While being two distinctive and separate sports, baseball and softball also share many similarities.
Each of them is very challenging and often physically demanding, albeit in different ways.
Still, the two sports are often thought of as being gender-specific.
The conventional wisdom, engrained in our collective mind, is that softball is for women and baseball is for men.
Even though there are plenty of exceptions, the truth is that the number of girls playing softball is far greater compared to how many of them are playing baseball.
According to the Amateur Softball Association of America, more than 1.2 million girls play softball organized in over 83,000 teams.
The number of girls playing baseball is nowhere near that. In addition, men playing softball professionally are practically non-existent.
So, is softball a girls sport?
While the common answer is yes, this question is way more complex and demands a deeper analysis.
Is Softball a Girls Sport?
However, it did get that reputation throughout history, mainly as a consequence of several different factors.
Softball is played on a smaller field and with a bigger and softer ball than baseball.
This leads many to believe that it’s more suitable for girls, as it’s less physically demanding and carries fewer risks of injuries.
This is often combined with prejudice that girls are more fragile and less athletic.
Still, anyone who’s ever seen a professional fast-pitch softball game knows that a lot of girls playing the sport are superior athletes, on par with their male counterparts.
Furthermore, there are a lot of boys and adult men playing softball.
There’s no professional male league at the moment, but there are plenty of male amateur leagues.
So, while it’s dominated by women, softball is not exclusively for girls.
Why do Females Play Softball Instead of Baseball?
Smaller field and underhand throw may make it easier for women to score, but as many girls have proven, they can more than hold their own on the baseball field.
This misconception about the gender-specific nature of softball and baseball has led to many practical obstacles for girls who want to play baseball.
While at the T-ball level, the game is played by both girls and boys, as they grow older, girls find it harder to find opportunities to play baseball.
Most middle and high schools have softball as a female alternative to baseball teams. In most cases, girls aren’t even allowed to try out for baseball.
As they move through age categories, baseball opportunities for girls shrink even further.
Should My Daughter Play Baseball or Softball?
As always, you should encourage your kid to do what she likes and what she enjoys the most.
If there are baseball opportunities for girls in your area, she should be allowed to play the sport she loves.
However, you must be prepared for the fact that she will be discouraged or even discriminated against.
Baseball is often a “boys club” and, no matter how unjust it is, having a girl play it may raise a few eyebrows.
Of course, if you find the right environment, your daughter will surely have a lot of fun playing sport as fun as baseball certainly is.
Another thing you should consider is that if she proves to be talented, your daughter won’t have many chances to pursue baseball after the Little League.
Most high schools don’t have female or coed baseball teams, and there’s no route to getting a college scholarship for girls.
How did Softball Become a Women’s Sport?
The origins of softball date back to the late 19th century.
Initially, the game was just an indoor version of baseball and a way to keep playing the sport during cold and windy winter days.
Pretty soon, the first female softball teams begin to appear. Quickly, softball spread all over the continent.
In pre-WWII years, female games garnered a lot of attention and often drew big crowds.
There were even several professional teams during these years.
After a brief stint of women playing baseball during WWII, MLB officially banned female contracts in 1952.
This led to women turning to softball and the game slowly becoming a mostly female affair.
Title IX, issued in 1972, even though intended to bring equality, led to many schools forming softball teams as an alternative to male baseball.
In years that followed, the division become even greater, earning softball the reputation of a “women’s sport”.
Is Softball Sexist?
Even though sexism isn’t the main reason why softball today is dominated by girls, it certainly played a big role in sports development.
In its beginnings, softball was played by both men and women.
Just as a lot of girls participated in baseball prior to WWII. However, rather quickly, softball was “assigned” to women.
Men playing softball were often considered feminine, and the game was not deemed manly enough.
On the other hand, softball was treated as an easier and “softer” game, more suitable for fragile women than strong men.
Luckily, this kind of view waned over time, even though we still see its consequences.
Softball is often treated as a “lesser” sport, despite the fact that girls competing have proven to be exceptional athletes and the game itself often being more challenging than baseball.
Even though the attitude towards softball is slowly changing, for many the answer to the question is softball a girls’ sport is still yes.
The way sports are organized in the US still drives most of the girls towards softball.
While they have proven to be more than capable of playing baseball, they still lack the opportunities to be successful in it.
On the other hand, more and more men are playing and enjoying softball.
At the end of the day, the most important thing is to be able to play any sport you like, regardless of that sport’s reputation as “female” or “male”.