Just about anyone can have fun playing slow-pitch softball; that's why it's so popular. But if your kids want something more challenging, they should try fastpitch softball. It's harder to play and the action is much faster. Unfortunately, this makes the risk of injury much higher, too.

If you're making the switch to fastpitch, here are some tips to keep your young softball players safe.

Gear Guidelines

Whether your league requires these or not, consider these guidelines for gear and equipment:

  • Batting helmets with face guards for batting and fielding players, possibly even for pitchers.
  • Extensive gear for catchers including helmets with face masks, throat guards, full-length chest protectors, shin guards and catchers' mitts.
  • Cleats with molded plastic spikes rather than metal ones.
  • Check the league requirements for bats to be sure your players are using approved bats.
  • Many players like to wear sliding pads on their knees and shins, as well as sliding pants, which are meant to go under shorts to protect against scrapes and cuts.
  • Mouth guards, batting gloves and shin and foot guards - as well as any other gear your player feels comfortable wearing.
  • Base paths are one of the most common places for injuries to happen, so employ breakaway bases on the fields.

Before You Start the Game

Kids need to get plenty of exercise before the season begins. This will lower the risk of injury and make them better ballplayers.

Be sure kids warm up and stretch before a game, paying particular attention to their throwing arms.

Make sure that all bats, balls and other equipment used during warm-ups and practice are safely put away before play begins, and always check the playing field for holes and debris like broken glass.

During Game Play

When your kids are in the field, they're going to go full speed after every ball hit their way. The problem is that so might some of their teammates, so painful collisions can happen.

Help prevent this by reminding your kids that if there's any doubt as to who should field a ball, one player should call for it as loudly as possible to let other players know to stay away.

Pitching Limits

Pitching puts an enormous amount of strain on joints and tendons. Although the softball windmill pitching motion is less stressful on shoulders and elbows than baseball overhead throwing, doing a lot of pitching can lead to overuse injuries.

To protect pitching arms, pitchers should stick to these general guidelines for tournament play:

  • Teens should pitch no more than three days in a row. Pitchers of all ages should then take two days off from throwing any pitches, in practices or games.
  • Pitchers 13 and 14 years old should throw no more than 80 pitches per game, no more than 115 pitches per day on days one and two, and no more than 80 on day three.
  • Pitchers 15 years and older should throw no more than 100 pitches per game, no more than 140 per day on days one and two, and no more than 100 on day three.
  • Teens should throw no more than 700 pitches per week, including games and practices.
  • Pitchers who have pain that doesn't go away in their throwing arm should see a doctor and hold off on pitching until the pain goes away.
  • All players should take at least three months off each year from sports that require overhead arm motion.

A Few Other Reminders

  • Kids should have a pre-season sports physical exam (different from a regular physical exam) before every season to be sure they are ready to play.
  • Help prevent heat-related problems by keeping players hydrated with water before, during and after games and practices.
  • Keep their skin safe with water-resistant sunscreen (SPF 15 or greater) that blocks UVA and UVB rays. Reapply the sunscreen every one to two hours.