Softball games have many different rules and regulations based on league specifications. The amount of variation is based on the level of skill of players as well as participation in league play. However, there are general rules and regulations that apply to every softball team and game that affect field setup, player placement, batting, pitching and game length.
Softball fields have four bases that players can run or protect when playing offense or defense. These bases are positioned for batters to run counter-clockwise from home base to first, second, and third base in succession. Spacing between bases differs by league but in general, bases are placed roughly 60 feet apart within the inner diamond of the softball field.
The field area inside the base diamond is called the infield. The field area outside the bases is called the outfield. A foul line extends on both sides of the field from the home plate line straight through first and third base into the outfield. This foul line marks the boundary for batted softballs to be considered in play. Typically, a fence or outer limiting line marks the area behind the outfield to designate official home runs.
Every softball team has 10 players although some leagues do permit teams to play as few as eight players. Softball requires two teams to play against each other, alternating batting (offense) and fielding (defense) positions one time each inning.
The infield consists of the catcher at home plate, the pitcher, and one base defender at first, second and third base. A shortstop is positioned between second and third base. The outfield defensive positions include left fielder, center fielder, right-center fielder and right fielder.
Basic rules for scoring exist for every league that directly affects actual game play. Any player should have a clear understanding of the rules for their specific league since slight nuance can change even these most basic rules.
Each runner must touch the bases in order when advancing through the bases. Runners are not permitted to leave the base before a subsequent batter hits the softball. The batter is allowed to run past first only after tagging the base, provided they are not showing intention to continue running to second base. This rule is allowed because many runners can't stop quickly after running top speed from their batting position at home base to first base.
Runners must tag each base bag and are not permitted to run past second or third. Runners can slide into second, third base and home plate. Stealing from one base to another is not allowed, except in some fast-pitch leagues.
A batter is allowed three strikes for each at bat before being called out. However, softball leagues try to save time during games and as a result, almost all leagues have a one-out rule for every player coming to bat. This means each player really only has two outs per at bat. Fouls are considered strikes unless a player already has two fouls. Pitchers must also keep one foot on the ground when pitching the softball.
Most softball governing association monitor every bat used in their leagues very closely. Umpires check the legality of bats before games. Each governing agency has a complete list of legal bats available within in their league.
Some leagues set time limits for the entire game that typically consists of one hour of official game play. General softball rules require a total of seven innings although this can differ among youth leagues. Adult leagues often have a "mercy rule" which allows any team losing by a set amount of runs to have five at-bats while ending the game early to prevent too much scoring disparity.