i believe that my work is as much about words as it is about basketball. choosing the right words is no less important to the outcome of a game than choosing the right players and strategies for the court. as a coach, leader and teacher, my primary task is motivation. how do i get a group motivated, not only to be their individual best but also to become better as a team? i have always said that two are better than one, but only if two can act as one.after the 1999 season, when we lost to connecticut in the national championship game, several of our top players left duke earlier than expected. shane battier, who had played a supporting role on that team, was going to have to become our star.shane and i agreed that he would need to emerge as the team leader, but there was one problem: shane had never imagined himself as a star.after the players had gone home for the summer, i gave shane a call."shane," i said, "this morning, did you look in the mirror and imagine that you were looking at next year's conference player of the year?"he chuckled, "coach, i…"i hung up.the next day i called again. "shane, it's coach. when you were on your way to work this morning, did you imagine scoring 30 points in a game this season?"he laughed cautiously and began to respond before i hung up again.seconds later, my phone rang. "coach," shane said, "don't hang up on me.""i won't hang up on you if you won't hang up on you," i told him.shane needed to imagine these sorts of things in order to become the player that he could be. before he graduated, shane earned national player of the year honors while leading our team to the 2001 national championship. he had all of the tools necessary to become a great player, but he fully realized his potential only when he allowed himself to imagine great things.for motivating shane, the crucial word to communicate was "imagination." for others, it may be "enthusiasm" or "self-confidence" or "poise." but undefined words are meaningless, and dictionary definitions usually do not suffice. meaning is understood by seeing a word in action.i ask teams to understand the meaning of dependability by telling them about my brother, bill, who never missed a day of work in 38 years of fighting fires in chicago. i tell them about willpower by sharing the story of my former player and current associate head coach, steve wojciechowski, and his last game on our home court: wojo only scored one point that day, but his sheer determination led our team to an exciting victory.“'shane,' i said. 'when you were on the way to work this morning, did you imagine scoring 30 points in a game this season?' ”and i convey the meaning of courage by telling them about my friend and colleague, the late jim valvano, who used his own battle with cancer to raise millions of dollars to support cancer research.my hope is that, as the players listen, my brother's example may remind them of the most dependable person in their own lives. maybe the story of wojo's senior game will make them think of a moment when they were carried through a tough situation by the strength of their own will. learning about jimmy valvano, they may recall a time when they witnessed true courage.when an audience makes these associations, we have found common ground. we are no longer merely exchanging words; we are being mutually motivated by their meaning.—mr. krzyzewski is the men's basketball coach at duke university. he has led the blue devils to four ncaa championships and 11 appearances in the final four.