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Guide to Softball Rules and Basics

Softball was created by George Hancock in Chicago in 1887. The game originated as an indoor variation of baseball and was eventually converted to an outdoor game. The popularity of softball has grown considerably, both at the recreational and competitive levels. In fact, not only is women’s fast pitch softball a popular high school and college sport, it was recognized as an Olympic sport in 1996.

Object of the Game
To score more runs than the opposing team. The team with the most runs at the end of the game wins.

Offense & Defense
The primary objective of the offense is to score runs and avoid outs. The primary objective of the defense is to prevent runs and create outs.

Offensive strategy
A run is scored every time a base runner touches all four bases, in the sequence of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and home. To score a run, a batter must hit the ball into play and then run to circle the bases, counterclockwise. On offense, each time a player is at-bat, she attempts to get on base via hit or walk. A hit occurs when she hits the ball into the field of play and reaches 1st base before the defense throws the ball to the base, or gets an extra base (2nd, 3rd, or home) before being tagged out. A walk occurs when the pitcher throws four balls. It is rare that a hitter can round all the bases during her own at-bat; therefore, her strategy is often to get “on base” and advance during the next at-bat.

Defensive strategy
On defense, each time a player is at-bat, the pitcher has an opportunity to get her out by throwing three strikes, called a strikeout. If the batter hits a pitch, the defense has many ways to get the batter out. The defense can create a force out by throwing the ball to 1st base before the batter can reach the base, tag out by tagging the base runner while she is not standing on a base, or fly-out by catching the ball in the air before it has touched the ground. Once the defense creates three outs, it switches to be on offense.

Base running
The ultimate goal for base runners is to reach home plate and score a run. They attempt to avoid getting “out” by following the rules of the game. Runners are safe as long as they touch a base, and only one runner is allowed on a base at a time. If a runner is on 1st base and the batter hits the ball into play, the base runner is “forced” to run to 2nd base because the batter is attempting to occupy 1st base. In this scenario, a fielder can throw to 2nd base to get a force out.
However if there is a runner on 2nd base and no runner on 1st base, the runner may remain on 2nd base when the ball is hit into play because she is not “forced” to advance—there is room for the batter to occupy 1st base and the base runner to occupy 2nd base. More advanced base running strategies include: stealing, tagging up, and hit-and-run.

Major differences from baseball:
Fast pitch softball is similar to baseball; however, there are notable differences. For example, the pitch is delivered underhand, the ball is larger, the field is smaller, and base runners cannot leave a base until the pitcher releases the pitch.

Common Umpire Signals
Several referees, called umpires, govern the game to ensure fair and safe play. Umpires use hand gestures and verbal calls to signal their rulings on the field. The two most important signals in softball are safe and out. A player is safe when she reaches a base before being thrown out during a force out (tie goes to the runner) or avoids being tagged out. The umpire crosses her arms parallel to the ground and then extends both arms out to the sides to signal safe. An out is called when a player strikes out,  is tagged out, or is thrown out for a force out. The umpire makes a fist and motions as if to punch the air to signal an out. The umpire stationed behind home plate will call each pitch a ball or a strike. The umpire verbally calls “ball” for a ball and a combination of calling “strike” and using the same signal for out (fist and punching motion) for a strike. Umpires also signal for hit balls that are close to being fair or foul. The umpire points in the direction of foul ground for a foul ball and in the direction of fair ground for a fair ball.

Equipment differs for offensive and defensive positions. On offense, batters have a wooden or aluminum bat, batting gloves for grip, and batting helmets for protection. On defense, fielders use a leather glove. The catcher has special protective equipment, including a face mask, chest protector, and shin/leg guards. All players wear shoes with cleats. The uniform consists of a jersey; pants, shorts, or skirt; and a baseball cap, visor, or headband.

Field of Play
Softball is played on a large grass and dirt field. The field includes fair territory inside the two foul lines and foul territory outside the foul lines. Softball fields have some common characteristics:

  • Bases: A softball “diamond” consists of four bases placed in a square. The bases are 1st base, 2nd base, 3rd base, and home plate.
  • Infield: The area around the four bases, the surface of which is generally grass and packed dirt.
  • Outfield: The grassy area beyond the infield.
  • Foul lines: Two lines (first and third base line) that distinguish fair territory from foul territory. A ball that hits the foul line is called fair.
  • Foul poles: Poles stationed at the end of each foul line to distinguish fair territory from foul territory for balls hit over the outfield fence. A ball that hits the foul pole is a home run.
  • Pitcher’s mound: The raised area in the middle of the diamond from which the pitcher throws the ball.
  • Batter’s box: Box marked with chalk near home plate that a batter must stay within while batting.

