Electronic communication in high school softball permitted starting in 2025

National Federation of State High School Associations approves change to rule

High school softball coaches will be able to use electronic devices in the dugout for one-way communication to the catcher while the team is on defense beginning in 2025.

The National Federation of State High School Associations made the announcement this week, calling it a “landmark change” in a news release. It was the highlight of the NFHS Softball Rules Committee’s two rules recommendations which were forwarded as a result of the annual rules meeting June 9-11 in Indianapolis.

The NFHS Board of Directors approved both rules changes which are to take effect in 2025.

Generally speaking, the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) and Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA) adhere to NFHS rules as they are adopted.

“With this rule, teams obviously won’t be required to utilize it,” said KHSAA media relations and publications director Connor Link.

The OHSAA published the NFHS release on its communications channels.

“It’s a very interesting development,” Lebanon softball coach Brian Kindell said. “It’s something as we go through the offseason coaches in Ohio will keep an eye on.”

Fairfield softball coach Brenda Stieger said she had a feeling this change was on the horizon.

“The game continues to evolve and as we have seen it in MLB and in the NCAA it was bound to trickle down to high school,” Stieger said. “I like it, as it will aid to move the game along as far as not having misunderstandings between coaches and catchers with signs or with the other team ‘stealing’ signs. It certainly will take less time with communication between pitches. The ‘one way’ seems fair so that a catcher can’t describe the hitter’s stance or placement or about the strike zone of the umpire.”

Accommodating one-way communication to the catcher brought new language to two different sections of the NFHS Softball Rules Book, starting with Rule 1-8-6. Devices such as earpieces, electronic bands and smartwatches are now permitted as an exception within the rule provided the player does not utilize said device to return correspondence to the coaching staff.

Prior to this change, team personnel could “record or transmit information pertaining to their players or team’s performance,” but could not communicate that information directly to players on the field during play.

“This change is the result of analysis of current data, state association experimentation and a positive response from the membership,” said Sandy Searcy, NFHS director of sports and liaison to the Softball Rules Committee. “The committee has made these changes to support the use of emerging technology within the sport of softball. Being a permissive rule, the use of this one-way electronic communication will allow those who choose to embrace the technology an additional option to communicate with the catcher while on defense. It will also maintain the ability for those who prefer a more traditional approach to communicate using signals or a playbook/playcard to continue that approach.”

In addition to permitting the one-way communication devices, the updated version of Rule 3-6-11 regarding “Bench and Field Conduct” specifies that coaches are prohibited from using the device “to communicate with any other team member while on defense or any team member while on offense” and the coach cannot use the device “outside the dugout/bench area.”

The second rules alteration for the 2025 season occurred in Rule 9-3-2b, where the Scoring and Record Keeping details surrounding a player’s batting record were edited to align with the enforcement in Rule 8-6-11, which covers the runner’s actions and provides the direct penalty for those actions.

According to the most recent NFHS High School Athletics Participation Survey, 344,952 girls in 15,406 high schools played fast-pitch softball in 2022-23 making it the fifth-most popular girls sport, while an additional 6,058 girls participated in slow-pitch softball.

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