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BACK TO THE BASICS: Creating positive Youth Development structures for sport

In This Article:



To identify barriers that negatively impact student athletes in Thao Dien and facilitate honest community attention, family knowledge and support in order to identify necessary solutions in the attempt to build a collective well-rounded community of student athletes.



Only thirty (30) years ago Ho Chi Minh City was primarily agricultural. Today, Thao Dien supports Vietnam’s largest Expatriate population in Ho Chi Minh City. Commonly referred to as “Expats”, this term refers to anyone living outside of their native country.

Today, Thao Dien is well equipped to provide all the necessary resources for Expat visitors to comfortably live and grow alongside Vietnam’s current progressive nature. Expat and local families benefit from a variety of options including International Private Schools, as well as Youth Sports Programs.

While the commonality of Basketball is achieved, The Youth Sports Programs vary widely in services offered and pedagogy taught. One main sports facility houses all of the basketball related events in Thao Dien at this current time. This facility is a tented structure that holds 3 full-length basketball courts and accommodates; 1 professional basketball team, up to seven (7) school programs each academic term, between five (5) and six (6) youth basketball programs including their own. For just over ten (10) years now this facility has helped provide basketball court access to those in need.

Due to an increased interest in Basketball participation, there were two (2) new facilities designed and built that were specific to the needs of specific sports programs in 2021. These newly constructed facilities’ overall capacity is unable to match that of the aforementioned three-court facility and access to these new facilities is limited to those selected by program directions that operate them.

Thao Dien’s compact nature and need for court space have caused many programs and youth to practice in unsuitable and unsafe court conditions, leaving a great many athletes with no safe or appropriate space to work out or train specifically to their sport.



PSA-girls-team-on-bench-holding-each-other-thaodienlife | BACK TO THE BASICS: Creating positive Youth Development structures for sport within a try hard culture in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (2021)
Photo courtesy of Premier Scholar Athletes

Beginning with focus groups inside of Thao Dien, questionnaires were administered by Youth Sports Program Premier Scholar Athletes. The Primary purpose of the questionnaire was to gain insight through information from families on what they believe is necessary to provide the absolute best youth sports program possible.

BACK TO THE BASICS: Creating a positive and collaborative experience for Athletes and Parents to achieve the development and expression of their full potential and abilities. The creation of a philosophy and educational approach that allows the participants to feel inspired and empowered which immediately combats and ultimately eliminates the false narrative given to the “try hard” person or family here in Vietnam. Questions ranged from the ideal practice schedule to what conversations were had at the family dinner table. Totally anonymous and with varied results, the questionnaires’ purpose was served and later taken into consideration while designing the internal program structure of Premier Scholar Athletes.

The Secondary purpose was to identify current and potential issues all while providing solutions in real time. For years 2019-2021, the habits of two hundred and twenty-five (225) youth athletes under the age of eighteen (18), were observed and recorded. Of those numbers; one hundred and fifty-five (155), were male and seventy (70), were female. The observed habits would later help Premier Scholar Athletes submit what they feel could potentially be a model youth sports structure for the future of Thao Dien.



In addition to intimate questionnaires, four hundred and fifty (450) student athletes and their families, not all of which directly participated in PSA events, were asked to provide feedback on what they felt would most support their personal growth and development. With a deeper insight and understanding of the Program’s goals and objectives, this evaluation emphasized a deep dive into what could become a future template for youth sports programs to model. This model would include information and suggestions that allow for a better parent to student athlete relationship and increased positive peer to peer interactions that eliminates bullying.

In responses to the questionnaire, PSA took notice that parents mentioned the emergence of the phrase “Try Hard” and how it is deterring the youth in Thao Dien from striving to be and do their best both on and off the court. This phrase and the behavior associated with it, parents felt needed immediate and effective attention in order to re-educate their children on the proper priorities and behaviors that lead to success.



PSA-little-girl-and-boy-from-basketball-team-thaodienlife | BACK TO THE BASICS: Creating positive Youth Development structures for sport within a try hard culture in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (2021)
Photo courtesy of Premier Scholar Athletes

It is important to draw on expert knowledge to develop not only quality habit-building skills within youth sports programs, but continue to equip the Youth with the mental, emotional, and physical, skills and resources for their appropriate and continued growth and maturation. An effective Youth Development Structure must take a proactive and pragmatic approach to support the growth and development of the youth and community that supports them.

