Girls Softball Leagues

Girls Softball – Are All Leagues Created Equally?

Of course they’re not.  You need to research the softball leagues and teams available in your area to decide which is the right one for your player.  Depending on the size of the area you live in you may have a lot of choices or just one.  If you have many softball teams to choose from  make sure you do your homework. If you only have one league, try to be as involved as possible to help make the league the best it can be.

The way your softball league is organized will depend a lot on what type of league it is and what governing body they follow.  There are many different divisions a league can choose to be organized into and the primary factors they depend on for organization are age level and skill level.

Age levels

Most girls fastpitch leagues will break their teams into divisions based on age groups however some will base it on grade in school.  This will allow for some classification of the players based solely on their age and presumably their level of motor skills.  Not all 2nd graders or 8 year olds are at the same skill level but developmentally they are more similar to each other than they are to 4th graders or 10 year olds. The age cutoffs for leagues which follow ASA or NSA guidelines are based on the player’s age on January first of the year in which they are playing.  So if a player is 12 on January 1st of this year she may play in the 12U division for the entire year even if she turns 13 on January 2nd. Players may be allowed to play in a higher age division but not a lower one. The age divisions are:

  • 6U – 6 and under
  • 8U – 8 and under
  • 10U – 10 and under
  • 12U – 12 and under
  • 14U – 14 and under
  • 16U – 16 and under
  • 18U – 18 and under

Skill Level

Rec softball

Recreational softball or Rec ball has probably the most leagues and teams around the country.  This is kind of the starting place for most players.  It is sponsored by your local city parks and recreation or the YMCA or just a local league where any girl can play regardless of skills or experience. This is not to say that Rec softball can’t be competitive, they just usually also have a beginning level that is great for brand new players.  They are also generally less expensive to participate in that some of the more competitive levels.

Within the Rec league, within each age division there also may be several sub-levels. These are usually based on skill.  The better your player is and the more they work on their skills the higher level team they will usually be recruited to play for. These are called different things in different parts of the country but usually organized something like this:

  • C League – New players or those with less developed skills, most players will play on one of these teams for at least a season
  • B League – Players with more advanced skills. Everything in this league moves a little faster than C league. You also may have more practices.
  • All Stars – May be in either the C or B leagues or they may take the best from both leagues and combine them into one all star team. As the name suggests this is a team made up of the best players from the league. There will usually be a separate tryout and the all star season is usually after the regular season. They will practice more, learn more and may travel to tournaments in out of the city or even state depending on how large of an area you live in. You can also expect additional expenses from new uniforms to the actual expense of traveling to the tournaments.

The point of Rec fastpitch softball should always be learning and perfecting the fundamentals.  If your player is just starting out in the sport, not very athletic yet, has a variety of interests and softball is just one of them, just wants to play on a team and make friends then a Rec league is probably for you.   Most players will stay in a Rec league for their entire softball careers and there is nothing wrong with that as long as your player is getting out of it what she wants.  Some of the B League teams and All Star teams I have seen are extremely competitive and their players are very skilled.  Depending on how well the league is run it can be fun, educational and an incredibly positive experience for your player and you even if they never win a national tournament.  If however, your player is more motivated, more skilled and more invested in playing fastpitch softball long term then eventually you may need to consider moving up to travel ball also called tournament or elite softball in some areas.


Travel Softball

This may be called travel, A league, tournament, elite or club ball.  It is the next level in progression from a Rec league. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with Rec level softball and it may be the right level for your player.  What you’ll find once you move up to a travel league though is a whole nother level of intensity.  You can expect longer, more frequent practices, more conditioning, more money and more commitment required.  This is the level where your player really has to want to keep playing and improving. It cannot be driven solely by a parent’s or a coach’s desire that she get better.

There is no doubt that a well organized, well coached travel softball team will help a player’s skill improve dramatically. Longer and more frequent practices mean there is more time to work individually with each player to help them improve.   They will also presumably be competing against teams with high levels of skill which will challenge the players and help them improve even more. I say presumably because there are a minor percentage of travel teams that seem to be more interested in being able to say they are travel teams than in actually putting in the work to increase their skills to that level. I would suggest going to some practices, games or tournaments and watch the team or league you are thinking of joining before making that commitment.

Travel ball will require big time and money commitments so don’t make the decision lightly. However, if a player is ready for that next level it will offer her enormous benefits both on the field and off.


High School Softball

Again, depending on your area, your high school teams may have the best of the best girls or they may get all the leftovers of those not playing travel ball. It really seems to be kind of a crap shoot around the country.  In my particular region, the high school teams are very competitive and so it seems that they recruit the best players. Those who are left play Rec or Travel ball depending on what time of the year it is.  I live in a very warm southern climate where we have both Fall and Spring softball at the Rec and Travel levels but it is only a Spring sport in the high schools.

You may find that some girls will play Rec or Travel softball during the “off season” for high school softball and then play on their local high school team during the regular season. Of course you want to be wary of things such as over training or burn out but for the most part as long as the player has an interest and wants to play then playing for different fastpitch leagues and levels can give them benefits beyond just a better batting average. They may be able to play different positions on a Rec team during the off season than they play for their high school team. They may be able to assume a leadership role on a Travel team that they wouldn’t on a high school team.

Finding the right league and level for your player can be a bit of a task but do your homework and you will be able to find the right fit for her.

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