Softball Equipment FAQ
While you may think that softball came out of baseball, or that the only difference between the two sports is the size of the ball, you'd be surprised! While softball is very similar to baseball, it's a separate sport with its own rules and governing bodies. If you're coaching beginner softball, switching from baseball to softball, or thinking of starting a softball team, it's important to know the game, and how it differs from baseball. Here are a few frequently asked questions about softball to start your season off on the right foot.
- What is the difference between slow pitch and fast pitch softball?
- Can I wear a baseball helmet for softball?
- What are the softball governing bodies?
- Who invented softball?
The playing field
Softball is played on a smaller field then baseball, has shorter distances between bases, and between batter and pitcher. The size of the field varies depending on the league, and space available.
Bases - distance between softball bases is 60 feet.
Pitching area - The distance from softball's home plate to the pitchers mound for fast pitch is 35 - 40 feet, and 35 - 53 feet for slow pitch.
There are differences between slow pitch and fastpitch softball equipment.
Uniforms - Players are expected to perform in matching jerseys, pants, socks (depending on the pants), shoes, caps, and undergarments that aren't frayed or slit.
Bats - There are dramatic variations among larger to full size bats, mostly involving length and weight, even among fast pitch and slow pitch softball bats! Fast pitch bats are typically lighter.
Gloves - Softball gloves run longer and have larger pockets in order to catch the larger ball. Differences exist between fast pitch and slow pitch glove sizes, due to the different-sized balls. Softball gloves come in a wide range of sizes. A softball glove can be anywhere from 11-1/2 to 13 inches long. Slow pitch gloves can measure up to 15 inches long! Another difference is that fast pitch softball gloves tend to have smaller finger stalls and hand openings to fit a female player's hand.
Helmets - Most softball helmets fully protect the head and cover both ears. In some leagues, catchers and defense players may wear skull caps minus the ear flaps.
Cleats - Some leagues say that softball players may wear either canvas or leather shoes, or those made from similar material. Youth cleats are generally the molded type, though older fast pitch players may wear certain metal cleats; rules vary by league.
Catchers gear - The most equipment-clad position is the catcher, whose gear normally includes helmet, face mask, throat and body armor, knee, and shin guards. Athletic protectors are either highly suggested, or the rule.
There are a few variations in how softball - fast pitch, and slow pitch are played. Number of players, pitching style, innings, bunting, fouls, and running the bases, are just a few.
Number of players - Fast pitch softball uses nine players, whereas slow pitch softball uses ten players.
Pitching style - Fast pitch is pitched underhand with no restrictions on arc or speed, whereas slowpitch softballs have speed restrictions and must travel in an arc.
Innings - 5 - 7 innings.
Bunting - Bunting is allowed in fast pitch softball but not for slow pitch.
Fouls - In fast pitch softball, batters are not "out" unless they're bunting. In slow pitch softball, batters are allowed one foul ball with two strikes - the second strike is an automatic out.
Running the bases - Fast pitch softball runners can steal the bases as soon as the ball leaves the pitcher's hand. In slow pitch, stealing the bases is typically not allowed.
Fast pitch is played more at the competitive level in high schools and colleges; slow pitch is more recreational and involves a wider range of skills. Certain game strategies are eliminated in slow pitch softball, such as base stealing and bunting.
Baseball and softball helmets offer similar features, such as dual ear protection, face mask, and visor. The one noticeable difference is major league batting helmets only cover one ear, whereas most other helmets cover both. There also may be differences in face mask design. Since league rules vary, make sure that if you're interchanging helmets that they fit properly, and comply with league rules.
Softball governing organizations draw up and enforce general rules for your league or club to follow, such as rules of play, and safety. Some governing bodies may test softball equipment for certification. Softball has governing bodies at the international, national, and local levels. While the national and local bodies tend to go by international rules, they can modify them to suit their needs. Of the many softball governing bodies, about five of them stand out: The International Softball Federation (ISF), the American Softball Association (ASA), the National Softball Association (NSA), the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA), and the Independent Softball Association (ISA). What follows are very brief descriptions of each.
International Softball Federation (ISF) is the worldwide softball governing body recognized by the International Olympic Committee. It organizes a number of world fast pitch and slow pitch championships, and it sanctions local regional championships. The body provides technical support for regional games, and official playing rules for international competitions.
Amateur Softball Association (ASA), also called Amateur Softball Association of America, or USA Softball, is the national governing body for softball in the US. Founded in 1933, it's based in Oklahoma City.
National Softball Association (NSA) - Created in 1982 and headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky, this is a complete service softball organization that oversees various levels of amateur competitions for youth and adults.
United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) was established in 1968, and was originally called the United States Slo-Pitch Softball Association. It changed its name to include all of its sports programs. The body organizes various levels of amateur softball competitions for youth and adults across the country.
Independent Softball Association (ISA) - Founded in 1984 in Shelbyville, Tennessee. The body organizes, sanctions, and governs various levels of amateur league and tournament competitions.
Contrary to what you may think, softball didn't come out of baseball! It was an idea born during a football game, kind of by accident. As the story goes, one day several Yale and Harvard grads were gathered together, awaiting the results of a football game between the two rivals. When Yale was announced the winner, one of its alumnus tossed a tied-up boxing glove at a Harvard fan, who then batted it back with some kind of stick. A nearby reporter for the Chicago Board of Trade exclaimed "play ball!" and the new game, which began indoors, got off the ground. A few rules were drawn up, and the sport spread throughout the Midwest, and around the country. Standard rules were laid down in 1934 by a softball committee. Today, softball is played in 127 countries around the world.