I love watching athletic champions at the top of their game. In fact, I find it fascinating to observe true masters at work in any craft or vocation or hobby. Even “silly pet tricks”.

For years, the primary lesson I took from them was their willingness to work hard, to stick with it during the slumps, the plateaus in performance, and the times when victories were scarce.

Yes, persistence and dedicated effort do make a difference.

But I have discovered another ingredient that elevates champions above everyone else. It’s the delight they experience in all aspects of their game; the pure joy they generate while putting themselves out there day after day; the exuberance they experience in being part of a team that moves together seamlessly on the field or the stage or in business.

Peyton Manning, a future hall of fame quarterback, talks of his love for football (Boston Globe, October 7, 2012). “I still have a passion for it; I still enjoy the preparation, the work of it, the off-season, the Mondays, the Tuesdays, the game planning; I still enjoy all of that”.

Brock Osweiler, his back-up quarterback with the Denver Broncos, said, “I’ve learned from Peyton to not waste a single minute; from the time he gets to the building to the time he leaves…he’s not wasting any time. In his free time, he’s breaking down film, he’s working on the game plan … it’s pretty cool to see what it takes to be successful at this level”.

Diligence and a sense of duty are not enough by themselves to inspire others or even reach the top of your own capability. It’s being fully alive – in your work and your play – that enables you to stretch out of your comfort zone. To discover just how good you can really be.

Whatever your “game”, it starts with your mood. The zest you bring to everything you do. Your energy creates a huge ripple effect. People follow you, not for your “smarts”, but because of how they feel when they are around you.

Play like a champion.