 10-hour round trips to Wakefield, stepping up to a leadership role over the last month or away from the court concentration on her studies and placement the 29-year-old has embraced the challenges that have come with her return to the Superleague.
“We’ve said about the challenges in terms of the travelling, particularly the single days being harder than the double headers.
“For example, some of us girls will work or have university and on a Sunday, if you’re not playing until 6pm there was a five-and-a-half-hour drive up and then on the way back, and you’re in work the next day.
“The off-court challenges, we’ve done a lot of try and counter them and where best, optimise where we can to improve our performances.
“In venues, we’ve looked to come up with different ways of keeping us socially connected and I think that goes hand-in-hand with the challenges that you face on court.
“It can be very easy for teams, once they’re faced with a number of losses on the bounce, to isolate themselves and go in on themselves. Actually, what we’ve been really good and what’s been encouraging is that we’ve become closer together during that time.”
To be able to sit (socially distanced) around the breakfast table with my team mates tho 😍 London you’ve already won me over!! Now let’s get the second half of the season going 💪🙌💚
The league has switched venues to London and the journey time is likely to be halved for Dragons but for Jones and her teammates, there is a bigger challenge.
Bottom of the Superleague, having lost all 12 games they have played this season, they find themselves in a winless run than now stretches to 16 games across three very different campaigns.
Losing all three games of last year’s cancelled season came as something of a surprise as in 2019 they enjoyed their best ever campaign winning six games and finishing seventh in the table.
It was April 2019 that the Dragons last tasted competitive victory in the Superleague, it’s a wait than now stretches two years and Jones is doing her part to keep spirits high in the squad.
“Something that I’m quite demanding of the girls, is to be the best version of themselves, however that looks like to them.
“We’ve really got to dig deep this season in terms of improving those little one per cent gains, if we can look ourselves in the mirror and say that we’re all doing that, then we’re contributing to the wider team and the wider team goals.”
Dragons’ last victory came over Surrey Storm who provide the opposition on Friday night before they go up against Saracens Mavericks on Saturday.
An impressive showing in defeat to league leaders Team Bath last time out, where they led by a goal at half-time, hinted at what Dragons are capable of and Jones is hopeful that a corner had been turned.
👀 @tamsingreenway's #VNSL Team of the Week is 𝙞𝙣!
The @SkyNetball pundit has chosen her top performers from Round 12 🔝
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“What I’ve been really pleased to see is that our performances have been improving. I truly believe that our culture and environment off court, has a part to play in that.
“We’ve had moments in the first half [of the season] where we thought that it might be the turning point, and then unfortunately the next weekend we haven’t given that same performance.
“There was certainly something that I felt in that Bath game that it wasn’t coincidence and it wasn’t fluke as to how we performed.
“It wasn’t a case that Bath played particularly badly, it was a moment where our processes, our work, our individual work really came together nicely and we demonstrated for one another, what we’re capable of.
“That was really pleasing, and I think that it’s given us, a great confidence boost to go into this double header. We’ve challenged both Storm and Mavericks previously and there’s absolutely no reason why we can’t win both of those games.”
Jones rejoined the franchise ahead of the 2021 season after a two-year sabbatical that allowed her to focus on her career choice. Netball was far from on the backburner though, she played for Hucclecote in the Premiership, won a silver medal with Wales at Netball Europe and most interestingly for a proud Welsh woman, represented England Universities.
As she closes in on success off the court, the topic of balance comes up – a regular conversation in netball where the sport is still a way off a professional league.
“Netball doesn’t offer enough as a standalone career, you can’t leave your job to solely concentrate on netball.
“I think that’s a conversation that has to happen, because people develop later in life and people are at their prime when they’re in their 30s, so how do we support those athletes?”
“I reassessed things, to see what I needed to do to get onto my doctorate and it felt like the right time to question what I was doing myself in order to optimise my chances of solidifying a place with Wales.
“As hard as change is, I’m not a massive fan of change, but it does challenge you and it’s challenged me in the right ways.
“I completed my undergraduate and my masters at Exeter University and that accelerated my netball journey.
“The pinnacle point before I graduated with my masters was playing for England Universities. I really value what England Netball promotes in the game and I really value what Welsh Netball promotes in the game.
“I like that have the variation in my game and if I can continue improving on that then hopefully, with Wales I can continue to contribute my personal skills to that.
“Then, an opportunity that I couldn’t really turn down came up to come back to Superleague. It was at the same time as I got onto my doctorate, so they come as a pair in terms of transitions. It’s worked out quite nicely so far.”
Been so humbled by all the lovely messages I’ve received! Diolch all! I can’t wait for the second half of the season to begin 💚 https://t.co/OCxakSMK6D
A common theme for the conversation with Jones has been challenges, on and off court, mental and physical so it’s no surprise that’s how things finish up. And it’s no surprise on which side of the fence the psychologist comes down.
“For me, that’s where the mental side of sport is as, if not more, important than your physical side,” she adds.
“If you don’t have the belief to go into each game thinking that it is going to be a winnable game, then for me personally, I think that you’ve already lost the game.”
Dragons have lost more than most but it won’t stop them and their newly appointed vice captain striving to end that run, and turn that corner properly.
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