Softball is a team sport popular especially in the United States. It is a direct descendant of baseball. Some key differences between softball and baseball are that softballs are larger than baseballs, and pitches are thrown underhand rather than overhand. Softball was invented by George Hancock in Chicago, Illinois. The first softball game was played using a rolled up boxing glove as a ball and a broomstick as a bat. Softball is a team sport popular especially in the United States. It is a direct descendant of baseball. Some key differences between softball and baseball are that softballs are larger than baseballs, and pitches are thrown underhand rather than overhand. Softball was invented by George Hancock in Chicago, Illinois. The first softball game was played using a rolled up boxing glove as a ball and a broomstick as a bat.
First photo of a Softball team, Chicago, 1897
Indoor baseball player, 1907
The first version of softball was invented in Chicago, Illinois on Thanksgiving Day, 1887 by George Hancock as a winter version of baseball. It was intended to be a way for baseball players to keep in practice during the winter. At the time, the sport was called "Indoor Baseball" 
Yale and Harvard alumni had gathered at the Farragut Boat Club in Chicago to hear the score of the annual football game. When the score was announced and bets were paid, a Yale alumnus threw a boxing glove at a Harvard supporter. The other person grabbed a stick and swung at it. Hancock called "Play ball!" and the game began. Hancock took a boxing glove and tied it into a ball. A broom handle was used as a bat. The first softball game ended with a score of 44-40. The ball, being soft, was fielded barehanded rather than with gloves like those which had been introduced to baseball in 1882. Hancock developed a ball and an undersized bat in the next week. The Farragut Club soon set rules for the game, which spread quickly to outsiders. The game, under the name of "Indoor-Outdoor", was moved outside next year, and the first rules were published in 1889.
In 1895 Lewis Rober, Sr. of Minneapolis organized outdoor games as exercise for firefighters; this game was known as kitten ball (after the first team to play it), pumpkin ball, or diamond ball. Rober's version of the game used a ball 12 inches (305 mm) in circumference, rather than the 16-inch (406 mm) ball used by the Farragut club, and eventually the Minneapolis ball prevailed, although the dimensions of the Minneapolis diamond were passed over in favor of the dimensions of the Chicago one. Rober may not have been familiar with the Farragut Club rules. The first softball league outside the United States was organized in Toronto in 1897.
The name "softball" dates back to 1926. The name was coined by Walter Hakanson of the YMCA at a meeting of the National Recreation Congress. (In addition to "indoor baseball", "kitten ball", and "diamond ball", names for the game included "mush ball", "pumpkin ball," and "cabbage ball".) The name softball had spread across the United States by 1930. By the 1930s, similar sports with different rules and names were being played all over the United States and Canada. The formation of the Joint Rules Committee on Softball in 1934 standardized the rules and naming throughout the United States.
Sixteen-inch softball, also sometimes referred to as "mush ball" or "super-slow pitch", is a direct descendant of Hancock's original game. Defensive players are not allowed to wear fielding gloves; however, a 16-inch softball is actually soft, and can be fielded safely with bare hands. Sixteen-inch softball is played extensively in Chicago and New Orleans. In New Orleans, sixteen-inch softball is called "Cabbage Ball" and is a popular team sport in area elementary and high schools.
By the 1940's, fast pitching began to dominate the game. Although slow pitch was present at the 1933 World's Fair, the main course of action taken was to lengthen the pitching distance. Slow pitch achieved formal recognition in 1953 when it was added to the program of the Amateur Softball Association, and within a decade had surpassed fast pitch in popularity.
Softball was introduced to the United Kingdom in 1972 when the movie A Touch of Class was being filmed in London. The first British women's softball league was established in 1983.
In 1977, the American Professional Slow Pitch League (APSPL) became the first of three men's professional softball leagues to play between 1977 and 1982. The Detroit Caesars were the first team to win a professional softball World Series.
In 1991, women's fast-pitch softball was selected to debut at the 1996 Summer Olympics. The 1996 Olympics also marked a key era in the introduction of technology in softball; the IOC funded a landmark biomechanical study on pitching during the games.
In 2002, sixteen-inch slow pitch was written out of the ISF official rules, although it is still played extensively in the United States under Amateur Softball Association of America, or ASA rules.
The 117th meeting of the International Olympic Committee, held in Singapore in July 2005, voted to drop softball and baseball as Olympic sports for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.
Other sanctioning bodies of softball are NSA, PONY, ASA, and USSSA.