 DIVISION             BASES            PITCHING             RECOMMENDED FENCES

                                                                                 Minimum            Maximum

Girls 6-under       55' (16.76m)      40' (12.19m)      150' (45.72m)      175' (53.34m)

Girls 8-under       55' (16.76m)      40' (12.19m)      150' (45.72m)      175' (53.34m)

Girls 10-under     60' (18.29m)      35' (10.67m)      150' (45.72m)      175' (53.34m)

Girls 12-under     60' (18.29m)      40' (12.19m)      175' (53.34m)      200' (60.96m)

Girls 14-under     60' (18.29m)      43' (13.11m)      175' (53.34m)      200' (60.96m)

Two teams compete in each softball game. Nine players man the field, while nine batters hit in a predetermined order for each team, know as the “batting order” or “lineup.” The players who have defensive positions, often called “fielders,” are the same ones that bat during the other half of the inning. The nine defensive positions can be grouped into two general categories: infielders and outfielders.


  • Pitcher: Pitches the ball from the pitcher’s mound to the catcher.
  • Catcher: Crouches behind home plate and receives pitches thrown by the pitcher. Also receives throws from fielders attempting to make outs at home plate.
  • First baseman: “Fields,” or defends, balls hit near the 1st base line. Receives throws from fielders attempting to make outs at 1st base.
  • Second baseman: Fields balls hit near 2nd base. Receives throws from fielders attempting to make outs at 2nd base. Often involved in a double-play.
  • Third baseman: Fields balls hit near the 3rd base line. Receives throws from other fielders attempting to make outs at 3rd base.
  • Shortstop: Fields balls hit between the second baseman and third baseman. Covers 2nd base when the ball is hit to the second baseman.

Outfielders: Three outfielders — left fielder, center fielder and right fielder — attempt to catch balls hit into their portion of the outfield. Balls hit to the outfield are generally ground balls or fly balls hit past the infield.

Other: Some teams also use a designated player that bats for one fielder and does not play a position on the field. Other positions include substitute players who may be introduced, called “pinch hitters” who replace a batter, or “pinch runners” who replace a base runner. Once a player has been substituted, she may not return.

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At-bat: A player’s turn batting while her team is on offense.

Ball: Pitch that travels outside the strike zone that the hitter does not swing at. Four balls result in a walk.

Base on balls: Also referred to as a walk, this occurs when a batter is awarded first base because she has taken four pitches out of the strike zone. The pitcher may intentionally issue a base on balls for strategic purposes, such as to set up a force play or to face a less dangerous batter.

Batter's box: The space to which a batter is confined while up to bat. There is a batter's box on each side of the plate; each box is 7 feet long and 3 feet wide. The lines that outline the area are considered part of the batter's box.

Batting order: The official order in which offensive players must hit. Once submitted, the order cannot change, though players can be replaced.

Bunt: A soft hit produced by holding the bat in a stationary position over home plate. Often used to advance a base runner.

Catcher's box: The area behind home plate, measuring 10 feet long and 8 1/2 feet wide, where the catcher must remain until after the pitch is released.

Changeup: A slower, "off-speed" pitch used to establish variety and to confuse a batter expected to be looking for a faster pitch.

Curve ball: A pitch that is given spin causing it to move either toward or away from a batter, depending on whether the pitcher and batter are right- or left-handed.

Count: Term used to describe a batter’s balls and strikes during an at-bat. The number of balls is first, followed by the number of strikes. “Three and two” is three balls and two strikes.

Double play: A play in which the defense records two outs.

Drop ball:  The opposite of a rise ball, this pitch has over-spin that causes it do "drop," or move from high to low as it approaches the batter.

Error: Charged to a defensive player for mistakes that should have resulted in an out.

Ejection: When an umpire orders a player, coach or any other representative of a team to leave the game or premises because of a blatant or repeated violation of the rules, or because of an unsportsmanlike act.

Fair ball: A batted ball is considered fair if it lands anywhere in fair territory or is touched by a fielder or runner anywhere in fair territory, unless it rolls or bounces into foul territory prior to reaching first or third base and is touched by a fielder or runner before re-entering fair territory. A ball that bounces on, over or inside first or third base is considered fair, even if it proceeds into foul territory beyond the base. A ball that hits the outfield foul pole on the fly is fair.

