The “3 P’s” of Coaching



Mark Upton
Apr 22, 2016

We are now four rounds into the 2016 AFL season. Watching a few matches over the last month has sparked a reflective mode, pondering my experiences across more than a decade working in that sport as well as an enjoyable dialogue that occured in London towards the end of last year with one of the coaching staff from a highly successful AFL club.

Emerging from that conversation was the consensus regarding the enormous scope for improving coaches understanding of playing principles and pedagogy; at the highest level of the sport and, more significantly, in the youth and talent pathways.

I’ve also been reminded of David Wheadon, a highly respected coach and educator in the AFL game. As he has stated many times, for him coaching is about two things – teaching and people management. I’ve settled on a slightly different take on this in terms of the critical importance of understanding “learning” and “people”.

The below is where I’m at pulling this together, with the intention of helping coaches think about their coaching and development. Now, this needs to be “sticky” so alliteration is a pre-requisite, as is the power of 3 😉 hence – “People”, “Pedagogy” and “Playing Model”.

This framework could be a useful lens for thinking about coaching, especially for those just getting into the caper. If a coach was to consider for each of the three P’s:

what are my current understandings and beliefs and where/who/what do they stem from?


I don’t want to be overly descriptive regarding what each of these 3 encapsulates as it could bias your own thinking, so brief explanations and prompts…

Playing Model

Would expect to consider playing styles and principles, demands of the game and what aspects (individually and collectively) are critical to achieve high-level performance. How much of your understanding is based on experience as a participant in the sport and “received wisdom”, and how much from closely studying/analysing the sport? Which other sports have similar dynamics and principles?


In this case defined as how you view the coaches role in enhancing player/team learning and development on both short (weekly) and long (years) timescales. Your principles for practice design and conducting sessions on the field, as well as interventions off the field. As alluded to above, a critical aspect is being able to define “how learning works”. What have you drawn from Physical Education and the inter-related fields of Skill Acquisition, Motor Learning & Psychology?


How deeply do you understand who you are as a person and why you coach? Understand and relate to other people and their needs (and how these may differ from younger to older age groups)? Considered different views on leadership, culture, management, group dynamics, personality, stress responses, motivational theories etc. Psychology, Sociology & Anthropology…have you tapped into any of these fields?

After reflecting on these, perhaps you could plot on the “3 P’s” graphic where you feel you have the most understanding, bearing in mind this could be in the overlapping areas of the circles (if you are part of a coaching group/team you could have everyone do this and see what the spread looks like). Now consider where you might like to expand your knowledge and understanding. Below is a visual I’ve used previously to help coaches consider where they could explore for further insights….


How far outside the 2 inner rings have you ventured? Who could you speak to, or where could you find more information, in relation to the outer rings and what they have to offer in broadening your understanding of Pedagogy, People or Playing Models? What or who might help you critically evaluate what you come across, thus avoiding being sucked into the latest fads and “copy cat” syndrome that is rife in sport and other industries?

If you are a coach, I hope the above is helpful in some way. Being proactive in your development is a significant responsibility for any coach – striving to become your best will help the players you engage with to become their best.

We are all on a learning journey…

Update: Andrew Abraham has pointed out some of his and colleagues academic work that is relevant. You can read more about that here (page 8 for the model shown in Andrew’s tweet, and keep following that thread on twitter for links to other papers).