Softball is played between 2 teams on a large field, which usually is composed of a dirt and grass infield which contains the diamond and running areas, and a grass outfield. However, the field also can consist of all dirt, grass, artificial turf, or, in areas such as New York City, asphalt. There are 4 bases on the infield (first base, second base, third base,and home plate); the bases are arranged in a square and are typically 45 to 65 feet apart. Near the center of this square is the pitcher's circle, and within the circle is the "rubber", a small flat rectangular area also known as the "pitcher's plate". The object of the game is to score more runs (points) than the other team by batting (hitting) a ball into play and running around the bases, touching each one in succession. The ball is a sphere of light material, covered with leather or synthetic material. It is 10 to 12 inches (or rarely, 16 inches) (28 to 30.5 centimeters) in circumference. The game is officiated by one or more neutral umpires. Players and umpires are generally free to ask for a brief stoppage at any time when the ball is not in play, or immediately following a play once its outcome is clear.
The game is played in a series of innings, usually seven. Youth leagues sometimes have 6 innings. An inning is one series of both teams playing offense and defense. Each inning is divided into a top half and a bottom half indicating which team is playing which role. The offense bats and attempts to score runs, while the defense occupies the field and attempts to record outs in a variety of ways. After the defense records 3 outs, the half inning is over and the teams switch roles.
To start play, the offense sends a batter to home plate. The batting order must be fixed at the start of the game, and players may not bat out of turn. The defense's pitcher stands atop the rubber and throws the ball towards home plate using an underhanded motion. The batter attempts to hit the pitched ball with a bat, a long, round, smooth stick made of wood, metal or composite. A pitch must cross within a small area known as the strike zone, which is determined by the umpire behind home plate, and primarily ranges from the knees to just below the shoulders the ball must cross over the plate, and it must be within a certain height restriction. A pitch which does not cross the strike zone is a ball, and if the batter reaches 4 balls, the batter is awarded first base. A pitch which crosses the strike zone is a strike, and a batter who reaches 3 strikes is out (a strikeout), and the next batter in the order comes to bat. A strike is also recorded on any pitch that the batter swings at and misses entirely, and also on a pitch that is hit foul (out of play), except that a foul ball does not result in a strikeout. However, batters who bunt a foul ball on the third strike are out.
The batter attempts to swing the bat and hit the ball fair (into the field of play). After a successful hit the batter becomes a baserunner (or runner) and must run to first base. The defense attempts to field the ball and may throw the ball freely between players, so one player can field the ball while another moves to a position to put out the runner. The defense can tag the runner, by touching the runner with the ball while the runner is not on a base. The defense can also touch first base while in possession of the ball; in this case it is sufficient to beat the batter to first base and an actual tag of the batter is unnecessary. A runner is said to be thrown out when the play involves two or more defensive players. Runners generally cannot be put out when touching a base, but only one runner may occupy a base at any time and runners may not pass each other. When a ball is batted into play, runners generally must attempt to advance if there are no open bases behind them; for example, a runner on first base must run to second base if the batter puts the ball in play. In such a situation, the defense can throw to the base that the lead runner is attempting to take (a force out), and the defense can then also throw to the previous base. This can result in a multiple-out play: a double play is two outs, while a triple play, a very rare occurrence, is three outs. Runners with an open base behind them are not forced to advance and do so at their own risk; the defense must tag such runners directly to put them out rather than tagging the base.
A ball which is hit in the air and caught before hitting the ground is an immediate out, regardless of whether the ball would have landed fair or foul. A fly ball is a ball hit high and deep, a pop fly is a ball hit high but short, and a line drive is a ball hit close to the horizontal. In any such situation, runners must remain on their bases until the ball is caught or hits the ground. If a runner leaves the base before the catch, the defense can throw the ball to that base, and if the base is tagged before the runner returns, the runner is out as well, resulting in a double play. If the runner remains on the base until the ball is caught, or returns to the base after the catch but before the defense can put him out, he is said to tag up and may attempt to advance to the next base at his own risk. If there are less than two batters out and loaded bases (runners on all bases) and the batter hits a pop fly in the infield, the batter is automatically out to prevent unfair play by the fielders. Unfair play may result from infielders deliberately dropping the ball to try and achieve a double play. This rule is called the infield fly rule. This differs from baseball's Infield Fly Rule which does not require a runner on third base.
