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Tribe Spotlight: South Windsor Girls Travel Basketball

Tribe Spotlight: South Windsor Girls Travel Basketball

There are two types of Read & React coaches. Those that run it like a traditional offense and those that get it. So, this is a bit of an introduction to a coach and a program that you’ll see more of right here in the future. Well, actually, you’ve seen Coach Garcia (Uie) and his team demonstrate some zone tweaks, but we’re just getting started.

See, Uie gets it.

And, by “it”, I mean a lot – the meaning of the word coach, the spirit of the R&R, and how to impact the lives of youth basketball players.

So, we were sent this article about him and his program and thought it would be good to share it. It’s about more than the fact that his travel teams have gone 126-6 over the past three years. It’s about how the change that he and his coaches are making to the game at the youth level (with the Read & React) is achievable… and transferrable.

That’s what we are trying to do with Uie – take his insight and give him a megaphone.

By the way, right now, Uie is transitioning to the AAU season with the Connecticut Spirit so you’ll also get to see some stuff from the AAU circuit. We’re excited because we know it will be helpful.

Thanks to South Windsor for the article:

South Windsor Girls Travel Basketball is a program uniquely defined by their goals and objectives. In an age when ‘Win at All Cost’ positions are all too prevalent among youth sports, South Windsor Girls Travel Basketball openly and intentionally values commitment, discipline and integrity by defining winning as an outcome of good choices.

Some critical choices are addressed early in the season as teams come together for a Team Agreement meeting, at which they collaboratively create a contract by which they agree to conduct themselves throughout the season. Together they develop a list of standards including concepts such as maintaining a positive attitude, providing best effort, committing to honest communication, and conducting themselves with integrity on and off the court. Players and coaches alike hold themselves accountable to the high standards they agree upon all season long.

6th Grade Team

Ulysses Garcia, program director and lead coach explains the power behind the Team Agreement. “This process helps teams create and maintain emotional safety – a critical element to kids establishing trust and becoming risk-takers on the court. It also helps to establish clearly defined expectations and puts purpose behind players actions all season long both on and off the court.”

The program also believes in giving back to their community, and just as importantly helping to instill those same values in their players. Adopt-a-Family, a locally run program supporting families in need during the holidays, is the program’s beneficiary. Teams plan, market and conduct bake sales to raise money, and then use the proceeds to purchase items identified on the assigned families’ provided list of needs and wishes. In addition to helping the community and embracing a greater purpose, it becomes a great vehicle for kids to come together, have fun and feel connected. “It is our hope and intention to help open the eyes of our girls to the needs of our community and empower them to become leaders of character and empathy that can reach out to others and make a difference,” explained Garcia.

Late in the season teams gather for a Team Speech night, when girls present speeches following a team dinner. The speeches detail each girls perspective on how they feel about their teammates and being a part of the team, what they enjoy most about being a part of the team, what things they learned from being on the team personally and with regards to basketball, and what they plan on doing better in the coming year personally and with regard to basketball. The process of setting goals and reflecting is an important life skill that also adds great value to team dynamics and chemistry.

The program’s team building on and off the court player development is impressive, but don’t think for a moment that’s where it ends. South Windsor Girls Travel Basketball is one of the premier youth basketball programs in the country because of their unique blend of leadership development, basketball IQ and championship culture.

7th Grade Team

It was the vision and leadership of Ulysses Garcia that raised this program to its prominence. Once one of the lowest performing programs in the Connecticut Girls Basketball League, they struggled to draw enough players to officially form the 6th, 7th and 8th grade teams. During the summer of 2007 before he stepped in to take control of the program, Garcia opened the gym and began working with girls over the summer to strengthen their fundamental skills.

As word spread of the charismatic coach who made learning basketball fun, numbers of participating girls climbed. Five years later, the South Windsor Basketball Summer Clinic Series is the homecoming for past and present program players who gather to continue to hone their skill as well as mentor the up and coming classes. In addition to drawing girls and boys of all ages and skill levels from their home town of South Windsor, aspiring players from communities across Connecticut pour into the hot gym each week to learn from one of the state’s best teachers of the game.

During the 2008-2009 season, just 2 short years into Garcia’s leadership, the program set a league record for all three teams taking home championship accolades – Garcia’s 6th grade team winning the regular season championship, the 7th grade team winning the regular season and playoff championships, and the 8th grade winning the championship for the lower seed’s playoff bracket.

The following year Garcia moved up with his daughter’s class of girls to lead the 7th grade team. While continuing to guide the program and mentor the other coaches, the program more firmly established itself as a state contender as 7th and 8th grade teams finished as regular season champions, playoff champion and reserve playoff champion respectively, and the 6th grade finished 3rd in the regular season standings.

