It is played by both genders socially. Elite competition is mainly the province of women, for whom it is an Olympic sport. The United States is the home of both competitive and social softball, with Australia their main rivals.
Softball was invented in Chicago, Illinois. A teacher needing to keep his students active during the winter invented the sport as one to be played indoors. He took a boxing glove and tied it into a ball. A broom handle was used as a bat. Baseball mitts were not allowed. only bare hands could be used to catch the ball. Sixteen inch softball, a direct descendant of the original game, is played almost exclusively in Chicgo.
There are two general forms of softball--slow pitch and fastpitch.
In slow pitch softball, the ball is required to have an arc with an apogee at least above the batters head. In order for a strike to be called, the ball still must cross the plate between the batters shoulder and knees. Because of the requirement for an arc, the pitcher must throw the ball relatively slowly.
A regulation game of slow pitch softball requires 10 fielders--a pitcher, a catcher, 4 infielders, and 4 outfielders. However, when played at social events, such as picnics, the number of outfielders can vary wildly.