What Is Lookback Rule in Softball? Happens When Violated!

  • Time to read: 5 min.

If you play softball, then one rule that you will need to become quite familiar with is the lookback rule. While the rule may seem rather complicated in the official rulebook for softball, it isn’t. Let’s explain.

The lookback rules can vary depending on the softball ruleset being played. In most cases, if the pitcher obtains possession of the ball again, a runner between bases is allowed to stop and then decide whether they want to continue to run toward the first base or whether they want to continue to the next. Essentially the player is looking back to determine their next move.

Let’s go into this in a bit more depth. This is because there is a slight variation in the NCAA rules of softball. 

lookback rule in softball

What Is The Lookback Rule in Softball?

For some reason, many people believe that the lookback rule is a rule that prevents runners from looking back when they are running. It doesn’t. Runners absolutely are allowed to look back while they are running. They just have to take a few precautions when they do so.

As we said, the rules can vary slightly based upon the league structure that you are playing softball under. However, the only one that varies massively is NCAA.So, we will cover that separately for all other rule formats; these are the rules.

When the pitcher obtains the ball, any player between bases is allowed to stop once. They are then allowed to decide whether they want to continue to run forward and reach the next base or whether they want to turn around and go to the base that they just ran from. They are not allowed to change their mind after the stop. If they do so, then it will be a violation of the lookback rule, and the umpire isn’t going to be too happy about that! 

In the NCAA rule format, the base rules for the lookback are roughly the same. If the player stops when the pitcher receives the ball, they must turn around and return to the previous base. If they keep running forward, then they must reach the previous base.

However, they can change their decision if the ball leaves the pitcher’s circle or if the pitcher somehow manages to drop the ball. This is different to the other rule variations because players are not allowed to change a decision that they have made once it has been made.

What Happens When The Lookback Rule Is Violated?

When a runner violates the lookback rule, that runner is declared immediately out of the game.

The problem comes when multiple runners are violating the rules, as often happens. The rules explicitly forbid multiple players from being declared out on a single play. Therefore, the umpire of the game has to make a decision. Their job is to determine which player on the field violated the lookback rule first. It is the player that offended first that is removed from the game. All the other players will be left to fight another day.

While only one runner will be eliminated from the game, the play is determined invalid, and all runners must return to the base that they departed from. 

Why Does The Lookback Rule Exist?

The lookback rule was introduced to prevent players from being indecisive. Before the lookback rule was introduced, you would see players bouncing between the bases, trying to decide whether they should continue their run or not.

his would have been annoying for the other players on the field because they wouldn’t know who to attempt to take out of the game since the runners could change their decision at any moment.

As we said at the start, the lookback rule doesn’t forbid looking back, despite what some people may believe. As long as the player is not stopping (outside of NCAA rules), they can look back as much as they want. It is only when they stop that they have to make the final decision about how they want to head.

How Can You Train To Ensure You Don’t Fall Foul Of The Lookback Rule?

Firstly, don’t worry too much if you fall foul of the lookback rule every so often. It is a rule that the pros break from time to time. Sometimes they do it intentionally, but in most cases, it is easy to accidentally fall foul of the rule if the umpire deems something to be a stop, even though you didn’t think that it was.

Perhaps the only way to learn how to not fall foul of the lookback rule is to work on your situational awareness and decision-making skills. Remember, the rule only comes into effect when the pitcher has possession of the ball. This means that you do need to be constantly aware of where the ball is. When the pitcher has the ball in their possession, you have to worry about whether you are stopping or moving on.

You also need to learn to become aware of your own skills and running speeds. For most runners, there will be a specific point between two bases where they realize that they are able to make it to the next base, even if the pitcher makes a decent play. So, try to work out where that point is. It is something that is going to vary from player to player, and you will need to learn how your own skills work here.

Final Word

When you are a runner in softball, it is important that you learn how key rules such as the lookback rule work. If you don’t, then you may find that you end up ‘out’ every time you try to run between bases.

Thankfully, the lookback rule isn’t too tough to understand. If you stop between two bases, you must make a decision. You either keep running or return to the previous base. Whatever decision you make, it is one that you will need to stick to.