Click China’s First Ever University Football Program to read Part I.
With the first three stages of the monomyth in process: “The Call to Adventure,” “Accepting the Call,” and “Enter the Unknown,” Chris Barrett’s journey continues here. Chris doesn’t act alone in building China’s first ever university football team from nothing but an idea; he elicits help through “Supernatural Aid,” “Talismans,” and “Allies and Helpers.
A key element of the monomyth rests in the hero receiving “Supernatural Aid.” In Campbell’s words, “One has only to know and trust, and the ageless guardians will appear.” Piloted by the Christian God, Chris makes decisions and guides young Chinese men through a process where they learn just as much about life as they do about football. They learn just as much about themselves as men as they do about the potential of their bodies. Chris says emphatically that he “knows now what I was put on this earth to do—to help others, through coaching, better themselves.”
As a young man alone in a foreign country destined to teach an anomalous game to a group of younger men, Chris knew he’d need tangible things. Aware that he couldn’t take much, Chris chose his items carefully—a few for his own comfort, and a few to help him transfer his knowledge of football. Besides his clothes, Chris carried with him: a whistle, cones, a speed ladder, an iPad, his Sanford and Son collection, and a few western movies. Through the sound of a whistle Chris directed guys who didn’t understand English. They learned to weave through bright orange cones, and they learned that crossing the invisible barrier between two cones with a football means something to celebrate. The Chinese players learned by watching their coach demonstrate agility and footwork with the speed ladder. Mimicking replaced the need for talking.
Before he even entertained the idea of becoming a coach, Chris unknowingly gained wisdom that would help him in his journey years later. Coach Myron Miller, Tustin High School’s head football coach from 1994 to 2012 was the first coach who had a profound impact on Chris. Through Miller, Chris learned that coaching stretched beyond simply teaching football skills; ideally, expert coaching included teaching boys how to be men. Chris says, “I believed in [Coach Miller] and I did what he said, and he made me the person I am. So, when I think of a coach who affected me most, I think of Coach Miller. When he explains who he is as a coach today, Chris says, “I think about all the coaches I had—especially Coach Miller—wrap them all in one, and now you have Coach Barrett.”
Chris humbly gives credit to Coach Miller and the other coaches who influenced him along the way such as Pete Carroll who reinforced that successful football teams bond beyond memorizing and executing plays. Success is all about connectivity, not individuality. In China, Chris had to instill fellowship before instructing his players how to throw and catch a football.
During Chris’s two-year assistant coaching job at Servite High School, he learned from head Coach Thomas to “develop a family atmosphere where guys wouldn’t miss practice because they didn’t want to let their brothers down.” So Chris taught his players to love their teammates. Technically, Chris coached 45 athletes by himself for the first several weeks, yet he credits all of the men who mentored him in the past. He pulled on advice from Pete Carroll who taught him how to compete—between love and resilience, Chris found the magic formula for coaching.
Chris went home for a few weeks and returned with a few USC teammates and Dartenian Johnson. While Chris coached at the Harbin University of China (HUC), he simultaneously started a football program at the Harbin Institute of Physical Education where the athletes are bigger, faster and stronger. Since the students at the Harbin Institute majored in physical education, they picked up football faster. When the two teams scrimmaged, the Institute athletes dominated every time. Chris used this impediment as a coaching tool for the HUC players. He’d tell them, “They practice once a day, so we have to practice twice a day. Even though they’re bigger than you, I’ll teach you how to beat them smarter.” The hunger of the HUC players drove them to follow their coach’s advice; they practiced twice a day. They wanted to challenge themselves to dominate guys who physiologically had them beat in every way.
After Chris prepared the players at the Harbin Institute of Physical Education, he sent a guy named Helius to coach the team. Helius had spent ten years studying football, and he had a passion for the American sport, so Chris took him on as a coach. After four weeks, Chris gave Helius a playbook and the bigger team, while Chris remained at HUC with the smaller guys. An historic game (the first ever university football game) between the two schools had been scheduled for September 6.
TESTS AND THE SUPREME IDEAL
Chris’s “Test and the Supreme Ideal” would arrive on September 6, 2013 in front of 26,000 fans at the first ever University football game in China between HUC and the Harbin Institute of Physical Education. No one ever imagined that the small guys from HUC could ever beat the stronger physical education majors from the Institute. But Chris prepared his players the way he learned how—the way that several mentors along the way showed him how. Every day Chris played the role of a father to his players, as well as their coach. And he taught them how to work harder than their opponent.
Before the big game Coach Barrett reminded his players how far they’d come, and that he had players catching the football who couldn’t do it months ago. He helped them see that everything they did on the football field translated to life, and to the business world. It’s all related, and Chris told them, “Build others around you so you can better yourself.” The players, clumped in a huddle, smiled because for the first time they saw it—saw that with hard work they had improved, and no matter what numbers illuminated the scoreboard at the end of the game, they had gained pride, not only within themselves, but for their entire team. Through Coach Barrett they learned about football, but in the process grew as men and became better citizens. The players felt forever changed by this experience. Each and every one of them wrote letters, long letters, to Coach Barrett thanking him for the ways in which he had changed their lives.
In the weeks leading up to the game, Chris learned so much himself—about coaching, about life, and about the selflessness of these young men who played football simply because they loved it. In China they wouldn’t receive a scholarship for playing, or insurance, or anything. They knew they’d never be pros. They played solely because they wanted to. They gave up their summers, and Coach Barrett, through football, changed their lives. When he reflects on his experience Chris says, “I feel like a proud father. I love every single one of these guys and the sacrifice they’re making.”
On September 6, 2013 in Harbin China, in front of 26,000 people, Coach Chris Barrett and his players from HUC and those he coached at the Harbin Institute of Physical Education, made history. And against every odd imaginable, the HUC players beat the stronger, bigger guys on the Institute team. And they didn’t just beat them, they shut them out 10-0 with a game ending interception and run for a touchdown.
REWARD AND THE JOURNEY HOME
Joseph Campbell’s monomyth has one last requirement—the hero must return home to share what he learned on his journey. With the coaching knowledge that Chris gained in China, he plans to return to the United States to coach high school football because he “enjoys helping young men grow and teaching them from my own mistakes and those I saw others make.” Even though it’s tough to make a living coaching at the high school level, Chris seeks a job that will provide him joy over financial gain.
Currently Chris is working on a plan to bring his football team from China to the States to play against an All-Star American team.
His reward, Chris says, “Is just the joy of watching lives change.” And by lives, he means not only those of his players, but his own.
According to Joseph Campbell a hero doesn’t need to be super or obvious, costumed or airborne. Most heroes are hidden in everyday life, uncelebrated. Heroes are ordinary people like Chris Barrett, making extraordinary changes in the lives of others.
The HUC Football team – video