Quality coaches that build consistent programs understand the importance of recognizing the behaviors of players that you want modeled in your program.
I think that today, perhaps more than ever, our players need us to provide both honest feedback, as well as positive reinforcement for the behaviors we want to reinforce. Not all of it needs to be sunshine and rainbows though. Sometimes players need to hear the ugly truth.
Speaking of positive reinforcement, I remember reading somewhere a few years that each player has an emotional piggy bank. If you want to enthusiastically get on a player and "make a withdrawal" you have to make sure you've made "deposits" in the form of positive reinforcements before making that withdrawal. Making a withdrawal from a kid's piggy bank won't work unless you've made deposits.
So think of the following 17 phrases as ways you and your staff can do just that.
1 - "I'm/We're proud of you"
As coaches, we spend a lot of time with our players and see tremendous personal and athletic growth and we get to know the kids at a level that is only rivaled by their parents. When they've demonstrated growth on a personal, athletic, professional (or sometimes spiritual level - depending on the situation and relationship you have with them) be sure to let them know. Kids work so hard year round to make coaches, their community and family proud, hearing it from our mouths can be a moving experience.
2 - "I/We believe in you"
Every year the likelihood is probably high that you have a kid or two (or a few) on the roster who has grown up with few very people in his corner, as coaches it's important for all of your guys to know that you believe in them and that they're more than capable of doing what you and your staff are asking them to do.
3 - "That was impressive"
When a player - whether he plays every snap, or never sees the field - does something great, let them know you're impressed.
4 - "Thank you"
A simple thank you has the ability to be powerful, and when players are pouring their heart and soul into their effort, the game plan, etc. a simple acknowledgment that you see them working hard, or doing all the right things can mean the world
5 - "We want/need you to step up and be a leader"
Need someone to step into a leadership role? Let the guy know and see how he responds when coaches are looking for it.
6 - "I/We love your effort"
Not everyone on your roster is going to be at the same talent level, but one thing that the guys at the top and bottom of the depth chart should both be expected to give is maximum effort, so be sure to point that out when it's being demonstrated so players know the expectation.
7 - "That's a great job, and here's why..."
As coaches, I think sometimes we get into the habit of saying something along the lines of "Good job" after nearly every snap. Instead of those simple two words, let a player know WHY you liked that rep so he knows what he's done right to catch your eye.
8 - "I/We expect more out of you"
If a player isn't performing to the level that is expected of him, he probably knows it, but hearing it from his coaches can be a powerful motivator, and how he responds is even more telling.
9 - "I/We know that you can beat him"
Simply show faith in your guys going head to head against someone else. If you believe in him, so will his teammates, and he will as well and confidence can be a scary thing.
10 - "You're better than that"
It's important to let your guys know your expectations for them, when they reach and exceed those expectations, and especially when they're falling short. Football isn't a game filled with sunshine and rainbows and players have to know what's expected of them to reach their full potential
11 - "This team needs you to be more [vocal , consistent, etc.]"
In order for your team to realize their full potential, they need to understand their role on the team, and that is made clear from the coaching staff. Players need to know their piece of the greater puzzle and how the coaches perceive what they bring to the table.
12 - "YES! That's exactly how we teach it!"
Praising something is one thing, but drawing attention to when a player does something exactly how you've been coaching it to be done can be a really good reinforcement for a job well done. Let them know how executing what has been coached meant for the overall play and how it led to it's success when applicable.
13 - "I/We love the way you responded to adversity there."
We all recognize that football is a game that teaches valuable life lessons, and perhaps none more than how to respond to adversity. So when a player responds well to an adverse situation, point it out to him, point it out to the team and how it led to bigger, better things happening in the long run during the course of the practice or game and how it can be contagious.
14 - "Way to be coachable."
"Uncoachable kids become unemployable adults", so take the time to point out when you coach a guy up, and he's able to take that coaching and immediately apply it. Recognize his ability to take coaching and understand that it makes him better, before applying it.
15 - "I see you working!"
This is something I remember being yelled by the coaching staff while I was in college. It was a great way to recognize someone working their tail off in a drill, or during a team period and it's always stuck with me and is something I use to this day.
16 - "I/We appreciate the attitude you bring to practice every day"
There are two things you can bring to practice and control; your effort and your attitude. I've already touched on effort a few times, so making sure that you acknowledge when kids come out to practice with a great attitude day in and day out consistently sets a good example of the expectations for you and your staff. Do this publicly, or privately.
17 - "I/We love you"
Sure, it's corny love is perhaps the most powerful motivating factor of them all. If kids know that you love them regardless of what happens, and that love is genuine and unwavering, they'll lay it all out there for you because they know you'll do the same for them at the end of the day. Make sure your guys know that you care about them as much off the field as you do on the field.