After Cambodia achieved independence from France, agriculture, trade and industry underwent a period of national development.
Athletics, too, became a focus of national attention as Cambodian athletes were invited to international competitions across the world and some even returned with awards.
However, sports nearly completely disappeared during the Khmer Rouge regime.
Nowadays, athletics are again undergoing a resurgence, and many youth are encouraged to participate.
Khim Borey, a 28-year-old national football player, says he has played in South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, India and other countries.
He says he finds that Cambodian players are as skilled as their counterparts from other countries in terms of ability, energy, talent and intelligence.
“Nonetheless, one thing that contrasts between Cambodian players and foreign players is youth training; most of the players from abroad were trained by top coaches since they were 10 or younger,” he says.
Bouy Dary, 29, a football academy head coach, agrees.
“It is really similar to the education at school. When they are young, their brain is really adept at retaining everything they see and learn. When they are older, the ability of retaining knowledge will be lower.”
He explained that when athletes start training at a young age, they will quickly learn the basics of their sport and have more time to better develop their skills and techniques when they are older.
Due to the advantages and importance placed on playing sports, many schools include sport education in their curriculums.
Kim Socheta, deputy director of the Bamboo Center, says the reason for including sports at her center is to help kids learn to love athletics at a young age, and in doing so, to give them added incentive to do well in school and form better work ethics.
She advises young people to identify a sport they really love and which matches their skills and talents.
If a child is really good, she says, it may be advantageous for them to join a league so they will have a chance of joining their local or national team in the future.
Ly Heang, the general-secretary of Phnom Penh Crown Sport Club, says Cambodia has a ways to go in terms of improving the level and quality of sports in the country.
“Many years ago, many Cambodian football players were not well trained... Most of them were ordinary players at school, institutes or just played for fun,” he says.
They typically only received a modicum of training just before they were sent off for competition, he adds.
Because the level of football training in Cambodia needs to see major improvement before the country can compete internationally, Heang’s club regularly holds competitions in rural areas to scout for kids aged 12 to 14 to train in Phnom Penh.
All of the players chosen receive accommodation, space for training, food, general education at a private school, and advanced football training.
Thong Keobunnath, planning officer at the Department of Education, Youth and Sport Phnom Penh, says the ministries of education and sport are always encouraging youth to take an interest in athletics.
The ministry organises competitions every year for young athletes of all ages, from primary school all the way up to the university level. He adds that a young person who participates in sports is more likely to grow up to be a productive member of society.