Everything You Need to Know About The Softball Windmill Pitching Motion

February 09, 2024

21 min read


If you’re a softball player and have been since a young age, you’ve probably never given a second thought to the current underhand pitching motion. 

The softball “windmill” feels like just part of the game – something that must have always been there. 

Hint: it wasn’t.

As one of the distinguishing features of the sport, the windmill motion is worth learning more about.

This SeamsUp article will take a deep dive into the softball windmill motion, going over the following topics:

  1. Why does softball use a windmill?
  2. Softball history and the development of the windmill
  3. Is the softball windmill better for your arm than baseball pitching?

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Why Does Softball Use a Windmill Pitching Motion?

Technically, softball pitchers use an underhand windmill motion because it’s in the rules. They’re literally prohibited from pitching overhand. 

Rule 4.3.3 (c), in the official fastpitch rules from the World Baseball Softball Confederation, explicitly states the delivery must be an underhand motion.

If you're curious, you can find always up-to-date fastpitch softball playing rules on the WBSC’s website

Interestingly, baseball has no ban on underhanded pitching motions. And many pitchers have had success throwing side-arm or with a “submarine” motion in the major leagues.

But it’s hard to generate as much velocity throwing a baseball underhanded – plus it’s unconventional and can be off-putting to many college and pro scouts. 

Most young baseball pitchers are taught an overhand motion and don’t consider an underhand one because it’s just so unorthodox. 

Softball pitchers, on the other hand, are rule-restricted to the underhand motion. And this style of pitching has dominated the game in various forms since its origins.

Why Does Softball Use a Windmill Pitching Motion B P035

History and Development of Softball’s Underhand Pitching

The first records of women participating in organized baseball go as far back as 1866, to Vassar College. 

But softball’s true beginnings are usually traced to 1887, with the invention of “indoor baseball.” 

On Thanksgiving Day, members of the Farragut Boat Club in Chicago, Illinois were awaiting the results of a Yale-Harvard football game. 

While they waited, they improvised a game of baseball in the club’s gymnasium, with a balled-up boxing glove.

They had such a good time that the Farragut Boat Club members spread their new sport to the city’s other clubs. 

Two years later, George Hancock, one of the original participants in the first indoor baseball game, had written an official set of rules for the sport.

Its popularity spread throughout the Midwest and soon, to the rest of the country. 

This indoor baseball game in Chicago is thought to be the first iteration of what would become modern softball. 

And since it was played indoors with a smaller field and shorter baselines, pitchers used a relatively slow underhand toss instead of the typical overhand pitch found in baseball. 

As it gained popularity in the first decades of the twentieth century, indoor baseball was moved outside, where more spectators could watch.

Indoor Baseball Player 1907 B P035
An indoor baseball player from 1907

In 1933, when softball debuted at the Chicago’s World Fair, the softer underhand toss had evolved into the fastpitch motion we’d recognize today, which is competitive and hard to hit. 

The men and women who played softball in the ensuing decades would play this version of softball. Slowpitch softball, which involves gently lobbing the ball to the batter, was seen as a children’s game at the time. 

The fastest softball pitch ever

The fastest pitch ever thrown underhand is credited to Eddie Feigner. 

His four-person softball team toured the country and world for 55 years, playing local all-star teams as The King and His Court.

Feigner’s underhand pitch was once clocked at 104 mph.

But this barely scratches the surface of the Eddie Feigner story. It is a compelling one filled with twists and turns that’s just begging to be a biopic on the big screen one day.

Professional female fastpitch pitchers today whip the ball between the low 60s to the mid-70s in mph. 

The fastest softball pitch ever recorded among female athletes was 77 mph, thrown by Monica Abbott in 2012 at a National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) game. 

Eddie Feigner Early 1980s Jim Summaria B P035
Eddie Feigner in the early 1980s. Attribution: photo by Jim Summaria shared under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license via Wikimedia Commons.

Fastpitch vs. slowpitch softball

Although fastpitch and slowpitch softball diverged early on in the sport’s history, slowpitch softball became the most familiar version of the game for most in the 80’s and 90’s. 

Recreational slowpitch leagues took off in the 1980s and became what most people pictured when they thought of softball. 

If it weren’t for the Title IX requirements put in place in 1972, and softball’s subsequent expansion to the nation’s college campuses, fastpitch softball might’ve died out by the 1990s

Today, fastpitch and slowpitch softball are both popular, though fastpitch might be edging ahead. 

As more girls and young women across the U.S. sign up for fastpitch softball, the windmill motion becomes more visible and more well-researched.

Fastpitch Vs Slowpitch Softball B P035

Is the Softball Windmill Better for Your Arm Than Baseball Pitching?

For many years, softball players, coaches, and trainers argued that the softball pitching motion causes less damage to your shoulder and arm than a baseball pitch. 

The underhand throw is supposed to be more “natural” for the body and the windmill’s greater emphasis on lower body strength takes some pressure off the arm and shoulder.

The windmill and baseball pitch use different motions, but the notion that the windmill is natural and causes no damage to your shoulder or arm is false. 

For many years there was not enough data on softball pitchers and so the “no-damage” idea proliferated. But the cat's out of the bag. 

📊 Study Conclusion: Recent studies have shown that the windmill motion does indeed put pressure on your body and may lead to damage or injury. Softball pitchers are subject to high joint loads just like baseball pitchers are. 

1998 study of softball pitchers found that the elbow reaches a maximum compressive force of 70 percent of body weight. 

Another 2009 study found that the windmill, with its sudden snap at the end of the motion, puts more stress on the biceps than an overhand throw.

Mean Sds Muscle Activation Windmill Softball Pitch B P035
“Muscle Activation Patterns Of The Upper And Lower Extremity During The Windmill Softball Pitch” By Gretchen D. Oliver, Hillary A. Plummer, And David W. Keeley. 

Overuse Injury

One of the greatest risks cited by most studies on the softball pitching motion is overuse. 

Baseball pitchers often have limits on how much they can throw per game and per week, from the youngest players up to the major leagues. 

Softball players have no such limits and pitch significantly more than their baseball counterparts. 

Pitchers on travel ball teams on average throw 1.5 games per day over a weekend tournament. Having this average means that tossing 2-3 games per day is not uncommon. 

High school and college softball teams will have a pitching staff of between one and four players, whereas baseball pitchers will make up half the roster. 

🔑 Key Insight: High-level softball pitchers throw more innings and more often than their baseball counterparts. Because softball players tend to pitch more than baseball pitchers, they’re more likely to become fatigued and their muscles will overcompensate, potentially leading to injury.
Dirk Bbq Ucsd Softball 158 B P035
Image by Dirk BBQ "UCSD Softball 158

Researchers in this area ask whether coaches and trainers should limit softball pitchers’ throwing time to help avoid unnecessary risks. But, so far, no national safety standards have been established. 

Wrapping Up

The softball windmill motion is a unique feature of the sport. 

Established as the proper pitch for softball almost since the game’s invention, the windmill has evolved into a dynamic motion that takes substantial practice and skill to master. 

Recent research has also shown that the windmill isn’t a natural motion for your body as we once thought. Softball pitchers might even be putting more stress on their bodies than baseball pitchers. 

As fastpitch softball participation rates soar across the country, it’s worth doing more research on the windmill motion.

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About the Author

Courtney Withrow

Professional Writer

Originally from the U.S., Courtney is a Brussels-based freelance writer with a Master’s degree in International Relations. She grew up playing softball and still loves the game.

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