Richard Wood column: The Rotherham United defender on the sacrifices required to make it as a pro

In action this season in one of my 400-plus professional matches
In action this season in one of my 400-plus professional matches

Ever since I was a young boy I dreamed about being a footballer. It was my childhood ambition.

Saturday April 26 2003 was a day I’ll never forget.

It was when I made my full professional league debut at just 17 years old.

How did I achieve this? How have I progressed since that point to play more than 400 games?

Obviously, talent is a factor, but dedication, passion and a lot of hard work are what are needed to become a professional footballer.

I committed my life to football while growing up. I trained for many hours, constantly practising, and I had to make a lot of sacrifices.

My social life was hugely impacted as I was always training after school. My mates would often meet up without me and I felt a bit left out. It was difficult knowing my friends were having fun while I was travelling backwards and forwards from Sheffield.

As I got older, I’d miss the ‘pop and crisps’ nights on Fridays because I needed to prepare right for matches on Saturday mornings.

A positive attitude, good preparation, a healthy diet and plenty of sleep are key, and adhering to this as a teenager showed in my performances.

At around 15 or 16, my mentality wavered. I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep making all these sacrifices, putting in all the hours of training. I wanted to be with my mates, and girls became a distraction.

However, after a good chat with my mum and dad, my focus was back on football and I believed in myself. Looking back, I’m so glad I didn’t break.

I know a lot of good footballers who went downhill around the same age after discovering women and going out.

My dreams of becoming a footballer also had a huge impact on my family. You can’t accomplish your goals by yourself when you are a child.

I joined the Sheffield Wednesday Academy at 11. I trained three times a week, with games on a Sunday. The sacrifices made by my mum, dad and grandad to get me there on time every week were tremendous. They racked up some miles and hours on the M1 ferrying me from Ossett to Hillsborough.

All the effort to support me could have been in vain, as only a small percentage of children make the grade, but if you don’t try, you will never know.

I’m forever grateful for the support my whole family have given me over the years and it’s only now that I’ve started to see for myself how much commitment and dedication is required from parents.

My two young boys have been scouted by a couple of clubs now and my girlfriend and I share the workload of taking them to training. sessions. At the moment, every week night involves a football club. It’s crazy, but they live and breathe football, which isn’t forced by me. They really enjoy playing, so I’m reluctant to stop them as I don’t want that passion and drive in them to fizzle away.

Click here for more Millers news