Offensive strategy is fairly straight forward, revolving around hitting the ball to let the batter reach base safely and to advance the base runners towards home plate to score runs. Defensive strategy can be more complex, with particular situations calling for different positioning and tactical decision making. For both sides, there can be a trade-off between outs and runs: the offense can sacrifice a batter to advance runners, while the defense may allow a runner to score if the remaining runners can be put out in a double play.
 The field
Diagram of a softball diamond.
Picture of a softball field
The playing field is divided into fair territory and foul territory. Fair territory is further divided into the infield, and the outfield, and the territory beyond the outfield fence.
The field is defined by foul lines that meet at a right angle at home plate. The minimum length of the baselines varies classification of play (see below for official measurements). A fence running between the baselines defines the limits of the field; this fence is equidistant from home plate at all points.
Behind home plate is a backstop. It must be between 25 and 30 feet (7.62 and 9.14 meters) behind home plate depending on the type of division that is playing.
Home Plate is one corner of a diamond with bases at each corner. The bases other than home plate are 15 in (38 cm) square, of canvas or a similar material, and not more than 5 in (13 cm) thick. The bases are usually securely fastened to the ground. The bases are numbered counter clockwise as first base, second base, and third base. Often, but not always, outside first base (that is, in foul territory) and adjacent and connected to it there is a contrast-colored "double base" or "safety base". It is intended to prevent collisions between the first baseman and the runner. The runner runs for the foul portion of the double base after hitting the ball while the fielding team tries to throw the ball to the regular first base before the runner reaches the safety base. However, not all softball diamonds have these safety bases and they are much more common in women's softball than in men's. The double base is required in ISF championships.
The infield consists of the diamond and the adjacent space in which the infielders (see below) normally play. The outfield is the remaining space between the baselines and between the outfield fence and the infield. The infield is usually "skinned" (dirt), while the outfield has grass in regulation competitions.
Near the center of the diamond is the pitching plate. In fast pitch, a skinned circle 8 feet (2.44 meters) in diameter known as the pitching circle is around the pitching plate.
A field is officially supposed to have a warning track between 15 and 12 feet (5 and 4 meters) from the outfield fence. However, if the game is being played on a field larger than required, no warning track is required before the temporary outfield fencing.
Located in foul territory outside both baselines are two Coach's Boxes. Each box is behind a line 15 feet (5 meters) long located 12 feet (3 meters) from each baseline.
 Official baseline dimensions
Fast Pitch Baselines Slow Pitch Baselines Wheelchair Baselines
60 feet (18.29 m) 60 feet (18.29 m) or 65 feet (19.81 m) or more depending on the association and level of play 50 feet (15.24 m)
 Fast pitch pitching distances
College and Adult Under 18 Under 15
Female Male Female Male Female Male
43 feet (13.11 m) 46 feet (14.02 m) 40 feet (12.19 m) or 35 feet (10.67 m) 46 feet (14.02 m) 40 feet (12.19 m) or 35 feet (10.67 m) 46 feet (14.02 m)
 Slow pitch pitching distances
Adult Under 18 Under 15 Wheelchair
Female Male Coed Female Male Female Male Coed
50 feet (15.24 m) 50 feet (15.24 m) 50 feet (15.24 m) 50 feet (15.24 m) 50 feet (15.24 m) 46 feet (14.02 m) 50 feet (15.24 m) 28 feet (8.53 m)
Equipment required in softball includes a ball, a bat, gloves, uniforms and protective gear, including helmets for the offensive team and a helmet, shin guards, and chest protector for the defensive catcher.
Despite the sport's name, softballs are not especially soft. The size of the ball varies according to the classification of play; the permitted circumferences in international play are 12±0.125 in (30.5±0.3 cm), weight between 6.25 oz (178 g) and 7.0 oz (198.4 g) in fast pitch; 11±0.125 in (29.7±0.3 cm), weight between 5.875 oz (166.5 g) and 6.125 oz (173.6 g) in slow pitch. A 12-inch circumference ball is generally used in slow pitch. Some balls have a raised seam, and others do not. The ball is most often covered in white or yellow leather in two pieces roughly the shape of a figure-8 and sewn together with red thread, although other coverings are permitted. The core of the ball may be made of long fiber kapok, or a mixture of cork and rubber, or a polyurethane mixture, or another approved material.
In 2002, high-visibility yellow "optic" covering, long-used for restricted flight balls in co-ed recreational leagues, became standard for competitive play. Yellow is the color of official NCAA and NAIA softballs. Yellow softballs are fast becoming the standard for all levels of play for girls' and women's play in particular. White balls are also allowed, but are much more common in slow pitch than in fast pitch.
