Why Does Softball Pitch Underhand?

One of the unique aspects of softball is the underhand pitching style, which sets it apart from baseball, where overhand pitching is the norm. Have you ever wondered why softball pitchers throw the ball underhand? In this exploration of the subject, we’ll delve into the history, mechanics, and advantages of underhand pitching in softball.

Softball, a beloved and widely played sport, is often recognized by its distinctive underhand pitching style. This unique characteristic sets it apart from its counterpart, baseball, where overhand pitching is the standard. Have you ever wondered why does softball pitch underhand? This inquiry takes us on a fascinating journey into the history, mechanics, and benefits of underhand pitching in the world of softball.

Understanding the mechanics of underhand pitching is essential to appreciating its significance. These mechanics have given rise to a diverse array of pitches that challenge batters and keep the game engaging. In this exploration, we will dive deep into the historical roots, mechanics, and advantages of underhand pitching in softball, shedding light on why this style endures as a defining feature of the sport.

The Historical Roots of Underhand Pitching

The origins of underhand pitching in softball can be traced back to its inception in the late 19th century. The game was first played indoors in 1887 at the Farragut Boat Club in Chicago, where it was initially referred to as “indoor baseball” or “kitten ball.” The indoor setting necessitated some adjustments to the rules and pitching style, as overhand throws posed a greater risk in confined spaces.

As softball evolved and gained popularity, particularly among women’s teams, the underhand pitch became the norm. The underhand style was seen as a safer and more accessible alternative to overhand pitching, especially for female athletes who were taking up the sport. It allowed for a less physically demanding and more controlled approach to pitching, making the game more inclusive and appealing to a wider audience.

Mechanics of Underhand Pitching

Underhand pitching in softball is a highly specialized skill that requires precise mechanics and a unique set of movements. Let’s break down the key components of the underhand pitching motion:

Grip and Hand Position

A softball pitcher typically uses a grip similar to that of a baseball pitcher, with variations depending on the type of pitch being thrown. Common grips include the four-seam grip for fastballs and the change-up grip for slower pitches. The ball is held in the hand, with the fingers positioned under the ball to generate spin and control.


The pitcher begins with a wind-up, which is a rhythmic backward movement of the arms and body. This motion generates momentum and energy to transfer to the pitch. Softball pitchers often start with the ball in their glove hand and take a step back with the non-throwing foot.


After the wind-up, the pitcher strides forward with the throwing-side foot. This stride is crucial for generating power and accuracy. It helps align the body with the target and sets the stage for the release of the ball.


The release point in underhand pitching is low, typically around the hip or waist level. The pitcher’s arm swings forward, and the wrist snaps to generate spin on the ball. The spin is essential for controlling the ball’s movement and making it difficult for batters to hit accurately.


Once the ball is released, the pitcher follows through with the throwing arm. The follow-through helps maintain balance and ensures that the pitcher’s body is in an optimal position for fielding, if necessary.

Advantages of Underhand Pitching

Underhand pitching offers several advantages in the context of softball. These advantages have contributed to the continued use of this style in the sport.

Here’s a concise table outlining the advantages of underhand pitching in softball:

SafetyReduced risk of injury compared to baseball.
InclusivityAccessible to players of all ages and levels.
ControlPrecision and ball movement for strategic play.
VarietyMultiple pitch types to keep the game exciting.
DynamicsEngaging pitcher-batter interaction.
Speed and PowerImpressive velocities challenging batters.


One of the most significant advantages of underhand pitching is safety. Softballs are larger and softer than baseballs, making them less dangerous when thrown at high speeds. This makes the game more accessible to players of all ages and skill levels, reducing the risk of injuries associated with high-velocity overhand pitches.


Underhand pitching has played a crucial role in making softball an inclusive sport. Its lower physical demands and decreased risk of injury have made it a popular choice for female athletes, but it also allows players of different ages and fitness levels to participate. This inclusivity has contributed to the growth of the sport and its appeal to a broader audience.

Pitching Control

this pitching offers a greater degree of control over the ball’s movement. The underhand release point allows pitchers to vary the speed, spin, and direction of their pitches, making it challenging for batters to predict and hit the ball accurately. This control adds an element of strategy to the game, making it more engaging for players and fans.

Pitch Variety

Softball pitchers can throw a variety of pitches, including fastballs, change-ups, curveballs, and rise balls, each with its unique characteristics. The underhand style of pitching enables pitchers to experiment with different pitch types and effectively deceive batters. This variety keeps the game exciting and unpredictable.

Pitcher vs. Batter Dynamics

The underhand pitch creates a dynamic interaction between the pitcher and batter. Batters must read the pitcher’s movements and anticipate the type of pitch being thrown, adding a mental aspect to the game. The battle between the pitcher’s deception and the batter’s ability to connect with the ball is a central element of softball’s appeal.

Speed and Power

It may not reach the same velocities as overhand pitching in baseball, softball pitchers can still generate impressive speeds, pushing the softball farther. The combination of proper mechanics, strength, and coordination allows elite softball pitchers to throw fastballs in the range of 60 to 70 miles per hour. This level of speed challenges batters and adds excitement to the game.”

The Evolution of Underhand Pitching

Over the years, the art of underhand pitching in softball has evolved, with pitchers continually seeking ways to improve their skills and techniques. The development of new pitches, training methods, and equipment has contributed to the growth and competitiveness of the sport.

