First conceived as a way to play baseball (see Chapter 73 ) indoors during months of harsh weather, softball has emerged over the decades as one of the most popular sports in the United States. Enjoyed by females and males of all ages and at all levels of competition, softball has proven itself distinct from its older cousin in terms of rules, biomechanical techniques, and injuries sustained during play.


Incidence of Play

  • Softball is played in over 100 countries worldwide.

  • Approximately 40 million Americans play at least one game of softball each year.

  • Softball is one of the most popular sports in the United States partly because of its myriad variants, including:

    • Organized grade school and high school softball leagues

    • Organized college softball leagues

    • Female and male professional softball teams

    • Recreational female, male, and mixed-gender team leagues for all ages

    • Fast- and slow-pitch rule variations

  • The Amateur Softball Association of America (ASA) annually registers >245,000 softball teams.

    • 83,000 are female youth fast-pitch teams

  • National College Athletic Association (NCAA) women’s teams average 41.6 games per season and 49.6 practices per season

Incidence of Injury

  • On average, 1 person every 4 minutes is seen in an emergency department in the United States for a softball-related injury.

General Principles

Terminology and Rules


  • The rules of softball are similar to those of baseball.

  • Notable differences: softball utilizes

    • A larger ball

    • A smaller playing field

    • Underhand pitching

    • Pitching area: pitchers stand in an 8-foot-diameter “pitcher’s circle” that is flush with the field.

  • As with baseball, almost every softball league requires helmets for batters and base runners.

  • Mercy rules

    • NCAA softball: The game ends when one team wins by ≥8 runs after at least five completed innings.

Fast- Versus Slow-Pitch Softball

The major variations in softball play are with respect to how the ball is pitched.

Fast-Pitch Softball

  • The primary variant used in competitive high school, college (including NCAA), and professional softball play.

  • The dimensions of a regulation NCAA softball are rather specific:

    • inches in circumference

    • –7 ounces

  • In fast-pitch softball, the ball is launched underhand in a 360-degree windmill motion 40–46 feet away from the home plate (vs. 60.5 feet in baseball).

  • Distance depends on the league and player age.

  • The ball advances in a trajectory that can have upward, downward, or side-to-side motion.

  • As in baseball, a strike is called if the ball passes over the home plate in a zone between the batter’s knees and chest.

  • There is a 60-foot distance between softball bases.

  • Leading off a base is not permitted in softball until after the ball has left the pitcher’s hand.

  • As in baseball, bunting and base stealing are permitted offensive strategies in fast-pitch softball.

  • “Slap-hitting” is a permitted offensive strategy, unique to fast-pitch softball, wherein the batter starts at the back of the batter’s box and—once the pitch is thrown—advances toward the pitcher before aiming a bunt or short “slap” swing at the ball.

  • “Drag-bunting” is a permitted offensive strategy, also unique to fast-pitch softball, wherein a left-handed hitting batter will essentially start running to first base as s/he is in the process of striking the ball.

  • There are seven innings of regulation play in an NCAA softball game.

  • As in baseball, there are nine defensive players on the field at a time.

Slow-Pitch Softball

  • The main variant used in recreational softball league play in the United States (although certain recreational leagues do use fast-pitch)

  • While most slow-pitch softball leagues utilize a standard-dimension fast-pitch softball, certain leagues use larger balls up to 16 inches in circumference.

  • The ball is usually lobbed underhand in a “half-windmill” motion 50 feet from home base in an arc trajectory.

  • The apex of the arc must be 6–12 feet high for the pitch to be legal.

  • The ball is aimed so that it would land on home plate, a strike.

  • Leading off a base is usually not permitted in slow-pitch softball.

    • A player must stay on base until the hitter makes contact with the ball.

  • Unlike fast-pitch softball, the offensive strategies of bunting and base stealing are usually not permitted in slow-pitch softball leagues.

  • There are usually seven innings of play in a slow-pitch softball game.

  • Unlike in fast-pitch softball and baseball, there are 10 defensive players on the field at a time.

    • The tenth position is often a “short fielder,” a fourth outfield player who stands in the outfield behind the shortstop.

    • Alternatively, the defense will field both a right- and left-center fielder.

  • Slow-pitch softball rules often allow for relatively heavier bats than those used in fast-pitch softball to help increase the power achieved when hitting a slower moving ball.



  • The sport that would come to be known as “softball” was first played in 1887 in Chicago, Illinois, as an indoor variant of baseball by using a larger ball and a smaller field.

  • According to tradition, the first game was played using a wadded-up boxing glove and a broomstick handle and was invented by George Hancock.

  • The term “softball” was first coined in 1926 and was in widespread use by 1930.

  • A slow-pitch softball tournament at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair ignited broader interest in the game.

  • Moreover, in 1933, the ASA, the future parent of Team USA softball, was created.

  • In 1934, softball rules were standardized in the United States by the Joint Rules Committee on Softball.

  • Fast-pitch softball was the dominant form until the ASA officially recognized slow-pitch softball in 1953; thereafter, recreational slow-pitch league participation soon outpaced that of fast-pitch.

Softball at the Olympics

  • The International Olympic Committee (IOC) included women’s fast-pitch softball in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, 4 years after baseball had debuted at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.

  • Team USA won the gold medal in 1996, 2000, and 2004 but took the silver behind Team Japan in 2008.

  • Following several close votes, the IOC removed both softball and baseball from the Summer Olympics programs of 2012 and 2016, the first time Olympic sports had been removed since the exclusion of polo in 1936.

  • Currently, there are ongoing efforts to resurrect softball and baseball as Olympic sports for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

  • With the exclusion of softball from the Olympics, the ASA-sponsored World Cup of Softball, first played in 2005, has taken on greater significance, and is generally seen as the pinnacle of annual world softball competition.

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Jul 19, 2019 | Posted by in SPORT MEDICINE | Comments Off on Softball
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