SGI-USA future division member Darren Yapi is a forward for the Major League Soccer club Colorado Rapids—at 16 years old, making him the youngest signee in the club’s history. The World Tribune spoke with him about his career and how he uses his Buddhist practice in his daily life.
World Tribune: Thank you for speaking with us about how Buddhism has informed your career. What’s your journey been like developing as an athlete?
Darren Yapi: Thank you. A soccer ball was the first thing I ever picked up. I was playing at parks where I grew up here in Colorado until I was about 5, then joined small local leagues. I did that until I was about 10 when I joined a club called Storm. That brought a new challenge because, for us financially, it was hard to afford. I can’t thank my parents enough for making financial sacrifices to put me into something I love. I really thank them. At Storm, a coach from the Rapids saw and coached me. He brought me over to the Rapids Academy team. They covered all expenses, so my family didn’t have to worry about that anymore. This was our fortune from our Buddhist practice.
WT: What brought you to Buddhism?
Yapi: I was chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo at a very young age because my parents put me to it. They’ve been practicing Buddhism for a long time. I started doing gongyo when I was about 8. That’s when I started sincerely practicing. I often did emcee or read out loud at meetings with my siblings. In 2018, we traveled to Phoenix for the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival and really enjoyed it. One young woman’s faith experience really inspired me to strengthen my own Buddhist practice.
Buddhism has played a huge part in terms of my confidence. And it helps with my performance. I use it to push myself every day.
For a while, I trained down in Colorado Springs. Every day, I would wake up, chant, make my own breakfast and head to training. Then after, I would do school assignments, have a bit of free time, then do evening gongyo. I try to still be a kid as much as I can. I like video games, but this year I haven’t really played any.
WT: What are some challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Yapi: One challenge was the financial part. There were also a few points in my life when I was really down and depressed. I was trying to get on a national-level team, but wasn’t getting much recognition. Team lineups would be announced, and my name wasn’t on them. I would get frustrated and lose confidence. I had to fight through that. At the same time, my mom, who faces a chronic illness, was hospitalized. But my dad encouraged me to keep chanting. I kept working hard. I know that with my Buddhist practice and parents’ support, I can fight through tough times.
In February 2020, I was selected to play in England as a member of the U.S. U-17 (under-17) team. This was big for me. There were a bit of nerves at first, but I think I played well.
After I came home, my mom continued to face health challenges. Then, the pandemic hit. I had to start online school and take a break from soccer, which was so different. I did a lot of home workouts, kept practicing and studying. There’s a point where it gets repetitive, frustration comes and you just want to play the game. But I kept doing home workouts. When things started opening up, I practiced with the Academy again. That’s when the Rapids’ first team had me train with them. I went back and forth with the first team and the Academy before the preseason. Then I got signed by the Rapids.
WT: Incredible. What drives you to excel as a soccer player?
Yapi: I’m playing this game for one thing and one thing only: to inspire people for kosen-rufu. If I can reach a high level, I can encourage many people to try this practice. I want to inspire many people, inspire them to do whatever they want to do, whatever they love.
My first goal is to make the first team. Then later, play at a high level in European soccer. One of my role models is Roberto Baggio—he’s a legend in the game. And he chants too. I want to add on to what he started.
The offseason is coming up. I plan on working hard. The way I’ll be chanting is with determination. I’ll be training and chanting to reach my goals. Through my tough times, I’m going to stay strong and never give up.
- In soccer, the first team is a club’s first-choice lineup of 11 players on the field and substitutes.