In Chicago, where softball was invented, it remains traditional to play with a ball 16 inches in circumference. This larger ball is generally softer (sometimes called a mush ball). When using a 16-inch ball, the fielders do not wear gloves or mitts. A 16-inch ball is also used for wheelchair softball.
The bat used by the batter is made of metal, wood or composite materials (carbon fiber, etc.). Sizes may vary. In fast pitch softball, wooden bats are not allowed.
All defensive players wear fielding gloves, made of leather or similar material. Gloves have webbing between the thumb and forefinger, known as the "pocket". The first baseman and the catcher may wear mitts; mitts are distinguished from gloves in that they have extra padding, and no fingers. In 2007, ASA and other organizations revised their rules regarding gloves and mitts, allowing any player to use a glove or mitt. No part of the glove is allowed to be the same color as that of the ball, including that of its seams. Gloves used in softball are generally larger than the ones used in baseball.
Each team wears distinctive uniforms. The uniform includes a cap, visor, a shirt, an undershirt, tight sliding undershorts, socks, and shorts or pants; these are the components for which standards are set.
Caps must be alike and are mandatory for male players (this is not true anymore). Caps, visors, and headbands are optional for female players, and do not have to be the same color. A fielder who chooses to wear a helmet (see below) is not required to wear a cap.
Including for softball players, most players use "sliding shorts" otherwise known as compression shorts for other sports like soccer, football etc. These shorts help to protect the upper thigh when sliding into a base. Other additional sliding equipment used are "sliders". These are somewhat padded shinguards that extend usually from the ankle to the knee of the wearer and wrap all the way around the leg(s). They protect the shin, calf, etc. from getting bruised or damaged while sliding into homeplate and make it easier to slide into the plate.
At the back of the uniform an Arabic numeral from 1–99 must be visible. Numbers such as 02 and 2 are considered identical. Players' names are optional.
Jewelry, excepting medic-alert-style bracelets and necklaces, cannot be worn during a game. Those must be taped to players wearing them.
All players are required to wear shoes. They may have cleats or spikes. The spikes must extend less than 0.75 inch (19 mm) away from the sole. Rounded metal spikes are illegal, as are ones made from hard plastic or other synthetic materials. High school athletes are sometimes permitteded to wear metal cleats.
Many recreational leagues prohibit the use of metal cleats or spikes to reduce the possible severity of injuries when a runner slides feet-first into a fielder. At all youth (under 15) levels, in co-ed (the official terminology for mixed teams) slow pitch, and in modified pitch, metal spikes are not allowed.
 Protective equipment
All batters in fast pitch are required to wear batting helmets. In slow pitch, helmets are optional for adult batters and mandatory for youth batters. Batting helmets must have two ear flaps, one on each side. Helmets and cages that are damaged or altered are forbidden.
In fast pitch, the catcher must wear a protective helmet with a face-mask and throat protector. A female catcher may optionally wear a body protector in slow pitch. In fast pitch shin guards and helmets with face-mask's are required. Shin guards also protect the kneecap.
In slow pitch, the catcher must wear a helmet and mask at youth levels. At adult levels, there is no formal requirement for the catcher to wear a mask, although the official rules recommend it. In slow pitch, there is no formal requirement to wear a helmet.
In any form of softball, any player (other than fast pitch catchers on defense) can wear a protective face mask or face guard. As usual, it must be in proper condition and not damaged, altered, or the like. This is intended to prevent facial injuries.
When people slide into the bases, their legs can get cut up very easily, so the players wear sliding pants under their shorts. This protects the upper part of the leg. Not all players have to wear them, but it is recommended if you slide feet first.
Decisions about plays are made by umpires, similar to a referee in American football. The number of umpires on a given game can range from a minimum of one to a maximum of seven. There is never more than one "plate umpire"; there can be up to three "base umpires", and up to a further three umpires positioned in the outfield. Most fast pitch games use a crew of two umpires (one plate umpire, one base umpire).
The plate umpire often uses an indicator (sometimes called a clicker or counter) to keep track of the game
Official umpires are often nicknamed "blue", because of their uniforms – in many jurisdictions, most significantly ISF, NCAA and ASA games, umpires wear navy blue slacks, a light powder blue shirt, and a navy baseball cap. Some umpires wear a variant of the uniform: some umpires in ASA wear heather gray slacks and may also wear a navy blue shirt; umpires from the USSSA wear red shirts with black shorts; NSA umpires generally wear either a cream- or black-colored shirt. Canadian umpires can wear either a light blue or red shirt. Regardless of what uniform is worn, all umpires in the same game are required to have matching clothing.
