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Keith Ricken, who managed the 2019 EirGrid All-Ireland U-20 winning Cork team, will be one of the speakers at this weekend's GAA Games Development Conference in Croke Park.
Keith Ricken, who managed the 2019 EirGrid All-Ireland U-20 winning Cork team, will be one of the speakers at this weekend's GAA Games Development Conference in Croke Park.

Keith Ricken's player centred approach to coaching


By John Harrington

When Keith Ricken speaks at the 2020 GAA Games Development Conference in Croke Park this Saturday, the delegates in attendance will listen.

Because when a person who clearly knows their stuff gives an insight into their methods, then it’s a good idea to cock an ear and take whatever notes you can.

Ricken himself is the last person who would ever claim to know it all or argue that his way is the right way, but he’s clearly doing something right.

Last year he managed the Cork U-20 footballers to All-Ireland success and also coached the Carrigtwohill senior hurling team that reached the Cork semi-final against the odds.

This was the same Carrigtwohill team that hadn’t previously won a first or second round Championship match since 2015 and were hammered by St. Finbarr’s in the first round of last year’s Championship by 24 points.

How do you explain the dramatic rise in fortunes that followed? Carrigtwohill selector John Horgan was pretty definitive in an Irish Examiner interview last year when he said: ““It is all down to Keith [Ricken], his ideas and such.

“He is known as a football coach, but as he says himself, he’s also good at hurling! He has left his mark on us.”

So how exactly does Ricken leave his mark on a team? What is his coaching philosophy?

Peter O'Driscoll of Cork and team-mates celebrate with the trophy following the EirGrid GAA Football All-Ireland U20 Championship Final match.
Peter O'Driscoll of Cork and team-mates celebrate with the trophy following the EirGrid GAA Football All-Ireland U20 Championship Final match.

The answer to that question is the title of the presentation he will give in Croke Park tomorrow – ‘A player centred approach to coaching’.

Which lead to the next obvious quiestion - what exactly is a player centred approach to coaching? Over to the man himself to shed some light.

“In my head it's about putting the players needs first, it's about what's best for the player,” Ricken told GAA.ie

“It's about coaching on an equilibrium. It's not a situation where I'm the coach and the player is subservient. It's about what we do together, as opposed to me just coaching you and telling you to listen.

“The players are the major decision-makers on the pitch, so player-centred approach is really about empowering players to make those decisions. It's about giving them ownership of the decisions they have to make and creating an environment that empowers that.

“It's not an exact science. It's more of a tacit knowledge of how to deal with the players. That's the way I work, anyway. I trust the players and try to keep them motivated.

“And when you give players ownership and they win they celebrate it all the more because they understand better why they won. And when they lose, they feel the disappointment all the more.

“Playing is the most important thing. All you're doing as a coach is facilitating players to play to their full potential.

“Everybody must feel a part of it.”

Ricken isn’t suggesting that if a coach opts for the carrot rather than the stick approach that all the players he’s working with will immediately improve as both individuals and a collective.

You need to be a bit more intuitive than that and realise that every player is an individual who needs to be treated as such in order to get the best from him.

And if you take over a group of players who are much more accustomed to an authoritarian figure in charge of the team or you yourself as a coach are trying move away from a ‘do as I say’ approach, then be aware that there will likely be a few bumps in the road.

“It's like anything, really,” says Ricken. “If you have a classroom of boys and you keep them locked in a room all the time and then all of a sudden you let them outside, then, like any young calf they're going to kick around a bit for a few minutes.

“You have to bring them all together again to settle the thing down and then go again.

“It's not a banana republic, like. Discipline should be a core element of every group you work with.

“But it's about telling the players the 'why' of what you're doing. I think that's the key to it, really.

“It's not just about the 'how', the 'why' is just as important.”

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