Continuing to ignore not develop and implement the proper educational awareness and disciplines at the youth level and in the community will only hinder Thao Dien’s progress and subsequently its future. All disciplines affect other disciplines. Negative and unproductive behaviors create a domino effect that may begin in a sports setting but will eventually spread into academic and societal settings as well. Vigilance is inviolable in setting and maintaining the proper values, disciplines, customs, and traditions that all involved adhere and aspire to. As Jim Rohn, an American Lecturer once said “Every new discipline affects all of our other disciplines. Every new discipline that we impose on ourselves will affect the rest of our personal performance in a positive way.”

Important soft skill and habit building education leads to conversations of honest origin which create more positive and united community interactions. By age twelve (12) in Thao Dien, young athletes are confronted with too many evolving barriers to ever see and reach their ultimate potential. Years of supplemented development don’t provide the best chance of what’s needed for the youth to benefit fully. If time does not permit for the proper Youth Development Structure for sports programs to be put in pace there are ways to obtain insight that can link problems and solutions to archive the ideal structure aimed at the needs of the youth and their families.




Screen Media Activity

Important soft skill and habit building education leads to conversations of honest origin which create more positive and united community interactions. By age twelve (12) in Thao Dien, young athletes are confronted with increasing obstacles that challenge and stunt their ability to continually develop and reach their ultimate potential. One of these development inhibiting challenges is in the area of off screen media activity none. It is without a doubt and frequently discussed around the world how much influence SMA has on young student athletes and their views on all aspects of themselves and their world. YouTube, Tik Tok, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, as well as sports-specific applications all classify as screen media.

One of the greatest fears for parents and adults in general is how screen media activity presents and provides images, concepts, and behaviors that can mislead and misinform the person(s) watching. This can and often does lead to accepting and mimicking these ideas, images and behaviors without any filtering for reality or appropriateness. The result is often a teen or pre-teen internally attempting to decipher what that may or may not actually aid their development. When asked what emotion would best describe how a young athlete would feel with reduced or even no screen media activity, the majority responded; “disconnected and sad.”

Screen Media Activity is a wonderful opportunity to gain exposure to information and experiences that have never in history been possible without being physically present. Screen Media Activity is a powerful tool and has a great deal of the same effects mentally, emotionally and physically as drugs. The freedom to access it should not come before the awareness of its power and the responsibility and maturity of its owner. People all of all ages, especially our youth, should be encouraged to use their smartphones for smart things. Allowing the student athletes to jump between uploads for learning is simply not smart.


Training Malpractice

PSA-little-boy-tying-his-shoe-rear-view-behind-basketball-team-thaodienlife | BACK TO THE BASICS: Creating positive Youth Development structures for sport within a try hard culture in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (2021)
Photo courtesy of Premier Scholar Athletes

Advanced progression is in Basketball is rarely reached before burnout here in Thao Dien. Student athletes are not adequately prepared for the next level and training plays its own role. Private training programs are currently promoted and prioritized over live competition, and monitored free play opportunities. Youth are constantly funneled into private training programs that include costly props, generic player evaluations, and movements that resemble those of professional players, rather than elite players in their own age group.

Due to fundamental skills not being established, these programs can be compared to busy work or empty practice. Consistent and proper dedicated time spent on fundamental skill development presented in a fun manner as well as scenarios that resemble game activity are best used to develop physical and mental ability to play to one’s highest potential.

In Thao Dien, fundamental skills have been replaced with a multitude of advanced movements and props. Trainers, Developers, and Coaches may need to consider adjusting what is taught to ensure proper and complete development of their athletes when individually training or conducting team practices. A necessary component of a private program should be based on what’s able to be quantified. Athletes and parents are rarely given quality answers to why their private program yielded small results, rather they are encouraged to sign up for additional private training programs.

Parents must be able to ask objective questions about their child’s progress, strengths and weaknesses and be given answers based on some form of data compiled during the workouts. This allows everyone involved the opportunity and ability to track progress, identify areas of weakness and areas of growth. This level of transparency helps everyone remain on the same page and provides the best opportunity to achieve expectations and results. Consistent data should ideally replace the “Eye Test” in all private programs.


