Jim Greco, of Santa Clara, California-based Living Legends Baseball Club, works with young players ages 11 to 16 with the focus on teamwork, discipline, respect, and hard work in a positive, family atmosphere.
The program is a successful one, with many of their teams ranked top 10 in California and, as recently as August, their 13U team ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 7 in the nation.
Asked what makes a young player successful at that age, the first thing Greco said is that the kids who play all the time and are the highlight reel players are usually good at being team leaders.
“Not necessarily the most vocal or loud kid in the dugout, but someone who’s working hard at practice and shows how much they want to win and compete and play their best,” he said. “The kid who’s practicing hard, running out ground balls, and wanting to play the best competition.”
Essentially, a player who’s both physically and mentally tough.
That includes, Greco said, players who can rise to the challenge and not be affected by factors such as the elements, the field, the officiating, and, at times, the parents in the stands. It also includes not being intimidated by but rather excited to play the toughest teams.
“When you look at the other team and hear, ‘They’re big,’ you want the kid who’s like, ‘Great, we’re going to beat them,’” he said. “Some kids are in shock or awe of the other team then some are like, ‘Let’s go, bring it on.’ That mentality is important in travel ball because it is a tough environment.”
Another thing that goes along with mental and physical toughness in creating successful players at a young age is preparation. It’s great to say you’re tough and you’ll do anything, Greco said, but you have to then be prepared to actually do it.
“It’s about taking your practice reps seriously and what you’re doing in your downtime,” he said. “If you’re a pitcher, have you done your pen and are you stretching? Did you eat well last night and get a good breakfast? If you know you have to play two games today and three games tomorrow, have you prepared yourself to be ready for that?”
That even extends to showing up to practice in attire that suits the temperature and the season. Although they’re in California, Greco said, the temperature for a recent night practice was in the mid-50s. If a player shows up in a t-shirt and gets cold, he isn’t going to be paying attention or practicing at his best.
“They have to show up prepared to do what they have to do to play at their best level,” Greco said.