Little League® Provides Unification of Culture and Faith Through Sports

Each summer, the Little League® World Series Tournaments provide opportunities for athletes of various ages from across the globe to come together and share in the universal games of baseball and softball. For many of those athletes, however, participating in baseball and softball is about more than just playing a game. It provides these young men and women with a supportive environment, surrounded by teammates, coaches, and volunteers, where all differences can be put aside and a team can help one another grow both as athletes and as individuals.

At the 2016 Senior League Softball World Series Championship Game, Salma Mohamed, an outfielder for Beacon Hill Little League (Victoria, British Columbia), had the opportunity to represent her country on the field as a member of the Canada Region Champion team. While playing left field at the World Series in Lower Sussex, Del., Ms. Mohamed proudly wore a hijab, a traditional covering for the hair and neck that is worn by Muslim women, to represent her family’s culture, a decision she has never had to think twice about thanks to her time spent in Little League.

“When I’m on the field, I honestly don’t think about it that much,” said Ms. Mohamed. “I feel like I’m just another kid on the field because everyone around me doesn’t treat me any differently. At the same time, I know it’s a great way to represent my religion.”

Both of Ms. Mohamed’s parents were born in Sri Lanka and later moved to Canada where they gave birth to Salma. Since neither her mother or father had the opportunity to play sports while growing up, it was Salma’s mother who pushed for the young British Columbia native to get involved and have experiences that she never had growing up. From lessons in piano, dance, and gymnastics to joining volleyball, basketball, and softball teams, Salma Mohamed had the opportunity to experience a variety of different extra-curricular activities with the full support of her family behind her.

“My mother just wanted me to try out everything that she didn’t get to do as a kid,” said Ms. Mohamed. “Both of my parents have been really supportive of me playing sports, which has been great.”

For Ms. Mohamed, involvement in youth sports and Little League Softball® has helped provide her with the confidence and support system to be able to share the pride of both her cultural background and personal identity. With the support of her coaches, teammates, and family behind her, Mohamed gained the confidence to start wearing a hijab in the sixth grade when she was about 12 years old.

“I have been surrounded by great people, between my friends, family, and coaches, and they have really supported me since I started wearing [the hijab],” said Ms. Mohamed. “When I first started wearing it, I was definitely a little insecure because I really cared what people thought, but honestly I haven’t really had to face any discrimination, especially while playing sports. Everyone has been very thoughtful and mindful, so I’ve had a really good experience.”

While having the confidence to display one’s culture doesn’t always come so easily for other young individuals, Ms. Mohamed is proud to see the increase in female role models in sports, particularly in those representing their culture. At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Ibti Muhammad became the first Muslim woman to represent the U.S. Olympic Team while wearing the hijab during competition.

“When I was younger, I didn’t really have anyone to look up to at the highest level of competition in sports,” said Ms. Mohamed. “Nobody was in the Olympics wearing the hijab, so I would imagine for girls who are younger than me just getting into sports, this shows them that nothing is impossible and nothing is holding you back. You just have to keep working hard, keep pushing, and keep trying.”

Salma started playing Little League Softball when she was 10 years old and has since dedicated each year to continuing to develop as an athlete. This year, that dedication paid off as she earned a spot on the roster for the Canada Region Championship team, from Victoria, British Columbia, that finished as runners-up at the 2016 Senior League Softball World Series Championship.

“Since I’ve been playing Little League for so many years, it has become a part of my identity,” said Ms. Mohamed. “Yes, I’m Salma, I wear a hijab, but I also play sports and do all of these other things. If I weren’t playing sports, I think I would be a very different person. Little League has really helped me develop my confidence and develop myself through all the values that you learn while playing. Being on the field, you don’t get any preferential treatment, so it showed me that you can be treated just like everyone else.”

The search for inclusion of culture and faith in sports is becoming a growing focus around the worldand this year the Vatican hosted the world’s first-ever Sport at the Service of Humanity conference, inspired by Pope Francis, to explore the role of faith and sport as a catalyst for social change. The goal of the conference was to unite people across faith, nationality, and culture through sport, as well as to help people and encourage life skills, character, and values through sport, the same goals that are shared by Little League.