Pitch Development

Softball pitchers have refined and expanded their repertoire of pitches. In addition to the traditional fastball, change-up, curveball, and rise ball, new pitches have emerged, such as the drop ball and the screwball. These pitches involve subtle variations in grip and release to create unique movement and deception.

Training and Conditioning

Elite softball pitchers undergo rigorous training and conditioning regimens to enhance their strength, endurance, and pitching mechanics. Specialized coaching and pitching clinics have become more prevalent, providing aspiring pitchers with the opportunity to refine their skills and learn from experienced mentors.

Equipment Advancements

Advancements in equipment, including specialized softballs and gloves, have improved the performance and safety of softball pitchers. Modern softballs are designed to be more consistent in terms of weight and compression, allowing for better control and predictability in flight. Pitchers also benefit from gloves designed to provide a secure grip and protect against hand injuries.

Video Analysis

The use of video analysis has become a valuable tool for softball pitchers and coaches. Recording and reviewing pitching mechanics in slow motion can help identify areas for improvement, refine techniques, and enhance performance. Video analysis has revolutionized the way pitchers train and develop their skills.

The Role of Underhand Pitching in Women’s Softball

The Role of Underhand Pitching in Women's Softball

Underhand pitching has been integral to the development and success of women’s softball. The style’s safety and accessibility have enabled women to excel in the sport without the physical demands associated with overhand pitching in baseball. Women’s softball has a rich history and has evolved into a highly competitive and widely followed sport.

College and Olympic Success

Softball became an official Olympic sport in 1996 and has showcased the excellence of female athletes on the world stage. The United States, Japan, and other nations have dominated international competitions, with underhand pitching playing a crucial role in their success. College softball has also grown in popularity, with a strong following and competitive programs.

Scholarship Opportunities

The popularity of women’s college softball has created numerous scholarship opportunities for female athletes. Many colleges and universities offer scholarships to talented softball players, providing them with

access to higher education while pursuing their athletic dreams. Underhand pitching has been instrumental in creating these opportunities for women.

Professional Leagues

Professional softball leagues, such as the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) in the United States, offer female athletes the chance to pursue careers in the sport. These leagues provide a platform for players to showcase their skills and compete at the highest level, further elevating the profile of underhand pitching.

Grassroots Development

Underhand pitching has also found its place in youth softball. Young girls are introduced to the sport through local leagues and school programs, and they often start with underhand pitching to develop fundamental skills. The emphasis on underhand pitching at the grassroots level ensures a steady supply of talented players for the future.

Challenges and Criticisms

While underhand pitching has many advantages, it is not without its challenges and criticisms. Some of the key issues associated with underhand pitching in softball include:

Limited Velocity

Compared to overhand pitching in baseball, underhand pitching in softball generally results in lower pitch velocities. While elite softball pitchers can still throw impressively fast, it’s not on par with the high-speed pitches seen in professional baseball. Some argue that this limitation reduces the excitement of the sport.

Reduced Visibility

The underhand release point of the pitcher can make it challenging for batters to see and track the ball, particularly when facing high-velocity pitches. This difficulty can lead to more strikeouts and fewer opportunities for batters to make contact, potentially affecting the overall appeal of the game.

Hitting Difficulty

Batters in softball face a challenging task when trying to hit underhand pitches effectively. The combination of spin, movement, and speed can make it hard to predict the ball’s trajectory. While this adds a strategic element to the game, it can also be frustrating for hitters.

Gender Stereotypes

There is an ongoing debate about the impact of underhand pitching on gender stereotypes. Some argue that the underhand style reinforces traditional views of femininity and limits women’s opportunities to participate in sports that involve overhand pitching. However, others see underhand pitching as a unique and valid form of competition.

Overhand Pitching Advocates

Some softball players and enthusiasts advocate for the introduction of overhand pitching in the sport, arguing that it would add excitement and higher velocities to the game. The debate over whether to adopt overhand pitching continues in the softball community, with proponents of both styles making valid points.

The Future of Underhand Pitching in Softball

The future of underhand pitching in softball remains bright, with the sport continuing to grow and evolve. The ongoing development of new pitches, training techniques, and equipment will further elevate the skill level of softball pitchers. The inclusion of softball in international competitions and the expansion of professional leagues will provide more opportunities for athletes to excel.

While underhand pitching is deeply rooted in the history and tradition of softball, the sport is not immune to change. As softball continues to evolve, it’s possible that the debate over the pitching style may lead to experiments with new approaches, potentially incorporating elements of overhand pitching while preserving the core aspects of the game that make it unique.


Why is underhand pitching prevalent in softball but not in baseball?

Underhand pitching is the norm in softball due to its roots in indoor play and the emphasis on safety, while baseball traditionally favors overhand pitching for its historical evolution from cricket.

What is the speed difference between fastballs in softball and baseball?

Softball fastballs can reach speeds of 60-70 mph, whereas baseball fastballs often exceed 90 mph, highlighting the velocity discrepancy between the two sports.

Are there any professional women’s softball leagues with underhand pitching?

Yes, the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) league in the United States showcases professional women’s softball with underhand pitching, offering opportunities for elite athletes to excel in the sport.


In conclusion, underhand pitching is a fundamental and defining feature of softball. Its historical roots, mechanics, and advantages have made it a safer, more inclusive, and strategically engaging style of play. Underhand pitching has played a vital role in the development of women’s softball, providing opportunities for female athletes to excel at both the college and professional levels.

While challenges and criticisms persist, softball pitch underhand remains a cherished and integral part of the sport, with a promising future that includes continued growth and innovation.”

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