Decisions are usually indicated by both the use of hand signals, and by vocalizing the call. Safe calls are made by signaling with flat hands facing down moving away from each other, and a verbal call of "safe". Out calls are made by raising the right hand in a clenched fist, with a verbal call of "out". Strikes are called by the plate umpire, who uses the same motion as the out call with a verbal call of "strike". Balls are only called verbally, with no hand gesture. The umpire also has the option of not saying anything on a ball. It is understood that when he stands up, the pitch was not a strike. Foul balls are called by extending both arms up in the air with a verbal call of "foul ball", while fair balls are indicated only by pointing towards fair territory with no verbal call. No signal is given for balls that are obviously foul and for closer calls that aren't borderline; a mere acknowledgement signal is given. All decisions made by the umpire(s) are considered to be final. Only decisions where a rule might have been misinterpreted are considered to be protestable. At some tournaments there might be a rules interpreter or Tournament Chief Umpire (TCU) (also known as the Umpire In Chief, or UIC) available to pass judgment on such protests, but it is usually up to the league or association involved to decide if the protest would be upheld. Protests are never allowed on what are considered "judgment calls" – balls, strikes, safes, fair/foul and outs.
A softball game can last anywhere from 3 to 9 innings, depending on the league, rules, and type of softball; however 7 innings is the most common. In each inning, each team bats until three batters have been put out (see below). The teams take turns batting. Officially, which team bats first is decided by a coin toss, although a league may decide otherwise at its discretion. The most common rule is that the home team bats second. Batting second is advantageous.
In the event of a tie, extra innings are usually played until the tie is broken except in certain tournaments and championships. If the home team is leading and the road team has just finished its half of the seventh inning, the game ends because it is not necessary for the home team to bat again. In all forms of softball, the defensive team is the fielding team; the offensive team is at bat or batting and is trying to score runs.
A still picture of fastpitch player Megan Gibson pitching the ball in the "windmill" motion
Play begins with the umpire saying "Play Ball". After the batter is ready and all fielders (except the catcher) are in fair territory, the pitcher stands at the pitching plate and attempts to throw the ball past the batter to the catcher behind home plate. The throw, or pitch, must be made with an underarm often called "windmill" motion: the ball must be released below the hip when the hand is no farther from the hip than the elbow to got it in the strike zone.
A windmill motion is done by extending the throwing hand around the body backwards and releasing the ball at about hip level at maximum speeds. In girls' fastpitch, 12u pitchers usually throw in the high 30's (mph) to mid 40's, 14u is in the high 40's to low 50's, 16u is when you will see girls throwing 50-60 mph; with the rare being high 60's to 70mph. However, speed is not always the most important factor in fastpitch softball. Pitchers can throw balls that curve (in-Screw, out-curve), rise (straight rise, or rise screw), drop (straight drop or drop curve), as well as a change-up (slow) and fastball. A change of pace (off-speed) is also very important, good pitchers will be able to throw all their pitches at varying speeds and possibly even different pitching motions (submarine or windmill). Pitchers use deception as a primary tactic for getting batters out as the reaction times from 40' (43' for 18U and college) only provides approx .5 sec or less to react to the thrown pitch.
The pitcher tries to throw the ball so that it passes through the "strike zone". However, in advanced play a highly-skilled pitcher may deliberately pitch a ball outside the strike zone if she believes the batter is likely to swing. In other instances, such as when an extremely powerful hitter comes up to bat and they are followed by a weaker hitter, a pitcher may deliberately walk the first batter based on the calculation that the next batter will be an easy out. The strike zone is slightly different in different forms of softball. A pitch that passes through that zone is a "strike". A pitch that the batter swings at is also a strike, as is any hit ball that lands in foul territory.
A pitch which is not a strike and which the batter does not swing at what is a "ball". The number of balls and strikes is called the "count". The number of balls is always given first, as 2 and 1, 2 and 2, and so on. A count of 3 and 2 is a "full count", since the next ball or strike will end the batter's turn at the plate, unless the ball goes foul.
If the ball lands foul, it is a "dead ball" and no plays may be made until the pitcher receives the ball again.
