Pitchers throw the ball with an underhand motion at speeds up to 77 miles per hour (124 km/h) for women and up to 85 miles per hour (137 km/h) for men.
The pitching style of fastpitch is different from that of slowpitch softball. Pitchers in fast-pitch softball usually throw the ball using a "windmill" type of movement. In this style of pitching, the pitcher begins with his arm at the hip. A common way to be taught how to pitch is using the motions, 'repel', 'rock', 'kick', 'drag', 'toss'. The pitcher then brings the ball in a circular motion over the head, completes the circle back down at the hip, and snaps the hand. A "modified" fast pitch is identical to a "windmill" pitch except the arm is not brought over the head in a full windmill motion, but instead is brought behind the body and is then thrust directly forward for the release. Another type of pitching movement is the "figure 8". With this style, the ball is not brought over the head at all but down and behind the body and back in one smooth motion tracing out a figure eight. There are many different pitches which can be thrown, including a two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball, changeup, two different riseballs, two dropballs, curveball, offspeed, screwball, knuckleball and more. These pitches can be taught in many different styles, depending on the pitching coach's method and the player's abilities.
Catching is also a very important part of fast pitch softball. Without a fast-paced catcher, the pitcher will not succeed. The catcher needs to be able to recognize the batters, their hitting style, and the right pitches to call. If there is a bad pitch that hits the ground, the catcher needs to block it so runs do not score, and runners do not advance on the bases. And when a pitch is close to the strike-zone, catchers "frame" by pulling the ball towards the center of the plate to convince the umpires to call the pitch a strike. Catchers are protected by a chest guard, helmet, mouth guard, leg protectors, and a specialized mitt. This is due to the proximity of the batters to the catcher; it is a dangerous position so one must always be alert. Catchers are responsible for throwing runners out when they try to steal bases, meaning that a catcher must have a strong arm and a quick throw. The catcher is the brains of the team, and carries it as a whole.
The game of fastpitch softball is similar to baseball, and includes stealing bases and bunting. Unlike baseball, however, there is no "leading off" - the baserunner can only leave the base when the pitcher releases the ball. Most leagues use the "dropped third strike" rule, which allows the batter to attempt an advance to first base when the catcher fails to catch the third strike.
Fast pitch softball became a very popular sport in the US during the '30s and '40s. Commercial and semi-pro leagues sprang up all over the country in large cities and small towns alike. Both men's and women's leagues were popular and it was not unusual for both to be playing on the same night in a "double-header". Because of the speed of these games, they were very popular with spectators. During those years, the women's games were popular and fun to watch but the real draws were the men's games. Pitchers that could hurl the ball in excess of 85 mph at a batter 46 feet away could strike out 15 to 20 batters a game. To make things even more difficult, the underhand delivery meant the ball was rising as it approached the plate and a talented pitcher could make the ball perform some baffling aerobatics on its journey to the batter's box. The Amateur Softball Association was formed in 1934 and held a National tournament each year to determine the best softball team in the nation. Soon there were state and regional tournaments all over the country selecting teams to vie for the coveted National Championship. Competition was fierce with teams competing not only on the field but in recruiting the best "fire baller" around. It was not unusual for a talented pitcher to be recruited by the winning team after his team was eliminated from a tournament. It was rumored that some of these "amateurs" were making fair living from playing softball. Fast pitch softball started to lose popularity in the mid-50s for a variety of reasons. More and more families were getting television in their homes and so games drew smaller crowds. More teams were starting to play “slow pitch” with its greater emphasis on fielding. Although men’s fast pitch softball is still played, the game is now mostly played by women.