Fair Territory: A ball that, when hit, lands between the two foul lines and stays in bounds past first or third base. A home run is also a fair ball.

Fly ball: Ball hit with a high, arcing trajectory.

Fly-out: If a ball is caught by one of the nine fielders before it bounces, the batter is out. Base runners must tag-up during a fly-out.

Force out: After a batter hits the ball, she must advance to 1st base. The defense can get her out by throwing the fielded ball to 1st base before the runner reaches the base. Additionally, other base runners must advance if they are forced by a base runner behind them.

Foul: Ball hit outside the two foul lines. Results in a strike. When a batter hits a foul ball with two strikes, the count remains the same and at bat continues, because a foul cannot cause a strikeout. A “foul tip” is a foul ball hit directly behind the batter.

Foul tip: A batted ball that goes directly from the bat to the catcher's hands and does not rise higher than the batter's head. If a foul tip occurs after two strikes, it is considered the third strike.

Ground ball: Ball hit with a low trajectory that bounces on the ground in the infield.

Ground-rule double: A ball that bounces in fair territory and travels over the outfield fence. The batter is awarded 2nd base, and all other runners on base advance two bases.

Hit: A batted ball that allows a batter to safely reach base. A single (advances to 1st base), double (advances to 2nd base), triple (advances to 3rd base), and home run are all types of hits. A ball’s trajectory is usually a ground ball, line drive, or fly ball.

Hit and run: Base runner advances to the next base when the pitch is released, knowing that the batter is swinging at the pitch.
Home run: Fair ball hit over the outfield fence between the two foul poles. Batter and any runners on base are awarded home plate and each scores a run.

Infield fly rule: If a team is batting with less than two outs and has runners on first and second, or the bases are loaded, the infield fly rule is applied if a ball is hit into the air -- excluding line drives and bunts -- and could be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort. In this case, if the ball is fair, the batter is automatically out. An infield fly is consider "alive," so runners may advance at the risk of the ball being caught.

Inning: The portion of a game within which the teams alternate on offense and defense, and where there are three outs for each team. A new inning begins immediately after the final out of the previous inning.

Interference: When an offensive player prevents a defensive player from executing a play.
Line drive: Ball hit with a trajectory almost parallel to the ground.
Live- or dead-ball appeal is a special situation where an umpire does not make a decision unless requested by the defensive team. A common example involves runners tagging up to advance on fly-ball outs. An appeal must be made before the next pitch is thrown, and cannot be made after the defensive players and pitcher have left the fair territory, or after the umpire crew has left the field following the last play of the game.

Obstruction:  Is the act of a fielder not in possession of the ball or in the act of fielding a batted ball that impedes the progress of a base runner or runner legally running the bases.

Out: The defense must create three “outs,” by strikeout, force-out, fly-out, or tag-out, before it can switch to offense.

Passed ball: A pitch that should have been caught by the catcher but was not.

Pitcher's circle: A circular area drawn onto the field, with a radius of 8 feet from the pitching rubber.

Rise ball: A pitch that spins backwards and has a tendency to rise as it approaches the batter.

Run: Scored when an offensive player safely tags home plate.

Sacrifice: A batter strategically hits the ball into an out situation to advance or score a runner. Usually a “sacrifice bunt” or “sacrifice fly.”

Safe: Called when a base runner reaches a base without getting tagged out or avoids a force out.

Stolen base: A play during which a runner advances a base when the pitcher releases the pitch.

Strike: A ball that a batter swings at and misses, hits foul, or fails to swing at that crosses the strike zone. A batter strikes out after three strikes.

Strike out: Occurs during an at-bat when a batter accumulates three strikes, at which point the at-bat ends and the player is called out.

Strike zone: A space directly over home plate between the batter's armpits and the top of her knees, when the batter assumes her natural
batting stance.

Tag out: A base runner that is not on a base when she is tagged by a player with the ball is out.

Tag up: A player waits for a fly ball to be caught before advancing to the next base or else the defense can throw the ball to the base that the runner was on before she can return to it and record another out. However, the runner may advance to the next base as soon as the fielder touches the fly ball, even if it is bobbled, then caught.  The runner may not be called out if the ball is thrown back to the base where the runner was on.

Triple play: A play during which the defense records three outs.

Walk: Four balls from a pitcher results in the batter receiving a “walk,” and the batter automatically advances to 1st base. Players on successive bases who are “forced” to advance may move to the next base. Also called “base on balls.”

Wild pitch: A pitched ball that cannot be caught by the catcher with ordinary effort.

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