Various illegal acts done by the pitcher, such as "leaping" or "crow-hopping" are called an illegal pitch. "Crow hopping" consists of the pitcher not having her foot on the mound when she releases. When she releases the pitch, one foot must be on the "rubber" or pitcher's mound. The umpire sticks his right arm out straight to the side and clenches his fist. The result in a ball being awarded to the batter, and any runners on base advancing to the next base.
In 16-inch softball, the pitch is lobbed. Umpires often will make calls based on where the ball lands behind the plate. A pitch in "the well" is considered a perfect pitch.
In fast pitch softball, there are various types of pitches. Some are: the fastball, changeup, dropball, riseball, screwball, curveball, and the knuckleball.
Fast pitch pitches may reach high speeds; At the 1996 Summer Olympics one pitch reached 73.3 miles per hour (118 kilometers per hour).
A batter awaits the pitch
The offensive team sends one "batter" at a time to home plate to use the bat to try to hit the pitch forward into fair territory. The order the players bat in, known as the "batting order", must stay the same throughout the game. Substitutes and replacements must bat in the same position as the player they are replacing. In co-ed, male and female batters must alternate.
The batter stands facing the pitcher inside a "batter's box" (there is one on each side of the plate). The bat is held with both hands, over the shoulder away from the pitcher. The ball is usually hit with a full swinging motion in which the bat may move through more than 360 degrees. The batter usually steps forward with the front foot and swings the bat.
Once the ball is hit into fair territory the runner must try to advance to first base or beyond. While running to first base, the batter is a "batter-runner". When she safely reached first (see below) she becomes a "base-runner" or "runner".
A batted ball hit high in the air is a "fly ball". A fly ball hit upward at an angle greater than 45 degrees is a "pop fly". A batted ball driven in the air through the infield at a height at which an infielder could play it if in the right position is a "line drive". A batted ball which hits the ground within the diamond is a "ground ball". If a batted ball hits a player or a base it is considered to have hit the ground.
 Getting the batter out
The Texas Longhorns softball team gets a strikeout against Penn State to end the game, February 15, 2008.
The batter is out if: three strikes are called (a "strikeout"); a ball hit by the batter is caught before touching the ground (a "flyout"); the batter goes to a base that is already tagged ("tagged" or "tag play"); a fielder holding the ball touches a base which is the only base towards which the batter may run before the batter arrives there (a "force out" or "force play"); or in certain special circumstances.
 Advancing around the bases
A player rounding second base.
If the player hits the ball and advances to a base without a fielding error or an out being recorded, then that is called a "base hit". The bases must be reached in order counterclockwise, starting with first base. After hitting the ball the batter may advance as many bases as possible. An advance to first base on the one hit is a "single", to second base is a "double", to third base is a "triple", and to home plate is a "home run". Home runs are usually scored by hitting the ball over the outfield fence, but may be scored on a hit which does not go over the fence. A home run includes any ball that bounces off a fielder and goes over the fence in fair-territory or that hits the foul pole. If a batted ball bounces off a fielder and goes over the fence in foul territory, hits the fence, a fielder, and then goes over, or if it goes over the fence at a location that is closer than the official distance, the batter is awarded a double instead.
If a runner becomes entitled to the base where another runner is standing, the latter runner must advance to the next base. For example, if a player hits the ball and there is a runner on first, the runner on first must try to advance to second because the batter-runner is entitled to first base. If the batter reaches first base without being put out, then that player can then be forced to run towards second base the next time a ball is driven into fair territory. That is because the player must vacate first base to allow the next batter to reach it, and consequently can only go to second base, where a force out may be recorded.
Runners may advance at risk to be put out: on a hit by another player; after a fly ball has been caught, provided the player was touching a base at the time the ball was caught or after; or automatically, when a pitch is delivered illegally; or on an error by a fielder.
Runners advance without liability to be put out: when a walk advances another player to the runner's current base; or automatically in certain special circumstances described below.
 Special circumstances
If there is a "wild throw" in which the ball goes out of the designated play area, each runner is awarded the base they were going to, plus one extra base.
In fast pitch, runners may try to get a "stolen base" by running to the next base on the pitch and reaching it before being tagged with the ball. Until recently, stealing was forbidden in slow pitch because a runner would get a huge head start while the slow pitch is making its way to the batter. As a result of rule changes initiated by the Independent Softball Association which later made its way to the Amateur Softball Association and the International Softball Federation in the 21st century, most levels of slow pitch permit stealing bases, provided the runner starts when the ball either touches the ground or crosses the plate. This rule encourages pitchers to be more responsible with the pitch and catchers to play defense, as balls which miss the catcher are now grounds to have stolen bases.
