Over 3 million kids in the USA play softball. It’s one of the most popular sports in schools, on par with sports like football here in the UK. It’s one of the safest sports to play, but it’s not without its risks. As more and more children in the UK take up the sport, teachers and parents will naturally be wary about the safety of the sport.
Running a batting cage, I naturally got a little bit obsessed with safety. When you’re giving kids a bat and a helmet and then flinging a ball at them, it’s normal to wonder if this is a good idea. And the batting cage isolates one small part of the game! What happens when you have a whole group of youngsters pitching, fielding and running the bases?
If you want your child to play softball but you’re worried about safety, here’s everything you need to know about softball and safety.
So, is softball safe for children?
Absolutely. But only if you take steps to make it as safe as possible. When playing softball, there are a number of risks you need to think about, including:
- Getting hit by a ball while fielding
- Getting hit by a ball while running the bases
- Tripping while fielding
- Tripping while running the bases
- Getting hit with a bat
- Shoulder injuries from throwing
- Sprained ankle
- Sliding injuries
Reading this list, you might think you’d be insane to let your child play softball – it’s riddled with risks!
However, the majority of injuries can be prevented by some smart intervention from parents, teachers and coaches. If you want to make sure your child has a fun and safe time while playing softball, think about the following.
Protect the head
Children need a helmet while they are batting, running and bases and getting ready to bat. And you can’t always rely on the team helmets. A loose helmet will be no good while running, so you should make sure the helmet is well fitting and doesn’t obstruct your child’s vision. Some kids have awkward heads, in which case you should fit a chin strap to their helmet. And make sure they use it!
A helmet can only protect what if covers. If you are concerned about facial injuries, you should add a face guard to the helmet. A child is unlikely to be hit in the face by a pitch, but they could hit the ball into the dirt and right back up unto their face. Rare, but it does happen. In reality, the time when a face guard will be most helpful will be when the child is running the bases.
You can read about the kind of gear you need for playing softball here.
Protect the face
Ground balls are prone to popping up at unexpected times and catching players off guard. The slightest bump in the field can send a ball flying into the air. If your player is crouching down to field that ball, their face will be right in the line of fire. This is why it’s important to teach effective fielding. Players should always approach ground balls with one arm raised in front to deflect the ball if it is heading towards their face.
Make sure they are paying attention
Softball can be a slow game and it can last a long time. Children need to keep their heads in the game if they want to avoid getting hit. Children playing infield positions are most likely to be injured and should wear fielding face masks if you are concerned. Outfielders are more likely to be injured running to catch the ball.
Coaches and parents can help prevent injuries caused by wandering attention by ensuring that all players are focussing on the game. However, be wary about calling the children by name as this could turn their attention to the sidelines. Instead, agree on a call that turns their attention to the ball.
Warming up is vital
Shoulder injuries from throwing and turned ankles from running can often be prevented by warming up. Make sure everyone arrives at the game with enough time for a proper warm up. Jogging around the field isn’t effective on its own as you are only working one plane of movement. Include static stretches, dynamic stretches and some explosive movements to ensure each and every player is ready to play.
Keeps bats in a designated area
Another common issue with children playing softball is when they are left to play with the bats. Bats should be kept in one specific area and only two players should be holding a bat at any one time. The player at the plate and the next in line. Never let children play with bats on the sidelines as they can easily cause injury to themselves or their team mates.
The bats should also be appropriate to their size. If you’re not sure, try the arm test. The player should be able to hold the bat with their arm extended outward, parallel to the floor. They should be able to do this for 30 seconds without their arm shaking.
If they struggle to hold the bat or if their arm is shaking, the bat is too heavy. Young players practicing with a bat that is too heavy for them will struggle to control it. And the result is usually the kid nearest to them getting socked in the head.
There is no way to guarantee that any sport will be completely safe. When played correctly and with safety in mind, softball is very safe for children. The important thing to remember is to make sure the equipment is well-fitting, well-maintained and age appropriate. By teaching proper batting and fielding techniques, you can also cut down the chance of serious injury.