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The bonds that are helping Clare Jones through retirement

Credit: Ben Lumley

Sometimes Clare Jones just needs a cwtch from her teammates.

The former Cardiff Dragons and Welsh Feathers mid-courter retired after the 2023 season but had previously juggled demanding full-time work as a clinical psychologist with playing elite-level netball.

Having moved into the next phase of her life, Jones, who spent eight years with Dragons, is still maintaining the relationships she made in netball, including with her long-time teammate Nia Jones.

“I remember a time where I was on placement in Yeovil, I was living in Bristol and I was doing all of my Wales and Cardiff Dragons training in Cardiff and we were getting very close to selection for the Commonwealth Games,” Jones said.

“The driving was certainly taking its toll, but I also had academic deadlines, I had to pass my placements. I also had a responsibility to perform for Cardiff Dragons and being able to get into the Commonwealth Games was a big goal of mine.

“And there was one time when I was taking Nia Jones to training and was probably a bit quieter than usual and she just asked that dreaded question of ‘Are you alright?’.

Bethan Dyke, Clare Jones and Nia Jones, teammates and close friends. Credit: Ben Lumley

“And the floodgates just opened and there was that moment of ‘Can I do this anymore?’.

“Nia is someone who I absolutely trust to give me some tough love or a little bit of a cuddle and everything will be ok.

“Knowing my background there is a stubbornness of wanting to fix things myself but I have also been incredibly lucky to have a tight supportive network who I trust.”

Jones, who represented Wales 31 times including at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, was speaking during Mental Health Awareness Week.

And while she was grateful to retire on her own terms, she also admits to uncertainty around what life would look like post-netball.

She added: “While it has been amazing, there have definitely been some wobbles along the way, but I have been so grateful for those that I have remained close with in the netball bubble.

“They have been there to work through those challenges that come with retirement. One of those worries about leaving the Super League was how relationships might change.

“Of course relationships change, that is a natural part of life, but I have been incredibly grateful for the check-ins despite the girls still having to get through a very emotional and physically demanding season.

“But likewise in return when I have been able to get to games, some have been more emotional than others, but I have been able to put that to one side and support the girls through those games however way they need me.

“On reflection that is a huge testament to how the game can really nurture such important friendships throughout your life.

“And it can really teach you those rich skills that can contribute to building that support network around you which is so important for your mental health.”

Jones admits that even in retirement she is never far from a netball court, serving as a training associate for Team Bath while also being in attendance at many of Bath’s and Cardiff Dragons’ home matches as she cheers on Jones and another good friend Bethan Dyke.

While still working full-time within the NHS, Jones is devoting some of her new free time to combine all of her experience to help other athletes prioritise their mental health.

“I have started to be able to pilot something which I am really excited about which is pulling together and facilitating a wellbeing and mental health workshop,” she explained.

“It specifically looks at helping athletes understand their mental health and wellbeing and how this might be able to compliment their performance and manage the demands of performance sport.

“I’ve worked with the University of South Wales and Cardiff University and some player associations that see it as a gap in the market

“Especially allowing people to take ownership of their own mental health and I think my training as a clinical psychologist is the perfect avenue to be able to support players and coaches to learn more about that and how it does play such an important role in performance.”

Hanging up the dress, at least at Netball Super League level, has allowed Jones to reflect on just how far the league has come since she first played.

She said: “One of my first seasons at then Celtic Dragons, I remember getting paid £5 per quarter and I remember making notes in my diary how long I had played and it was so exciting when I played three quarters or a full game.

“But now, how we have seen it grow, that certainly does not exist now and to see it slowly but surely professionalise is hugely exciting.

“And relating that to mental health, to be able to see the difference in how serious we are starting to see that inclusion of how the girls perform.

“That is even at grassroots level, the participation is increasing year in, year out so to get these girls enjoying sport, getting them moving, which is the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week.

“That is what it has got to be about in terms of being able to push forward the sport at a professional level and getting people behind it.

“So much has changed and the future is really exciting.”

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