The relationship between fitness, morphological characteristics, skills and performance in men's fast pitch softball
An understanding of the structure, function and performance relationships in different sports, including softball, allows for improved coaching approaches, development of sport specific fitness and skills training programmes, team selections and talent identification in young players. Despite the fact that fast pitch softball is an established sport with a long history, it has received little scientific attention. It does for example, not have a specific battery of softball specific fitness tests and relies on the tests and norms of baseball. The specific morphological and fitness demands of the sport are therefore not fully understood. The purpose of this study was to establish whether morphological and fitness characteristics are related to skill and performance measures in men's fast pitch softball players and to determine what the strengths of any such relationships are. The sample was purposively selected and consisted of 15 Provincial and 15 club male fast pitch softball players. All participants were members of the provincial Softball Federation. Anthropometric, fitness and skills test and measurements were conducted at the training sites over a number of weeks because it coincided with team training. Anthropometric measurements included height, weight, skinfolds, and were done in accordance with ISAK specifications. Derived anthropometric variables included BMI and body fat percentage. The following physical fitness tests were conducted: vertical jump test, standing broad jump and the Illinois agility run while the skills tests conducted were the softball throw for distance, the two base sprint test, the batting tests and the fielding test. Match statistics were easier to obtain since records were available in printed form from the Provincial softball federation for the Provincial players and from the club for its members. The data obtained were analysed and interpreted both collectively as a group of thirty and then separately as provincial and club teams for the purpose of comparison. Since the data were not normally distributed, the Spearman's rank Correlation was used to test for associations between variables. Comparisons of the squads were done using the nonparametric Wilcoxon Rank Sum test. The results of the study identified a number of strong significant relationships between the different variables tested. Height and percent body fat, amongst others were found to be the two anthropometric variables which significantly interacted with two key performance areas of fast pitch softball i.e. batting and fielding. Percent body fat also negatively correlated with the vertical jump test which highlights the general negative impact of excess fat on performance. The relationships established in this research strongly suggest that coaches include fitness, morphological and skills tests in their coaching and fitness programmes and they should further be used in team selections processes as they are strong indicators for success and will make the selection process more objective.