Tess Howard is not just a regular hockey player – she’s one of the biggest rising stars in her sport. At just 23 years old, she’s already played for the England senior team, won gold in the 2018 Commonwealth Games, and has been touted as one of the bright young prospects for the 2024 Olympics.
But despite her individual success, Howard is acutely aware that she’s one of the fortunate few. In the UK, school sports have faced years of cuts and underfunding, with many schools struggling to provide the necessary resources for students to engage in sports.
That’s why Howard was thrilled to hear the announcement of a £600 million investment in school sport. The announcement, made by the UK government in August 2021, will see the money spread across three years, with the aim of providing children with greater access to physical education and sporting opportunities.
“When I heard the news, it honestly felt like some kind of miracle,” Howard says. “As someone who’s benefited so much from school sport, it makes me so happy to know that more young people will have the same chances I did.”
Howard is right to be excited. The implications of this investment could be transformative for the future of UK sport. By prioritising physical education and sport within schools, the government is seeking to address a range of issues, from declining physical health to rising rates of mental health issues among young people.
But the impact will also be felt beyond the immediate health benefits. For Howard, one of the biggest benefits will be the positive influence sport can have on young people’s lives more broadly.
“Sport is about so much more than just the physical benefits,” she explains. “It teaches you about teamwork, resilience, discipline, and so many other life skills. And there’s nothing quite like the feeling of being part of a team and working towards a common goal.”
That’s something Howard knows well. Born and raised in Surrey, she started playing hockey at just 6 years old. It wasn’t long before she was picked up by the junior Surrey domestic team, and then by the regional team. Eventually, she made her way up to the England Under-18 team, where she was a standout player.
But it wasn’t always easy. Despite her early success, Howard says there were times when she was tempted to give up on her dreams of playing at the highest level. Not only did she have to balance the demands of schoolwork and playing for multiple teams, but she also had to navigate the often difficult terrain of sport at a young age.
“There were definitely times when I felt like I was too small, too slow, or just not good enough,” she admits. “But the thing that kept me going was the support of my coaches, my friends, and my family. They believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself.”
Now, Howard is using her platform to try to make the journey easier for other young athletes. She’s working with a range of organisations, from grassroots sport initiatives to corporate sponsors, to try to promote greater access to sport, particularly for young people from lower-income backgrounds.
“I know how lucky I’ve been, and I feel like it’s my responsibility to use my position to help make things better for others,” she says.
For Howard, the investment in school sport is just the beginning. She hopes to see it supplemented by a range of other initiatives, including more funding for youth clubs, greater access to specialist coaching, and better sports facilities across the board.
But for now, she’s delighted to see progress being made. As the £600 million investment begins to take shape across the country, she’s looking forward to seeing the impact it will have on young people’s lives.
“I truly believe that sport has the power to change lives,” she says. “And with this investment, we’re taking a big step towards helping more young people experience that change for themselves. That’s something truly special.”