Current Sports Infrastructure

A common scenario in youth sports is two teams showing up for a game and one team has older participants in order to ensure victory. In 2020, Premiere Scholar Athletes participated in five basketball games that included opponents that were not of the proper age range, but rather years older. Of the games noted, twelve-year-old (12) participants were put on the basketball court to match up against nine-year-old (9) participants. The overall issue is not the competitive factor but rather that, it is not conducive to development for any of the participants. The older players due to age and physical attributes, create an insurmountable advantage. This advantage causes a natural dip in progression for the older athlete due to competing against a lower ability level.

Another flaw in this practice is the older participants don’t allow the younger participants on that same team to get the court time needed to develop. Since the team that brought older players for winning purposes does not place value on development, all involved don’t maximize that specific opportunity to develop in-game. What happens often is teams place players on program teams based on skill and not age. All participants should be placed in the proper environment and circumstances to individually grow and develop with and against appropriate competition.


High Risk Age

Madeline Levine (Ph.D.) has identified the new at-risk group as being Pre-teens and Teens from affluent, educated families. In spite of advantages there are epidemic rates of depression and anxiety disorders within these groups. There is a clear culture of affluence in Thao Dien and this culture is unmanageable for parents. Due to the culture, the affluent youth often lack the basic foundation of psychological development, which is a sense of self. A false sense of confidence is projected and identities are created and discovered through screen media activity.

It’s common in Thao Dien for young athletes to provide all the best answers and participate in what they feel to be best suited for them personally, while escaping reality. Conversations that extend beyond surface level between parents and youth athletes would help create the opportunity to learn support self-confidence within the athlete, but a clearer and in touch understanding of the child, from the parent(s).


Parental Involvement/Role

Parents were asked to provide information specific to interacting with their children that participate in sports. The questions asked were designed to gain insight into the parent’s knowledge of student athlete interaction, but more importantly to pinpoint the timing of these interactions.

In 2020, there was a survey conducted of “Parent to Athlete Performance Based Discussions”. Results showed these performance-based discussions took place immediately following the sporting event and/or in transit to their homes or next destination. This is known as “Car Coaching” which at times has a negative experience and emotion attached because the athlete feels they cannot exit the discussion due to feeling trapped in the vehicle. In contrast, it was noted that positive reinforcement and personal affirmations, also had been discussed in transit to their sporting event.

In addition to asking the families to provide their performance-based discussions, families were also asked if they felt sports programs cut into family time. The common response was no, and most families felt like sports connected the families and gave them more to discuss. Most family activities consist of card games, bowling, movies/cinema, but rarely a chance to discuss difficult topics centered around overall child development.

Vacation seemed to be a prevalent staple for the families, as it allowed them a chance to disconnect and decompress from job related stress, and other contributing factors. In Thao Dien, it is not uncommon for a sports program to begin a term or private program that becomes neglected due to the fact that vacation time trumps the athlete’s development. The parent(s) are unmindful to the negative effects of the pause and restart of their developmental process and its consistent requirements. A proactive approach should be considered when determining ideal vacation time(s) in relation to the child’s developmental process.

All but one family expressed that they were interested in learning more about specific information that provided a clear pathway to opportunities for their young student athlete(s). The steps for these opportunities should begin at an early age, and should be practiced consistently to lead to post graduate opportunities. These opportunities are only successful when there is a clear understanding of program expectations, and clarity of how much time off will directly affect the student athlete’s progression. Time is of the essence. In conclusion, parents are critical in the youth development process, but should not be criticized. Instead, given updated processes to better help the families frame what’s needed to support their child’s developmental pathway to its full potential.


Try Hard Culture

“Teacher’s Pet” has been replaced in today’s society. A new noun has surfaced and it carries a toxic stigma and is designed to be hurtful. “Try Hard” is meant to fully deter a person from working hard. Parents in Thao Dien have expressed that even though they are aware of this toxic slang, they have no way of stopping its spread throughout the community and in schools. Student athletes often use it in a setting where no adults are present because they are well aware it causes harm and the fear of being caught bullying is nonexistent. This form of relational bullying is becoming increasingly popular in sports settings. Young athletes are being discouraged to try their best and give maximum effort in sports programs because their peers will label them a “Try Hard ”.

