Aged 19 Tess Howard made her debut for Great Britain Hockey in November 2019. We caught up with Tess and had a chat about her amazing journey so far.
In November 2018 Tessa Howard made her full senior international debut for Great Britain Hockey. Any international cap is a remarkable achievement but Tess’ stands out as she is only 19 years of age! We caught up with Tess to discuss her journey through the junior county, regional and national squad ranks and what it has been like to mix it with the best in the world!
First off congratulations on not just being selected for Great Britain seniors but also making a great impression in your first series of games! How was the experience for you?
Thank you, it was an absolutely incredible experience. Being with the team, living the GB values, playing alongside my teammates against some of the best in the world, it was brilliant – I’ve learnt a huge amount and am even more inspired!
How did it feel to score your first goal for Great Britain?
Slightly unbelievable! A magical moment I will remember forever! You can probably tell from the video I surprised myself! I’ve always been taught “floor to score” and just thought “why not”. Can’t really describe how it feels, it’s just happiness in a moment and then back to the task.
England and Great Britain debutants recently have been in their early to mid-twenties, did you have any idea this call up was coming?
So, I was sitting in the London World Cup stadium this summer, a week after just completing the GB U23 Six Nations, and I felt an energy inside me that said this is what I want to do! I thought there was no chance of trials let alone making the squad or being selected for the Champions Trophy. Since then it’s been a whirlwind! I had a couple of GB Elite Development training camps in September and on the second one my head coach, Revs, asked me for a quick chat – he said there might be an opportunity to train in the next few months, I didn’t think much would come from it. The next day, at lunch, he said the call had come in from Bisham and I’d been asked to trial. That next week I had my first full week of trials and within a few weeks had been selected for the Champions Trophy – literally surpassed my wildest imaginations and expectations. The training had been really good with the squad and they were all so welcoming and somehow it felt very natural. A whirlwind but one with blue skies I say!
(In action against Argentina in the FIH Champions Trophy in China)
You've been training as part of the GB Development Squad for a little while now, did it prepare you for the culture and priorities of the senior squad?
The GB Elite Development Programme (EDP) is led by world class coaches and staff, so from a coaching and professionalism viewpoint, I was very well prepared especially for training. The EDP sets extremely high standards of training in intensity, effort, attitude and performance, everyone wants to learn and it’s a very productive environment. This really prepared me well for the Senior culture of hard work on and off pitch, for how to communicate effectively with teammates and most importantly in having confidence to be bold, make mistakes and learn. What I’ve really enjoyed about joining the senior squad is learning and becoming part of the squad’s values. The GB mantra “be the difference, create history, inspire the future” has inspired me for the last 6 or so years, so to belong and identify within it now only inspires me more. Belonging to such a powerful squad with the legacy and the infinite future it has seriously excites me.
When you line up for the national anthem you look like you are absolutely belting it out, were you nervous before push back?
Haha! I’ve always sang the national anthem loud and proud! The anthem – for me – is an opportunity to let out all those emotions. I get adrenaline from really singing loudly, being open in my body posture and I feel connected to the team, it helps me relax in a sense that I need to be confident before I start the game, so I feel myself on pitch. I don’t think I was nervous before the games – just excited to challenge the opposition, challenge myself to do better than the last game and to play a part in the team.
At only 19 years of age you have gone from making your county hockey debut to senior international in 6 years. How do you think you've made this quick journey?
Well I never expected I would make my senior debut now, but I know I’m on this hockey journey because I am passionate about the game and just want to be the best I can be. Sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time with the right people supporting and it can all fall into place – my sights were always just set on improvement. I think the fact I love training has been really important – at The Perse I would stay on the Astro after school for hours and just play listening to music, practicing and practicing. And I think the other big part is that I love being in a team – I just feel natural on a hockey pitch so I’ve never forced it. I’ve been very fortunate to have brilliant mentors and coaches from across my hockey network, and incredible support from my family and friends. They’ve played a big part in helping me develop my character on and off the pitch. I think to play senior hockey you have to be brave, work hard, and set no boundaries on yourself! My schools, St Faiths and The Perse, and my club Cambridge City, started me on this journey and have been there every step of the way. This last year has been game changing for me though, I became more professional in my approach to the off-pitch areas of hockey, moving to Durham University and I’ve really grown up on and off the pitch which I think has led me to where I am now.
(Tess fighting for possession with Rio Gold Medalist and GB Hockey legend Crista Cullen)
I can recall seeing you getting an autograph from Crista Cullen after your team at Cambridge City beat her club team (Wimbledon) not long ago, how does it feel knowing that next time you are at Lee Valley it may be you doing the autographs?!