No matter what level of play, all baserunners must keep one foot on a base until the pitcher throws the ball.
In fast pitch, if the catcher drops strike three (a "passed ball") with less than two outs, the batter can attempt to run to first base if first base is unoccupied. The catcher must then attempt to throw the ball to first base ahead of the runner. If he or she cannot, the runner is safe. With two outs, the batter can attempt to run to first whether or not it is already occupied.
Depending on the league in slow pitch only a foul ball with two strikes on the batter means the batter is out. In some leagues they allow 1 foul ball even when the batter has 2 strikes.
Stealing in 16-inch softball is severely restricted, as a runner may only steal the base in front of them if it is open, and if they are thrown at, "à la" pickoff move or snap throw. This results in many inexperienced players being thrown or doubled off when they attempt to advance on a wild pickoff at another baserunner.
 Scoring runs
A "run" is scored when a player has touched all four bases in order, proceeding counterclockwise around them. They need not be touched on the same play; a batter may remain safely on a base while play proceeds and attempt to advance on a later play.
A run is not scored if the last out occurs during the same play that the runner crosses home plate. For instance, if a runner is on third base prior to a hit, and he crosses home plate before or after an out is made, either on the batter or another runner, the run is not counted.
 Ending the game
The team with the most runs after seven innings wins the game. The last (bottom) half of the seventh inning or any remaining part of the seventh inning is not played if the team batting second is leading.
If the game is tied, play usually continues until a decision is reached, by using the international tie-breaker rule. Starting in the top of the eighth inning, the batting team starts with a base-runner on second base, which is the player who made the third out in the previous inning.
In games where one team leads by a large margin, the run ahead rule may come into play in order to avoid embarrassing weaker teams. In fast pitch and modified pitch, a margin of 20 runs after three innings, 15 after four, or 10 after five is sufficient for a win to be declared for the leading team. In slow pitch, the margin is 20 runs after four innings or 15 after five innings. In the NCAA, the required margin after 5 innings is 8 runs. The mercy rule takes effect at the end of an inning. Thus, if the team batting first is ahead by enough runs for the rule to come into effect, the team batting second is given their half of the inning to try and narrow the margin.
A game may be lost due to a "forfeit". A score of 7-0 for the team not at fault is recorded (generally one run is awarded for each inning that would have been played). A forfeit may be called due to any of these circumstances: if a team does not show up to play; if one side refuses to continue play; if a team fails to resume play after a suspension of play ends; if a team uses tactics intended to unfairly delay or hasten the game; if a player removed from the game does not leave within one minute of being instructed to do so; if a player that cannot play enters the game and one pitch has been thrown; if a team does not have, for whatever reason, enough players to continue; or if after warning by the umpire, a player continues to intentionally break the rules of the game. This last rule is rarely enforced as players who break rules after being warned are usually removed.
The plate umpire may suspend play because of darkness or anything that puts players or spectators in danger. If five innings have been played, the game is recorded as it stands. This includes ties. If fewer than four innings have been played, the game is not considered a "regulation" game.
Games that are not regulation or are regulation ties are resumed from the point of suspension. If it is a championship game, it is replayed from the beginning. Team rosters may be changed.
There are nine players out on the field at one time. Although the pitcher and catcher have the ball the most, each person has a specific job. In the infield there is the pitcher, catcher, first baseman, second baseman, shortstop, and third baseman. In the outfield there is left fielder, center fielder, and right fielder. In slow pitch softball there is an extra fielder, who is specified as a rover. Normally, the defensive team will play with four outfielders, meaning there is a left fielder, left-center fielder, right-center fielder, and right fielder.
 Modification of rules
One reason for the popularity of softball is the ease of modification of the rules, thereby allowing the game to be adapted to a variety of skill levels. For example, in some slow pitch softball leagues a batter starts at bat with a count of one ball one strike. In some leagues, the number of home runs that can be hit by a team are limited. In other leagues, stealing of bases is prohibited. Some groups allow for a more defensive game by making home plate a force out for first base. This reduces scoring evenly on both sides, and allows for some margin of error.
Some leagues require teams to use limited flight softballs. These softballs, when hit, will not go as far as regular softballs. Other leagues limit the number of runs which can be scored in an inning. Five is a common limit.
