By Nick Butler in Nanjing

Nick Butler"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand."
Confucius (551-479 BC)

Such is the significance here of this ancient philosopher whose teachings have reverberated through the ages, it seems somewhat appropriate to start some reflections on Nanjing with a Confucian proverb.

His message about physical experience being the best form of learning is indeed as relevant today as ever before and bears dual relevance on this year's Asian Youth Games. This is due both to its purpose as a test event to "do" and "understand" ahead of next summer's Youth Olympic Games and through its role to provide "understanding" for a budding athlete in an ongoing journey of learning.

Although some improvements, mostly in the realm of logistics, are necessary, on the first point Nanjing has generally proved a perfect venue and one capable of hosting Games that are welcoming, fun, educational, organised and, above all else, packed full of top level sport.

This was a view repeated by Wei Jizhong, an honorary life vice-president of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), when he said shortly before the Closing Ceremony that "very solid foundations" have been put in place for next year.

Strong crowds, such as this one for the 3x3 basketball finals, have been a hallmark of the Asian Youth GamesStrong crowds, such as this one for the 3x3 basketball final, have been a hallmark of the Asian Youth Games

It is interesting that these foundations are not the same ones as those set at the Beijing Olympics five years ago. Nanjing is a different city with an alternate identity and history and this has translated into an event less keen to assert national pride and more interested in universal messages applicable to all.

One of the things that particularly stood out is how much of a diverse heritage Nanjing has.

After being one of four ancient Chinese capitals in Confucius' time, it was the sole one under the Ming Dynasty until 1421. It then became the base of the Chinese nationalists until their defeat in 1949 and in 1937 witnessed a horrifying massacre at the hands of the Japanese in the Second World War.

This past remains alive today courtesy of a historical trail encompassing a Confucian temple, a 14th century city wall stretching around the beautiful Xuanwu Lake - the venue for rowing, canoeing and triathlon at Nanjing 2014 - and more recent memorials to the massacre victims and nationalist hero Sun Yat-sen.

The city has managed to combine this character with a clear layout and considerable amounts of space made grander by wide boulevards lined with elegant rows of trees. A distinct lack of litter and stray animals, as well as any central industrial hub, leaves a city which is strikingly clean, with the occasional glimpses of anything less than pristine noteworthy only because it is so rare.

The Opening Ceremony made this individual identity all the more clear, and in comparison with Beijing's physical display of Chinese might, Nanjing's Ceremony was more a minimalist portrayal which combined Beijing 2008's choreography and colour with the spontaneity of London 2012.

The Ceremony, however, also contained the message at the centre of the second layer of Confucius' to "do" and "understand". As we were taken on a seasonal journey of exploration and discovery, we learnt that the Games do not just concern competition but a sense of progress and "education through sport".

From a cultural centre displaying national identities from all 45 participating National Olympic Committees (NOCs) to an Athletes Village canteen where competitors from Mongolia to the Maldives ate and socialised together, this was indeed put into action.

When the rest of the world joins Asia's party next year this cultural integration should happen to an even greater degree and this aim was linked to a sporting sense by the OCA vice-president Timothy Fok when he described the meaning of the Olympic Movement as "not only to win but to do so in a right and correct way".

OCA vice-president Timothy Fok (fourth left) and honorary vice-president Wei Jizhong (second right) speaking on the final day of the Asian Youth GamesOCA vice-president Timothy Fok (fourth left) and honorary vice-president Wei Jizhong (second right) speaking on the final day of the Asian Youth Games

The seven days of sporting action had, of course, illustrated this point perfectly. There were exceptions, with the violent scenes marring the conclusion of the Iran versus Iraq football semi-final being the obvious example, yet these were brief and unusual.

At the risk of revealing a penchant for racquet sports, my two highlights were two marathon singles finals held in lively but tension-riddled atmospheres - women's badminton lasted 82 minutes and men's tennis an amazing two hours and 48. In each the participants reached new limits of physical and mental effort but all within a spirit of friendliness in which they showed no visible anger at any point, neither with their opponents nor themselves.

There were many other sporting highs made all the better by impressive crowd support. Entertaining rugby sevens and golf action suggested that each will be a welcome addition to the Olympic fold in 2016, while the catch-it-if-you-can aggression of 3x3 basketball was another must-see highlight. When events were less exciting it tended to be due to one-sided or Chinese dominated finals and this is something that should be less prevalent next year.

In terms of venues some were better than others but that is to be expected. The Olympic Sports Centre which housed swimming and athletics was superb for comfort, access and atmosphere, while football, basketball and taekwondo (with its electronic review system) were three more to catch the eye.

Others, such as table-tennis, had more a antiquated school gymnasium vibe but the important thing is that they all worked, and worked well. The challenge will be incorporating the venues not used here in time for next year and these include those for water sports, as well as cycling, hockey and gymnastics.

The women's singles badminton won by Chinese star Qin Jinjing was one of the highlights of the week at the Asian Youth GamesThe women's singles badminton won by Chinese star Qin Jinjing was one of the highlights of the week at the Asian Youth Games

With the exception of athletes being expelled for being overage - something more profound which the IOC needs to be seriously aware of before next year - any problems were small and related only to logistical matters.

This is the great strength of having the Asian Youth Games a year before the main event in order to identify and remedy issues which would not otherwise have been noticed.

As council member Lawrence Chew explained, for example, the Badminton World Federation (BWF) is working with Nanjing 2014 to solve some of these issues which have been raised.

"We will try to combine the badminton and tennis programmes as they are both in the same venue a long way from the centre, so that would make it easier for spectators to come to both and switch between the two," he revealed.

"We also want to introduce air conditioning for the crowd and improve the transport system so that there are always a few cars waiting rather than everyone having to order and then wait for ages."

This transport issue was the most noticeable issue as there appeared no uniformity or consistency in the system. Waiting for one hour for a car only for it to rapidly disappear resulting in another hour's wait for the next one were regular problems especially from venues which were away from the city centre, and its excellent - if not slightly intimidating to the non-Chinese speaker - bus and metro services.

With the volunteers problems arose because they were trained exclusively to do one job so when taken out of their comfort zone they were less confident. Yet they were so friendly, hard-working and anxious to help it was impossible to be frustrated, with Jizhong correctly attributing the Games' success to "the sacrifices of the volunteers in this hot and withering city".

The 13,500 volunteers were one of the defining memories of the Asian Youth GamesThe 13,500 volunteers were one of the defining memories of the Asian Youth Games

They entered into the spirit of the Games probably more than anyone else - be it when they were meticulously chasing every athlete and official to gain a new nation's pin for their collection, to when they were leading the crowd support during competitions.

This spirit was what shone through the entire week and from the sport, to the ceremonies and to the volunteers it was a defining image which should be repeated next year. The organising committee deserve praise as do the OCA - and its President Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah - through schemes including a "young journalists" programme, which enabled six teenage writers from across Asia to visit and extensively report.

The addition of five more continents will bring changes next year but Nanjing 2014 should also be more of the same. More great sport in great atmospheres and venues, and made all the better by the volunteers together with the history and heritage of a city which so well epitomises what youth games are about.

As a test event the Asian Youth Games has served its purpose and, as Confucius wanted, this process of "doing" and "understanding" has been a vital one in paving the way for what is to come next year.

The only thing left to be said is roll on 2014 and the Youth Olympic Games.  

Nick Butler is a reporter for insidethegames