The Big Return
For Welsh defender Nia Jones, returning to the Celtic Dragons is a special sort of homecoming.
“It is a club that is really close to my heart – when I was around 14 and really thinking about playing netball at a really high standard, I used to go and watch the Celtic Dragons. It feels a little bit nostalgic to be back.”
Though Nia is looking forward to the upcoming Vitality Netball Superleague season and has fond memories of her past at the club, she has no regrets about leaving. She felt as though she was able to make a name and prove herself as a player through her time away from the Dragons, improving as both a player and a person. With the Commonwealth Games later in the year, Nia felt that the 2022 season was the right time to make her return.
She’s hoping that her professional development will only continue thanks to the Celtic Dragons program, of which she speaks very highly.
“The program at Dragons is near on to a good semi-professional or professional program that I felt I can fully immerse myself in it. I am able to train like a full-time athlete, training 5-6 times a week, there are extra sessions available, I can maximise recovery and it means I can spend extra time on the court with some Welsh teammates.”
With a new head coach and plenty of new faces alongside those Welsh teammates, Nia understands that the new team will come with challenges.
“At Dragons, we are full of great athletes – really naturally talented and hard-working athletes – I think our biggest challenge will be applying that to the netball court and actually working in harmony and being able to execute the game plan on game day.”
There have also been a lot of changes behind the scenes at the Dragons and Wales Netball as a whole. Nia sees this growth of the club as a semi-professional outfit as a huge positive for all involved.
“I don’t think people realise how much that stuff actually affects you out on the court – when small things are being taken care of like kit, medical care, training sessions and travel, it makes our jobs as athletes so much easier because we can just focus on the netball on the court. Everything is being run much more professionally now which is awesome for the franchise.”
Leading the Dragons
With such a history between her and the club, it’s no surprise that Nia was recently appointed captain of the team, a position she earnt through a vote of her peers.
“We did a player vote for the captaincy and it was a real honour to be selected in that way, it means more when it comes from your teammates.”
As a leader, Nia wants to be able to lead by example and set the standard for the team.
“Bringing my A-game to every session is the best way of leading. I am being reminded by Dannii to do my job first and I think that is the best way that leaders can lead by example, doing what they do well as best as they can. No one is ever perfect at any time and not being afraid to admit that and being able to put your hand up when you make mistakes sets a good example to other people.”
Being a leader is not a new task for Nia, as she is the current co-captain of the Welsh Netball team alongside Suzy Drane. Transitioning into this new sole captaincy role brings with it some changes in the dynamic.
“We take on roles as good cop and bad cop. I am usually the bad cop so being the sole captain at Dragons, I will need to be able to balance both roles and judge what hat I am wearing depending on the situation.”
Nia will have a good leadership group around her as the new Celtic Dragons captain, and work is already being done to develop the club’s leaders and build connections between them. As part of this, the Dragons have started a book club, and are reading a book about leadership gifted to them by Head Coach Dannii Titmuss-Morris. They are able to take new strategies and methods from the book and apply them to the team. As well as a book club they meet once a fortnight in order to stay connected as a group and work through any problems that may arise. The group is made up of individuals that have very different personalities and ways of leading but Nia said that is what makes them a strong group to lead – they all have qualities that complement each other.
Nia’s Football Background
Nia believes that playing football compliments her netball career nicely. This is not only in regards to the skills used on the field, but in learning important life lessons off the field that have helped shape her into the athlete she is today.
“First and foremost it taught me about time management, at one point I was going from netball in the morning to football at night daily. It also taught me about body management, the older you get the more you realise that you can’t be bouncing around from one session to the next because you’ll either be fatigued or are going to get injured. I learnt when to recover and when to top up on training because your body can do more than you think it can do.”
Goals for the season
The Dragons want to be able to finish top 8 this season. Nia believes that if they push themselves enough, they can reverse the club’s recent fortunes and receive some exciting rewards.
“I don’t think that would be us overreaching but I also think that will be a real challenge for us. If you want to be finishing 8th in a league of 11 teams, you have to be winning at least 6 games. It is not going to be an easy task but it is going to be something attainable for us to aim for, it is going to be a challenge but I think it is something we can get to and there is the benefit of being able to play in the Fast5 competition if we reach our goal.”
With a new-look team and brand, Nia and the team have one final goal for the season;
“We want to put Dragons back on the map.”