But Garcia wasn’t satisfied. “The single greatest aspect of sports are the life lessons they teach us. The lessons I learned on the court while growing up played a significant role in the success I’ve achieved as an adult. However, it was a career lesson that provided a breakthrough discovery for me. In Jim Collins’ book ‘Good to Great’ he articulately lays out ‘the evil of great is not bad – rather the evil of great is good.’ I took this to heart with my coaching and searched for the answer to elevate my team and program to greatness. I found my solution in the Read & React.

Garcia attended a Better Basketball coaches clinic with Rick Torbett in Dallas, Texas to evaluate the Read & React Offense. What he witnessed and internalized was profound and changed his perspective on the game. The Read & React offensive system was anchored in fundamentals and driven by principle…another unique combination.

8th Grade Team

He immediately saw the potential for player development in the sequential layering system. The simplicity of the initial layers was beautiful – they required a strong foundation of basic fundamentals, yet actually taught those same fundamentals through implementation of the offense. So, the better the players were at fundamentals, the more effective the offense…the more they ran the offense, the better the players got at the fundamentals. An ideal dichotomy for even the most basic training level. Then, as players develop and grow, coaches can build on the foundation of the early offensive layers, to add deeper complexity and more complementary skills. Incredibly, the sophistication and depth of the overall system provide limitless opportunity extending to the most discerning and astute coaches at the highest collegiate level and beyond.

One solution. It could conceivably take a player from the most basic introductory game experience through a player’s entire career while teaching and reinforcing skills and knowledge necessary to perform well at current and successive levels.

Almost just as amazing, the same teaching progression the Read & React provides players, is just as beneficial to coaches. The drills that support implementation of the offensive system actually help teach critical teaching points of the game. This aspect is profound when contemplating the youth level…the place we should drive our greatest resources yet conversely the level that draws volunteers with the least knowledge, skill or teaching ability, and far too many times the most personal baggage.

Garcia recognized a unique opportunity to not only transform his players, but also his coaches and entire program, from good to great. His players, while improving their skills could also grow their knowledge and understanding of the game. His coaches, through learning drills to support the offense, could actually learn to recognize critical teaching points that otherwise many times are lost in the sea of play execution. Additionally, the drills and sequential layered system could actually streamline his mentoring process and development of program practice plans. A win – win – win.

In just a single season, Garcia elevated his team and program to another level. Setting another league record, the 7th and 8th grade teams both won the regular season and playoff championships, and the 6th grade team finished 3rd in the regular season standings.

The Read & React served as a launch pad for the 6th grade team as they began their Travel career. It effectively reinforced fundamental skills while providing the framework for these young players to begin to develop a deeper understanding for the game. Likewise, It also became a great tool to establish strong defensive habits.

Dan Van Horn, head coach for the 7th grade team, saw his players evolve under the Read & React following a successful 6th grade season. Offensively, they moved from running plays effectively, to reading the defense and effectively working together to consistently attack the basket and score. Their knowledge and understanding of the game grew tremendously, and the unique chemistry of his team thrived under this teamwork driven system.

Garcia closed out his daughter’s team’s travel career with an impressive three year cumulative record of 95-4, or four year cumulative record for his daughter and two teammates who played on the 6th grade team as 5th graders of 126-6.

More important for Garcia was the intangible growth in his players under the Read & React system. In addition to learning the game on a much deeper level, and understanding how to read and attack defensive schemes, all of Garcia’s girls became empowered playmakers on the floor. Lost was the thinking that cripples offensive movement and destroys spacing, and found was a universal mentality of unity, teamwork and empowerment that lead to individual and team confidence, improved verbal and non-verbal communication and greater enjoyment of the game.

The engaging and curious personality of Garcia caught the attention of Read & React founder Rick Torbett dating back to the Better Basketball Coaches Clinic Garcia attended in Dallas. It proved to be the foundation of a new mentor relationship that would grow as Garcia sought feedback from Torbett throughout the season, and garnered his respect at the same time. “In addition to the execution and basketball IQ that is well beyond the years of Ulysses’ team, the culture of trust, camaraderie and empowerment that he has instilled in them has served as a catalyst to amplify the benefits of the Read & React. He has a gift of connecting with kids and coaches, and I look forward to his continued impact on his Travel Program, his talented AAU team, and the Read & React community,” stated Torbett.

Once dubbed ‘Unique Ulysses’ by his former colleagues with one of the nation’s leading leadership development companies, it seems a fitting handle for this talented coach with a heart for kids and a passion for the game of basketball.

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