Elijah Ferrian picks the brain of the successful Vietnam Basketball Academy coach Myke Nguyen, and discusses inspiring people from all walks of life. Photo by Vinh Dao.

Vietnamese basketball. What’s your background in the sport?

I have always been fascinated by basketball. When I was young, I taught myself how to dribble, pass, shoot, and play defense. I learned more by watching my neighbours, especially the mental strategy of the game. It was a lot of fun. It was basically ‘street basketball.’

When I arrived in Vietnam in the early 90s, I played basketball with friends at the old Phan Dinh Phung courts. That’s where I met a tall, young local coach named Ms. Nga. She had never seen the “streetball style” of basketball, where I would do behind the back passes, bouncing the ball through my defenders legs, and throw the ball off the backboard to pass to my teammates. She also noticed that I would direct the players around like moving chess pieces in a chess match. 

She approached me after one game to ask if I would be interested in helping her coach a local youth boys’ basketball team. 

I had some part-time experience coaching in the States so I said, “Sure why not?” 

What led you to launching the Vietnam Basketball Academy?

Before helping to coach the local Vietnamese basketball players, I volunteered to coach kids programmes in the States. The longer I coached, the more players began to share with me how much of a positive impact I was making in their lives. I noticed that the more I taught players the game of basketball, the more enthusiastic and happy life was for them, and for myself as well.

So, in 2010, with the help of my family, we decided to launch the Vietnam Basketball Academy.  Our goal is to help the youth in Vietnam to learn the physical and mental skills of the game, while also having a great, fun time.

Tell us about your organisation’s two initiatives: the “Coaching Skills Programme”, and “Vietnam Youth Basketball League”.

We believe that in order for the sport of basketball to grow in Vietnam, the younger generation will need people who have the skill set to teach them how to play the right way, and how to master the fundamental skills of the game.

In 2016, we created a Coaching Skills Programme to teach local coaches the mental and physical tools of how to be a great coach and a skills trainer. The programme teaches the local coaches how to manage small and large groups of players, what should be taught for certain age groups, and how to effectively communicate with players who have strong, or low self-esteem. 

The second initiative that we launched in 2016 was our Vietnam Youth Basketball League. We wanted to create a community programme where the local and expat community can come together and have fun. We wanted to establish a positive and supportive environment for students to build their confidence and to believe in themselves. To see their own abilities through the sport of basketball. 

The Vietnam Youth Basketball League is also an opportunity for new and long-time residents living in Saigon to get to know one another, and be part of this great community that is made up of many different nationalities, cultures and diverse backgrounds. This is a community league where we have paid coaches working side by side with volunteer parent coaches.

What is your philosophy regarding coaching and its relationship to education and successful growth for young people?

My coaching philosophy goes in line with what some of my priorities are in my own life. I believe in hard work and dedication. I believe in teamwork, playing unselfishly, respect for the game and respect towards each other. I believe in honest communication, having a positive attitude, and always having fun playing the game. These are simple ideas, but they are not always easy to implement consistently.

Coaches are also teachers. I have a great opportunity to teach my players about basketball, but more importantly, to teach them about taking responsibility. Being a good son or daughter, a good brother or sister, being a great human being that can impact the world in a positive way. It’s about being a role model both on the court and off.

What are the most important character building qualities to teach your players?

I emphasise patience, honesty, hard work, self motivation, teamwork, leading by example, respect each other’s achievements, unselfishness and always trying to be positive and happy.

Describe your role as coach, as a motivator. What techniques do you use to motivate your players? How do you get them to believe in their abilities and their roles as basketball players each year?

I believe a coach is not only a mentor, but also a teacher. One of my responsibilities is to help mold and develop my players not only as athletes, but also as great people. 

I try to motivate my players by helping them to understand that although some of us are taller, shorter, bigger, slower or less athletic, there is one thing we all have in common: we all love to play fun games. I try to inspire and instill confidence in each of my player by playing fun games that may or may not involve a basketball. I created these games to help each player to not focus on basketball itself, but just on having fun and enjoying their time together with me and their teammates. While they are doing this, they are learning the fundamentals of basketball. In some ways, they learn this without even knowing it.

Every player is different, so I try to adapt to each player as best as I can. Some have a lot of confidence in themselves, while others lack self-esteem. I take baby steps with each player by first explaining a specific basketball drill, and why we are doing it, and then I demonstrate it so that they can visually see it how it’s done. Once they have seen it, I have them try it out. Then, step by step, they are able to do it on their own without me having to show them.

Who is your greatest role model either personally, or as a coach?

My greatest role model outside of coaching circles are my older sisters. They taught me about patience, being responsible, and showing compassion to others. Learning to respect myself and my players, learning to get involved in the community to help make a positive impact on society.