I remember that day like it was yesterday. I asked Crista for her autograph – I still have it – because I really look up to her and because her attitude and story will always inspire me. At the moment it feels quite bizarre to think I would be signing autographs – but I can only hope that in the far-off future, when I retire and play club hockey, a 16-year-old will come chat with me after a tough game and ask me to sign their programme just like I did to Crista. I would love that!
Who were your role models or influences growing up (both hockey and non-hockey)?
I remember watching Luciana Aymar at the London 2012 Olympics – picking her out of the programme and just watching her every move – her unreal skills and goal-scoring hunger! I really enjoy “hockey studying” and look for “impact players” – those who when they’re on the pitch… something happens. I watch a lot of hockey and try to add parts of their game to mine especially midfielders Lidewij Welten and Helen Richardson-Walsh for their midfield manipulation, goalscoring, and their ability to impact a game – I want to be like that internationally. But I often try to add different people’s attributes to my approach to daily life e.g. sometimes I think “what would Emma Watson do” and get around a problem that way!
What's your favourite bit of advice you've had over the years?
The best advice I think was from my mum. She said if you love it, keep doing it, and it should be the only reason you do it. You don’t have to find it all fun, but the hard work is enjoyable. And then a few years ago, one of my closest friends said it’s not about doing the work on the days you are motivated, it’s about doing the work on the days you aren’t. and that really resonated with me, of course I have ‘unmotivated times’ but I try to limit them – you almost become more motivated if you’ve completed a session without motivation and it becomes habit.
What is your advice to players aspiring to reach the levels you have reached?
First, be yourself! And second absorb as much information from all the coaches and people in your life – everyone can teach you something. Have an open mind and be brave – ask questions, do extra training, step forward. You won’t realise it at the time, but your childhood and all your experiences will be shaping you and preparing you for your future. I think the biggest thing is “be proud to be keen”. In anything you do, if you love it enough to work hard at it, there is not much that can stand in your way! And finally, go with the flow – jump on the “bullet train” (as the GB EDP say) and trust you’re exactly where you’re meant to be at this moment.
It's really hard for young hockey players to balance education, on pitch hockey training and off pitch fitness - as well as the all-important social life. How do you manage?
I think it’s about making good choices and having a strong support network to help you. At school, I was focused mostly on academics and hockey and enjoyed socialising within those rather than “going out” unnecessarily. It was a bit harder starting University because the pressures were different and there are so many new people to meet. But as long as you are comfortable with your choices, you’re usually making the right ones.
When it comes to balancing the aspects of your life, I find it really useful to draw everything out on paper, see it in full and then plan from there – I plan a lot! Also, I think you have to be adaptable to changing circumstances, and again “go with the flow”, you may have to put an aspect of your life on hold, but it doesn’t mean it won’t be there when you get back!
How did school and University hockey prepare you for international representation?
School, Cambridge City and Uni hockey have been huge in my journey. I think the biggest thing I’ve learnt throughout is to stand up and be counted, especially through work rate and small moments. My style of hockey has always been ‘determined’ and in the past I have had to step up and be beyond myself in a match to fight when it would be easier to not. But I think these moments prepared me to be brave in the trials and believe I could play a part in the GB team.
(Scoring the winning goal in an England Hockey League match for Cambridge City HC)
You're clearly a talented lady, how did you end up focussing on hockey? Were there any other sports and if so how did hockey end up winning out?
As a youngster I played club rugby with the boys until it was swapped for a hockey stick. But nothing grabs me like hockey. The sport has everything. The best part is anything can happen no matter who you are or what team.
For a lot of us hockey isn't just about winning on the pitch, if anything it's everything around it! Obviously at elite performance level the results are vital but what are your favourite memories from hockey in general?
Honestly, the best memories I have are of looking my teammates in the eye and knowing we understood each other and that we were going to do something magical! I have made lifelong friends and memories through hockey – pretty much every Tuesday night training at Cambridge City was a highlight growing up because of the people! There is something very special about teams and I think my favourite memories are team huddles, celebrations and knowing your team is where you belong.
The moment I realised anything was possible in hockey was at the U16 National Indoor Finals with The Perse. In the final pool game we were losing 3-0 at half-time. We had to win to go through. We brought it back to 3-2, they had possession with 7 seconds to go. We got a 16, I ran to get the ball, carried and passed the ball to Ellie in the D, she was slide tackled by the goalie. Hooter goes. I think we’ve lost. It’s a short corner. We score. We’re through! And we ended up coming Runner’s Up at a tournament the Perse had never attended before! But whilst moments like coming back from defeat to win in the dying seconds are awesome, for me it’s the little moments and connections on and off the pitch that make hockey so special.