In sports, maximum effort and extra work should be applauded instead of belittled. At its current rate, the younger student athletes that fit this “try hard” culture, will equal more sports programs creating less successful and productive scholar athletes.  Physical and verbal bullying have absolutely no place in sports, in particular, youth sports. Thao Dien sports programs should look to adopt policies that banish this type of behavior. Youth are being emotionally and physically suppressed and this is hindering performance in every aspect.


Social Media Impact & Influence

The power and influence that social media has in pre-teens and teens lives is not only reflected in time spent but also in its actions. It’s not uncommon in Thao Dien for youth athletes to use social media (SM) to gather exercises, drills, and to mimic highlighted movements performed by others around the world. In theory, there is no problem with looking outside of their everyday setting to enhance their skill set but the primary issue is that social media places the emphasis on the result and not the process.

Specific to youth basketball in Thao Dien, young athletes are not given a catalog of examples actually worthy of copying. Ideally, youth athletes could have multiple, credible resources that provide proper insight on all required steps to reach the sought-after result. Furthermore, professional athletes’ movements are being mimicked by youth athletes without years of the fundamental skill development it took to complete these movements successfully.

Lastly, social media is not bad or wrong but it seems to be grossly misused and provided with no oversight and therefore is being abused by youth athletes on and off the court.



When looking at it through a community strengthening opportunity it makes sense to have sports programs in Thao Dien engage in more regular inclusion events. Cross program training, social awareness, and resource sharing are examples of events. A result would be social cohesion that affects the currently divided sports programs in Thao Dien. Outcomes linked to better health as well as economic prosperity are reasons to encourage this behavior. Synergy amongst sports programs can lead to attracting new members, new sponsors, and community organizations with similar values. Specific to basketball, there are zero (0) cross program training events outside of competitive matches.

The issue to note is Thao Dien’s compactness routinely neglects structures that allow neighboring programs to participate in a collaborative manner outside of playing against each other. This current state isn’t proactive and doesn’t promote a better child to child support system. The current system should be evaluated and modified to increase the listed social opportunities benefits.



A Youth Development Structure for sports that include emotional protocols and consistencies that support habit building is ideal. One hub facility could be home to all positive like minded individuals to ensure working examples for youth athletes in Thao Dien. Increased efforts for this structure would have methods that fully showcase what’s needed to support student athletes and their families in 2021 and beyond. This facility would create the inclusion needed to eliminate program segregation and lead the “Try Hard” culture to becoming an afterthought. Working examples that serve those younger in age would become a routine sighting instead of a rarity. Parents not currently involved in Premier Scholar Athlete’s youth program, would now be able to engage in proper connectivity exercises without distraction.

When asked, parents were in one hundred percent (100%) agreement that a hub facility would increase the chances of their children being equipped properly with the needed skills and protocols to avoid a potentially troubled future. Also, when asked, parents were in one hundred percent (100%) agreement that one facility becoming Thao Dien’s model of all things progressive would be sustainable with limited issues.



Premier Scholar Athletes have directors that possess a combined forty (40) years of grassroots sports development. In Thao Dien, it’s the norm for civilians and instructors with expertise in other fields to apply their version of what they feel makes up a complete student athlete. The effort is not in question as the sports community needs direction, but it needs to be child and sport specific. Private training should be specific to the child and definitely not applied to fill any voids. The needle can and should be moved in a more productive manner. In 2019, Premier Scholar Athletes was asked to provide, in collaboration, a youth sports structure that would help bolster the sports program of a local international school.

Ultimately the structure was adapted and PSA was left out of the application process for reasons unknown. This situation can be avoided in the future if the youth sports community can align themselves in a way in which the youth can benefit and profit can become a byproduct of structure quality.

Premier Scholar Athletes possesses enough resources through inclusion, to help those in need in the sports community of Thao Dien. To date, one hundred (100) plus student athletes at the NCAA level have benefited from PSA’s resources that include but are not limited to; recruitment to post graduate institutions, counsel, emotional support, and being a liaison between NCAA staff and families.

Specific to basketball, forty (40) American states and seven (7) countries have been visited by PSA directors to participate in various grassroots youth events. A holistic approach has helped PSA members achieve and maintain a highly visible increase in self-awareness, self-care, peer acknowledgment, and habits that will help grow them into adolescence. Along with fundamental skill building, Premier Scholar Athletes continue to thrive successfully amongst their peers in terms of overall development.

Author information:
Premier Scholar Athletes (PSA)
Program Directors Zeon Gray and Lyn Heard



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