In the world of sports, softball and baseball are considered the closest relatives.
In fact, softball has developed from baseball and the two sports share a lot of similarities to this day.
However, many view baseball as a sport for boys, and softball as a sport for girls.
Of course, girls can play and be very successful in baseball and vice-versa, men do play softball with great success.
Still, the reality is that softball is dominated by women. USA Softball (USAS) reports over 1.2 million girls in the US to play softball.
That’s way more than the number of men in the sport.
Also, female softball is much more organized and played at a higher level than male competitions.
So, why do girls play softball?
Below, I’ll dig deeper into this and try to explain how did softball come to be recognized as a women’s sport.
Why Do Girls Play Softball?
Initially, softball wasn’t created as a game for women.
The fact that nowadays softball is considered a mostly female sport and that mainly girls play it is influenced by many factors, both historically and in modern times.
Some of them have to do with the nature of the sport itself, but some are the result of wider cultural and social tendencies.
The basic rules of softball are slightly different from baseball, but just enough that the sport is considered to be more for girls.
This has become conventional wisdom, even though many girls are superb athletes, often even more capable than males.
As it was created as an indoor version of baseball, softball base paths are thirty feet shorter and fences are around fifty feet closer to the home plate.
This, supposedly, makes it easier for women to navigate the field and get to specific positions.
Also, the ball in softball is larger and softer.
In addition, softball pitchers throw the ball in an underhand motion.
Because of this, softball doesn’t fly as far and as fast as in baseball, making it easier for girls to throw the ball, catch it and control it, as they do have less upper body strength.
The simplest answer to why girls play softball is that they have the opportunity to do so.
This is very much not the case with baseball.
A lot of girls love baseball and play it at a very young age. However, after the T-ball, their opportunities very much dry out.
Even at the Little League level, it’s hard to find a team that would accept girls.
At the high school and collegiate level, female baseball teams are practically non-existent.
On the other hand, softball leagues for girls are numerous and well-organized.
This is one of the key reasons why a lot of girls switch to softball very early and stay with the game throughout their sports career.
How did Softball Become a Women’s Sport?
To get the idea of how softball became a women’s sport, it’s important to know how softball came to be in the first place.
Origins of Softball
The softball origins date back to 1887. Its roots are in Chicago, where a group of men first invented and played it as an indoor version of baseball.
It was a way to keep occupied and in shape during the winter days when the outdoor baseball games weren’t possible.
The first ball was made of gloves tied together, wheel brooms replaced baseball bats.
As there was less space indoors, the field dimensions were significantly smaller than in baseball.
While it was first played by men, as an “easier and safer” sport, softball quickly became deemed more suitable for the ladies.
Soon, softball gained nationwide popularity, and many female softball teams appeared.
In the years prior to World War II, girls’ softball games drew huge crowds which led to forming several professional female teams.
The popularity of softball among women was further increased after the war, especially when MLB banned women from playing in 1952.
Another huge milestone that determined softball’s role as a “women’s sport” happened in 1972.
It was the year when Title XI was issued.
The intention behind this piece of legislature was to ensure gender equality in federally funded college sports programs and help female sports grow.
For example, it meant that every school with a male basketball program must provide the same for female students.
However, softball was considered a female equivalent to baseball, so instead of baseball programs for girls, colleges established softball teams.
This had a cascade effect on the lower levels of competitions, particularly in high schools, and made softball even more associated with girls.
As years passed, the view of softball as a girls’ sport became even more dominant.
This is further intensified by the fact that female softball is played at a much higher level than the male version.
While, fortunately, sexism isn’t the key factor why the girls play softball nowadays, it certainly influenced the sport developing as female-dominated.
Even though it started as a sport for both sexes, softball quickly got “assigned” to women.
The game with a smaller field and softer balls was not considered “manly” enough.
Often, men who played softball were treated as feminine which was an insult a century ago.
At the same time, women were considered more fragile and significantly weaker, so the easier and softer sport, with less injury risk, was the right choice for them.
Of course, we know that softball is not in any way easy, and is often more demanding than baseball.
Just as girls are often superior to boys in terms of athletic ability. However, the initial divide became firmly ingrained and survived to this day.
There’s no denying that softball is very much dominated by women and can deservedly be called a “girls’ sport.”
There are plenty of reasons for this, some of them institutional, and some having to do with our collective bias.
However, the fact that it’s mainly played by girls doesn’t make it any less exciting or demanding.
Anyone who’s ever watched a fast-pitch softball game knows how hard these girls play.
Of course, even though it’s been “assigned” to women, softball is by no means closed for men.
Plenty of men of all ages play the game, although mostly recreationally.
Obviously, the point is not to brand the sport as “female” or “male”, but to enjoy the game.