Softball is played by two teams who alternate between batting and fielding. A similar game to rounders, the aim of softball is to score runs when batting and prevent opponents from scoring runs when fielding. Runs in softball are scored by hitting the ball and then running round the four bases, touching each base in succession.
Softball teams are usually made up of nine or ten players and the game can be played by both single sex and mixed gender softball teams. Softball is played by both senior and junior teams, with the softball field being adjusted for size according to the age group of the players. Softball can also played for fun among friends and the rules adapted for a casual game.
An organised game of softball is usually played over seven innings. A softball innings is over when both teams have finished batting once. A team’s batting turn is over once three batters of the team are out and once this happens, the fielding side then come in to bat. A softball team’s batting innings continues for as long as six players remain “not out” and there are no time restrictions in softball. However, the average length of time for a softball match is between one and two hours.
The softball field is divided between the infield and the outfield. There are four bases joined by lines which are positioned 60 ft apart (approximately 18 metres). The bases in softball are set out in an upended square shape which is known as the diamond. The four bases are the first base, second base, third base and the home plate.
The area of the softball field, inside the diamond baseline, is the infield, and the outside area is known as the outfield. The boundary of the softball field is positioned on the perimeters of the outfield and marked by foul lines that meet at a right angle at the home plate.
Next to the home plate, and positioned to the left and right side of it, are the batters boxes. This is where the softball batter stands, depending on whether he or she is left or right handed.
The pitchers plate marks the spot where the pitcher (bowler) stands. It is situated in the centre of the softball diamond and faces the home plate and batters boxes.
Following a coin toss, the softball teams take up either batting or fielding positions. The winning toss gets to choose whether to bat first or second. The order of batting should be written down and the batting order kept to.
Traditionally, play commences in softball with the umpire saying “play ball”
The softball pitcher stands on the pitching plate at the centre of the diamond. There is also the catcher who stands at the backstop. The other infield fielders in softball are the first base fielder (baseman), who stands between the first and second base, the second baseman, who plays in the gap between the first baseman and the second base, the shortstop, whose job it is to field balls hit between the second and third bases and who also has the job to help cover the second base, and the third softball baseman who covers all balls hit to the third base.
The softball outfielders cover the area behind the infield and back up the infield players. In the outfield there is a left fielder, centre fielder, and right fielder.
The ball should always be pitched underarm in softball (unlike in baseball or cricket). The classic softball pitch, sometimes called the windmill, is achieved by spinning the throwing arm backwards around the body (like a windmill) and releasing the ball when the hand comes round to be level with the hip. The softball pitcher should aim at the strike zone which is the area between the shoulders and the knees of the batter.
The softball batter is allowed three swings or strikes in which to hit the ball. After each attempt the strike should be called out “strike one” or “strike two”, and the batter is out on the third strike if he or she fails to connect with the ball. This is called a strikeout.
The batter can be out if he is caught. A ball that is hit high up into the air by the batter is called a fly ball. Usually hitting a fly ball in softball, results in a fielder catching it, thus putting the batter out.
The softball batter is out if he or she leaves the batter box in the course of the swing.
Once the batter has hit the ball, he or she must run to try and get around the bases or at least get to first base. In softball, successfully reaching a base is called a base hit. The batter should try to run and touch as many bases as possible. Reaching the first base is called a “single”, reaching second base is a “double” and reaching third base is a “triple”. Making it right round to the home plate is called a home run in softball.
A base can not be occupied by two softball team members at the same time. If the batter is running round the bases, any softball team mate who may be waiting at a base must run on in front of the batter. Players are not allowed to overtake their team members in softball when advancing round the bases.
A runner at the base is out if they are tagged. A tag is an act of a fielding softball player who is holding the ball in his hand. He can tag the softball batting side player by touching the base with any part of his body, before the batting player can get to it. The fielding player can also tag the batting player by touching him directly as he runs between the bases. The fielding payer must be in possession of the ball to be able to tag.
A run is scored in softball after a player has touched all four bases. The bases do not need to be touched in one turn, although this is desirable, and known as a home run. A batting player in softball is allowed to remain at a base while play continues and can wait until he or she gets the opportunity to run.
However if a runner on third base decides to run, and the batter is subsequently caught out or tagged, safely reaching the home plate will not count as a run.
Once the batter has successfully reached the home plate he or she will resume their place in the batting order and await their next turn.
The softball team with the most runs after seven innings have been played are the winners.