Safety Tips: Fastpitch Softball
Just about anyone can play slow-pitch softball; that's why it's so popular. But if you want something more challenging, try fastpitch softball. It's harder to play and the action is much faster.
Why Is Fastpitch Softball Safety Important?
Softball is a very safe sport, especially slow-pitch. But things speed up in fastpitch, and that increases the likelihood of injuries. Players can be hurt in on-field collisions or from getting hit by a pitch or a batted ball.
Some high school pitchers can hurl fastballs at more than 60 miles per hour — speedy enough to cause painful welts and even concussions. In addition, pitching too much or throwing the wrong way can lead to serious arm problems, and base runners and fielders can collide while running at full speed.
As with most sports, using the right gear can go a long way toward preventing injuries in fastpitch softball. The amount of equipment needed for softball is less than what's needed for football or hockey, but it's every bit as important.
Most leagues have these requirements:
- Batting helmets must be worn whenever a player is at bat, waiting to bat, running the bases, or helping coaches at first or third base. Some leagues may even require pitchers to wear them. Helmets should cover both ears and have an approved face guard attached that fits comfortably. If the helmet has a chin strap, make sure to fasten it securely.
- Catchers should always wear helmets with face masks, throat guards, full-length chest protectors, shin guards, and catchers' mitts. Guys who play catcher should wear an athletic cup.
- Softball spikes should have molded plastic cleats rather than metal ones. Most youth leagues don't allow metal spikes.
- Your league may have guidelines about what kind of bat to use, and some bats might be banned. Be sure to check your league's policy before choosing a bat.
- Many players like to wear sliding pads on their knees and shins, as well as sliding pants, which are meant to go under shorts to protect against scrapes and cuts.
- Optional gear includes face guards (for infielders), mouth guards, batting gloves (to keep your hands from getting sore while hitting), and shin and foot guards (designed to protect against foul balls that go straight down).
Base paths are one of the most common places for injuries to happen. This is especially true when players slide into traditional stationary (fixed) bases, which put unmovable obstacles in their way as they slide. Sliding into fixed bases can result in foot, ankle, and lower-leg injuries.
That's why most leagues require breakaway bases. These bases, which snap onto grommets on anchored rubber mats, pop out of the ground when base runners slide into them, lessening the chance of injury. During normal base-running, breakaway bases are stable and don't detach.
Before You Start the Game
Try to get plenty of exercise before the season begins so you can be in the best shape possible before your first practice swing. This will lower your risk of injury and make you a better ballplayer.
Be sure to warm up and stretch before a fastpitch game as you would for any other sport. Remember to pay particular attention to your throwing arm. Players' arms need plenty of warm-up before they can safely attempt a long, hard throw.
Different players have different preferences when it comes to warming up their arms. Some like to make short throws, while others prefer to start with longer, easy tosses. Regardless of how you choose to warm up your arm, the idea is to start with soft throws meant to stretch your muscles and loosen your joints. As your arm warms up, gradually increase the intensity of your throws until you're throwing as hard as you would in a game situation.
Make sure that all bats, balls, and other equipment used during warm-ups and practice are safely put away before play begins, and always check the playing field for holes and debris, especially broken glass.
During Game Play
When you're in the field, you're going to go full speed after every ball hit your way. The problem is that so might some of your teammates. With your attention focused on the ball, it's easy to lose track of where other players are, so painful collisions can happen.
If there's any doubt as to who should field a ball, one player should call for it as loudly as possible to let other players know to stay away. Practice doing this with your teammates so you get used to listening for each other's voices.
If you've ever been hit by a softball, you know they're not soft. Getting hit with a ball in fastpitch hurts. To minimize injury when a pitch is about to hit you, duck down and turn away from the pitcher, exposing your back and rear end to the pitch instead of your face and midsection.
On the base paths, practice running the bases with your head up, looking out for other players and the batted ball.
Make sure to learn how to slide correctly, too. Many leagues make it illegal for players to slide headfirst because it increases the risk of head and face injuries.
Pitching puts an enormous amount of strain on joints and tendons. Although the softball windmill pitching motion is less stressful on shoulders and elbows than baseball overhead throwing, doing a lot of pitching can lead to overuse injuries.
To protect your arm, don't throw when you're tired, and follow pitch count guidelines. These are general guidelines for tournament play:
- Teens should pitch no more than 3 days in a row. Pitchers of all ages should then take 2 days off from throwing any pitches, in practices or games.
- Different leagues might have different restrictions on how many pitches a pitcher can throw in a game (including full-speed warm-up pitches). As a general rule:
- pitchers 13 and 14 years old: no more than 80 pitches per game, no more than 115 pitches per day on days 1 and 2, and no more than 80 on day 3
- pitchers 15 years and older: no more than 100 pitches per game, no more than 140 per day on days 1 and 2, and no more than 100 on day 3
- Teens should throw no more than 700 pitches per week, including games and practices.
- Pitchers who have pain that doesn't go away in their throwing arm should see a doctor and hold off on pitching until the pain goes away.
- All players should take at least 3 months off each year from sports that have a lot of overhead arm motion. Athletes who play multiple sports that use a lot of overhead arm movements — like softball, swimming, and volleyball — are at increased risk for overuse injuries.
A Few Other Reminders
- To prevent heat-related problems, be sure to stay well-hydrated before, during, and after games and practices.
- Wear water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Reapply the sunscreen every 1 to 2 hours. If you're not sure that you're putting on enough, switch to a sunscreen with a higher SPF (like SPF 30).
- If you are hit by a pitch or an opponent collides with you or does something you disagree with, don't take it personally, and never start a fight with your opponent.
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