When people talk about softball, they could be talking about two very different sports.
One is a slow moving, somewhat gentle game. The other is quick and extremely competitive. One is predominantly played in a non-competitive manner (think work league), although there are also many competitive leagues gaining popularity. The other is played by women (and some men) and is more competitive with higher exposure (think Olympics, NCAA, etc.).
There are several other differences between slowpitch softball and fastpitch softball.
Differences in the Balls
Before addressing the differences, it is important to know that the softball does not actually use any balls that are soft.
Both versions of the sport use balls that come in different sizes. Fastpitch balls range in size from 10” in diameter to 12” diameter. Slowpitch balls come in 11” and 12” in diameter.
Fastpitch and slowpitch softballs are usually optic yellow, but in some special circumstances they can be in variant colors. The seams on the fastpitch softballs can be raised a bit higher because of the different pitching styles. And, the different versions of the balls can have different core compression.
Differences in Pitching Styles
The biggest difference between fastpitch and slowpitch is the different pitching styles. Both use an underhand motion, but that is the only similarity.
Fastpitch pitchers use an underhand motion that includes a large arm circle and a snap of the wrist. Slow pitch does not have any snap of the wrist and absolutely no arm circle. Fastpitch pitchers try to throw the ball as fast as possible with the goal of striking out the batter (unless the pitcher is throwing a changeup). Slowpitch pitchers are simply trying to get the ball over the plate so the batter can hit the ball; strikeouts are extremely rare in slowpitch, but they are quite common in fastpitch.
It is rather easy to throw a slowpitch softball. But, this is not the case with fastpitch.
Young women who pitch often have their very own pitching coach who helps them master a fastball, changeup, and possibly even a curveball, rise ball, or drop ball. They also learn how to confuse a batter by throwing to the corners of the plate and the edges of the strike zone.
Some fastpitch pitchers can throw upwards of 70 miles per hour.
In slowpitch, all a pitcher needs to do is throw the ball at an arch that reaches between 6 feet and 12 feet. And, the slowpitch ball actually can bounce on the plate to be called a strike.
The Way the Balls are Hit
Another big difference between the two games involves the way the balls are hit. In slowpitch, batters usually hit every time they get to the plate. They can wait for the pitch and then swing hard. It is common for men to hit home runs because they have so much time to prepare for the ball to hit the plate. Women who are facing a fastpitch pitcher have to react quickly. There are plenty of women who can hit home runs off of a fastball, but in most cases, fastpitch batters get base hits, doubles, and occasionally triples.
There are also several differences in the bats a player would use depending on which game they play. We take a look at the different fastpitch bats and slowpitch bats to help you figure these important differences out.
To Bunt or Not
When it comes to bunting, the two games are different. Fastpitch batters can bunt, but slow pitch batters cannot. Fastpitch is a game of offensive strategy, because the pitches come in so quickly, coaches have to be involved with the game in order to win. In slow pitch, no one really needs to manage the game, because defense wins games. Since hits are so common in slowpitch softball, the teams that get the outs the quickest usually win.
Foul Ball Trouble
Foul balls are quite common in fastpitch softball, so many batters can have long at-bats. With slowpitch, a third strike foul ball creates an out. But, in fastpitch, batters can have endless foul balls after two strikes.
There are two big differences in position play, too. In slowpitch, some leagues allow ten defensive players on a team – this usually includes a fourth outfielder.
Also in slowpitch softball, a catcher does not need to have any protective gear. This is due to the slow speed of the pitch. In fastpitch, there are always only nine defensive position players. The catcher must be covered in protective legwear, a chest protector, and a facemask. A catcher could be seriously injured without the gear. It is also common to see infielders wearing special facemasks in fastpitch games, too.