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Fan's Guide to Softball Rules and Basics Page 2 of 5 (Essentials)

Softball player1- History & Object
2- The Essentials (Offense, Scoring, Etc.)
3- Field Diagram and Positions
4- Glossary of Softball Terms

The Essentials

Game length

Softball games are played in units called innings. There are seven scheduled innings in a softball game, during which each team has the opportunity to bat. The visiting team bats in the first half of each inning, called the “top of the inning;” the home team bats in the second half of each inning, called the “bottom of the inning.” There is no set time that an inning lasts; each half of the inning continues until the defense accumulates three outs. If the game is tied after the last inning, the game goes into “extra innings,” and continues until one team holds a lead at the end of an inning.

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 swithces 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.


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