By allowing these and other modifications, softball can be enjoyed by children, teenagers, and adults. Senior leagues with players over the age of 60 are not uncommon.
An example of a rule modification is the "offensive pitcher" (or "self pitch") often found in informal games where the emphasis is on the social rather than the competitive aspects of the game. The pitcher aids the batter by attempting to give the easiest pitch to hit. There are no walks, and a batter is normally given a fixed number of pitches to attempt to hit (usually 3 or 4). The batter is considered to strike out if she fails to hit the ball into fair territory after the given number of pitches. The pitcher does not act as a fielder, and a rule is often made that if a batted ball touches the pitcher, the batter is out.
In some leagues the number of pitches to walk or strikeout can be reduced. For instance, one strike is an out, and two balls is a walk. This is common in leagues where doubleheaders are played, or in late season leagues when reduced daylight is an issue. It results in shorter games, as players are more apt to swing, even at marginal pitches, rather than risk striking out on one pitch.
Many leagues also include a second first base immediately adjacent to the main one. This is usually orange and the batter running through first base is supposed to run straight through it. This minimizes the chances of a collision. By the same token some leagues have an alternate home plate and rule that plays at home are always force plays. In these cases there is typically a white line drawn approximately 1/3 of the way down the baseline that is considered a point of no return. This is designed to reduce the "Pickle" which can put a great strain on the ankles and knees of older baserunners.
 Indoor play
Despite the fact that it was originally intended to be played indoors, softball is usually played outdoors. The indoor form is sometimes called Arena Softball. It is most similar to slow pitch. There are no "official" rules for the indoor form, but some general conventions are given below.
Only the wall behind the batter is considered foul territory. The other walls are considered fair. If a ball hits a wall and is caught before it lands, the batter flies out. Usually, there is a small area on one of the walls that results in a home run being awarded if the batted ball hits it.
Pitching is generally a little slower because of the indoor turf, or pitched through a pitching machine.
The placement of the fielders is different. The pitcher also acts as the second baseman. There is sometimes a catcher.
There is no limit to the number of batters a team may have available, although only so many can bat in one inning.
 International competition
The International Softball Federation holds world championships, held every four years, in several categories. The ISF is the international governing body. The Amateur Softball Association is the National Governing Body of Softball for the United States pursuant to the 1976 Amateur Sports Act. Due to the popularity of the sport, there are a multitude of governing bodies such as the United States Specialty Sports Association and the National Softball Association.
The ISF holds world championship tournaments in several categories. The tournament in each category is held every four years. The most recent tournament was XI Women's World Championship in late August and early September, 2006. All World Championships use a Page playoff system and are in fastpitch. There are also several World Cups held at 4 year intervals in different categories.
New Zealand is the current Men's World Champions, having won the last three tournaments. The current Junior Men's World Champion is Australia, which has won the last three championships. In the Women's World Championships the United States is the most dominant team, having won three of the past four Olympic tournaments and the past six World Championships. The current Junior Women's World Champion is the United States.
Women's softball made its first Olympic appearance in 1996 and made its final Olympic appearance in the 2008 games.
 Popularity and participation
Softball is the most popular participant sport in the United States, as it is estimated that 40 million Americans will play at least one game of softball during a year. It is played by men and women both recreationally and competitively.
Softball is played, at some level, in over a hundred countries around the world.. The ISF has 113 member countries, (excluding dependent territories).
In many US cities, adult softball teams are organized by bars and clubs, hence the popular term "beer-league softball". The teams can be men's, women's or co-ed, and skill levels can range from novice to elite, with league composition reflecting that. These leagues are almost exclusively slow-pitch.
Competitive fastpitch softball for girls is growing increasingly popular. All over the USA there are thousands of teams that compete year round at tournaments. During most of these tournaments the biggest thing is not winning the tournament, but attempting to get as many college coaches to look at a player(s). Competitive teams are now beginning around eight years old, if not younger. Depending on the team they can travel all over the USA or even out of the country such as to Canada, the summer and fall for many weeks and days at a time.
There are many different sanctioning bodies of softball, USSSA, ASA, ISA, NSA, WSL, just to name a few. One of the biggest is the Amateur Softball Association, also known as ASA. It is known as the National Governing Body of Softball, was established in 1933 and has over 240,000 teams. The USSSA, founded in 1968 as the United States Slo-Pitch Softball Association, but renamed in 1997 to the United States Specialty Sports Association, is the only association that still has a men's major slowpitch program alive.