“The barrier that doesn’t need to be there is uniform

With Emma Middleton Journalist

Think back to your school days. Then, think back to your PE lessons, and stepping into those hot and sweaty changing rooms…

“An evolution”: shorts and hijabs make their debut in hockey

Think back to your school days. Then, think back to your PE lessons, and stepping into those hot and sweaty changing rooms…
You reach into your bag and pull on your kit. Which is…?
For most of my school days, it was a t-shirt and skort (shorts underneath a skirt). Or, a pair of unisex football shorts with an elasticated waistband, clearly not designed for a girl with a narrow waist and wider hips...
But there’s a bigger picture. Sports kit can be a barrier to women and girls doing sport.
In the UK…
Nearly half of teenage girls say they avoid exercise because they feel self-conscious.
45% of teenage girls don’t like wearing sports kit.

“There’s a huge drop out rate at a young age” - Anna

Sports kit as a barrier to participation is something England Hockey players, Tess Howard and Anna Toman, have been working to remove.
Everyone in the England Hockey league plays in skorts. Which, Anna tells me, is “just a tradition thing”. If one player wants to wear shorts instead, the rules say they can’t - unless the whole team also agrees to wear shorts.
There’s also no diversity provisions in the England Hockey rulebook for players who want to wear hijabs, turbans or other head coverings.
And that matters beyond hockey, because it sends a message that sport is not as open to all women as it should be.
But things are about to change.

Credit: Getty

“I didn’t think about the issues that I do now” - Anna

Anna Toman made her international debut for England in 2017. When she received her first England match kit, she “didn’t even think about the fit or what it looked like on me, it was more just, I’ve got my first senior shirt”.
Tess Howard made her England debut two years later. Like Anna, she felt it was a big moment.
“Having my name on the back, and the England badge on the front, that was special”
But after a while, both players started hearing conversations that suggested there was more to it than how the kit looks.

Credit: Getty

“Oh ok, there’s more of an issue than just the colours” - Anna

The England Hockey match kit often was often coming up in changing room chat. So Tess and Anna decided to ask the players to fill out a survey.
“It wasn’t about how you look, it’s about how you felt, do you feel confident, and could it be improved. We didn’t just want to complain, we wanted to have solutions” - Tess
Turns out that most of the team felt the same…
Over 60% of the England Hockey squad say their match confidence and performance would be improved with better kit.

“It was about how you feel, do you feel confident” - Anna

Alongside players feeling uncomfortable with the low-cut vest tops, the fit of the skorts was also an issue, with “everything clinging very tightly”.
Tess and Anna used their research to frame a ‘constructive conversation’ with their performance operations team and kit supplier, who are now working on improving the kit for the squad, based on the survey feedback.

Credit: Getty

“We can help hockey become more inclusive” - Tess

Tess and Anna recognise that there’s a bigger picture here.
“There’s so much drop out rate in teenage girls in sport, and older women getting into sport, and the barrier that doesn’t need to be there is that there’s a uniform problem”
Tess has been working with the Diversity and Inclusion Officer at England Hockey to make a change.
From the start of the 2022/2023 season, England Hockey will allow players to wear shorts, skirts or skorts. Here’s the important bit - everyone in the team won’t have to wear the same.
A clause has also been added to allow players to wear turbans, hijabs, or other headcoverings, as long as they are “plain” or in line with club colours.
“It’s about choice. It’s not a complete revolution, it’s an evolution” - Tess

“Sport is neither masculine or feminine, sport is sport” - Tess

Tess believes that certain rules and practices around sports kits can send a message that sport isn’t open to all women.
So these new rules are just about giving players a choice.
“I’ve never seen a female play a game [hockey] in a pair of shorts” - Anna
“I hope to be one of the first players to play in shorts in the Premier League, and that would be amazing” - Tess