GB international Tess Howard speaks to The Hockey Paper on her whirlwind six months since debut

I guess I truly didn’t know what the senior programme was about until I broke into it. You learn more about its uniqueness the longer you’re in it. I had watched the team grow and change over the last six years – and didn’t ever comprehend a call up, but when the phone call came I thought ‘I might as well go for it’. The opportunity to play alongside the top players and join the GB vision was really special for me. I relish being part of a team, especially the camaraderie of it all.

The Perse School, where I studied before Durham University, is still very close to me. Glenn Kirkham has looked out for me since I joined the juniors and I am now starting to understand what he was experiencing as a full time teacher and GB athlete. There’s no shying away from the fact it’s hard juggling academics and hockey. But the staff at The Perse and my team-mates at Cambridge City supported me to believe I could strive for both.

Alongside my hockey ability, I think it’s really important for me express my character on and off the pitch. No questioning it is really hard to let your guard down but it’s so important to be yourself and build relationships within the team.

The Elite Development Programme (EDP) was critical to providing the tools I needed to train at the seniors’ intensity. The EDP, driven by Paul Revington, is supportive and challenging, the ideal balance, and having Hannah Macleod to share her experiences too on and off the pitch was really important.

I had a glazed idea of what it would be like with the senior squad before joining, but I didn’t realise how much it would take to get used to. Jumping into the deep end in October in the build up to the Champions Trophy was really the best thing. I had to get to know the girls quickly and I hadn’t really played with any of them before either. You just can’t hide, but I know now it’s more enjoyable if you just “go for it”.

The welcome ceremony and shirt presentation were two special moments. The first game was made all the more inspiring to stand alongside my new team-mates and I knew my effort was all for them. I just wanted to work as hard as I could, to show how much it means to me to wear the shirt but more importantly to wear it alongside some of those I had looked up to for years. I think it’s good I haven’t really processed it but, by playing regularly, it has made me believe that I can contribute to the team and bring more energy.

The first game went by in a whirlwind. The work standards the team demands of you I was ready for: you run no matter what. You defend your heart out and attack with fight. I look back at the photos now and I can’t believe it was only six or so months ago. Adjusting to the perceived pressure of international games is the hardest, and finding ways to be more free out there will help.

It’s great that more EDP players are joining senior training and winning their first caps. It normalises the transition. When Lizzie Neal and I joined we were the first of our ‘age group’ but now it has become more fluid. As more girls come up, it shows the opportunity is there and if you are performing you should be able to compete for your country.

Ultimately we all want the same thing; we want Great Britain to go to the Olympics and defend the title. We have to have the collective knowledge and belief that the best possible team is out there fighting, and that drives our competition.

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