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Tania Hoffman of Celtic Dragons.

Tania Hoffman, Coach of Celtic Dragons during the Vitality Super League match between Celtic Dragons and Leeds Rhinos at Studio 001, Wakefield, England on 12th January 2021.

The Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) is brimming with exciting homegrown coaches but interspersed among them are a few highly respected international figures.

Celtic Dragons are one of three clubs to benefit from the experience of an overseas Head Coach with Tania Hoffman leading the Welsh side for a third season.

The New Zealander detailed her journey into coaching back in her home country: “I grew up in New Zealand where netball’s the top sport for females and started playing and actually it was one of my high school teachers that got me into coaching netball,” Hoffman explains.

“She was a regional coach, she was a Netball New Zealand selector and I really liked the idea of looking to develop players into better athletes but also help with their whole development as a person.

“I started my journey with Canterbury Netball taking some of the under-age groups and eventually a U19 team which got second at nationals. That gave me the confidence to start applying for jobs like U21s and then the senior regional team so I’ve been coaching for a long time but still really like to see the growth in athletes.”

Rising the coaching ladder in her homeland, she landed a job as an Assistant Coach at Central Pulse for the final season of the now-defunct ANZ Championship before making a step in her career.

With only six clubs in New Zealand’s ANZ Premiership presenting limited opportunities at home, Hoffman considered whether a move abroad could be an option.

“At the time I was starting to contemplate what I was going to do after being involved with Central Pulse in ANZ, the Surrey Storm job was advertised so I applied and was lucky enough to have two seasons with Storm,” she says.

“Then it was what do we do now? We were looking to go home and had boxes on the side of the dock ready to go home and the Celtic Dragons job was advertised so we ended up moving to Cardiff!”

Remarkably, from preparing to return to the other side of the world, a final-act twist saw Hoffman now ready to embark on another challenge in the UK.

“We were in a camper van in Croatia and I actually had my interview then and it was our last-ditch holiday before we planned to head home,” she reveals.

“It’s a good place to be and Celtic Dragons is a good franchise to be with.” – Tania Hoffman.

The dramatic change of plans meant some explaining was needed to relatives back home.

“Our families knew that we were coming back home so we had to make phone calls and say look I know that we’re meant to be coming home but actually there’s this opportunity here and I’d like to take it,” recalls Hoffman.

“It wasn’t a difficult decision if we didn’t have anyone else but obviously with parents and children back in New Zealand, we really had to think about whether it was best for us or not.

“I’ve got to say that the time that we’ve had here, even with the ups and downs of results, it’s a good place to be and Celtic Dragons is a good franchise to be with.”

Despite accumulating plenty of experience within netball in New Zealand, the stylistic differences between the sport over there and in the UK meant she did require a period of adaptation.

“New Zealand’s style is more about space marking and zoning and the players that I had at Storm to start with were very man-on and it was trying to find the balance between the two, which really challenged my coaching,” she states candidly.

“Coming to a place where you actually don’t know anyone in terms of players so when I arrived in November of that first season, the team had been selected beforehand.

“It’s the unknown for them because they’ve got this coach that they’ve never heard of before and from a different country and likewise for me, a new country and people I didn’t know so we had to find our feet really quickly with the competition starting in February.”

Hoffman navigated that tough spell to almost steer Storm to the top four and she achieved success in her first year with Dragons with their seventh-place finish in 2019 bettering the season prior.

However, the unique circumstances of the 2021 campaign could provide her biggest test and she spoke about the unity that has developed among coaches during the difficult period since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I think we saw that during Covid when we stopped playing with WhatsApp groups, you know we all have a focus of wanting to be back on court together and making sure that the league survives through Covid,” Hoffman says.

“So, even though we are rival coaches, I think all we want to do is to be able to have netball out there. Not only for ourselves and the players and our franchises but also for the fans out there as well.

“I’m sure that there are lots and lots of people that are loving seeing every team out there and being able to see them all on TV or YouTube every week.”

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