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The Unintended Consequences of Time Limits

Ken Krause

May 7, 2008
Mundelein, IL
countdown clock

Long-time readers (and those who dig in beyond the first post they came to read) know that I am no fan of time limits for fastpitch softball games. Especially some of the ridiculously short time limits that have been imposed over the last few years.

An hour and 15 minutes drop dead? Puh-leeze! One hour? Most games are just getting interesting at that point.

I get why tournaments have gone that route. If we want to be positive, it’s easier to keep things running on-time so teams know when they’re playing and it’s easier to adjust for events such as rain delays or an umpire crew that’s temporarily MIA. It also helps more teams get an opportunity to play in a particular tournament.

If we want to be cynical, it’s greedy tournament directors trying to squeeze as much money as they can out of teams by over-booking the venue.

No matter which side you come down on, however, they have become a fact of life. In any game where there is a decent amount of offense, especially on both side, you’re unlikely to play a 7-inning game.

That phenomenon has created an unintended consequence that could become more troublesome in the future: today’s youth players often seem to lack the mental stamina to play a full 7-inning game.

I don’t think it’s a physical thing. Honestly, physical conditioning is better and more pervasive than ever. Most travel players work hard in practice, practice more often, and do other conditioning exercises (or speed and agility training) outside of formal team practices.

Mentally, however, it seems to be a different story.

First of all, you have the issue of short attention spans. Humans naturally have short attention spans, but some research by Microsoft suggests that our attention spans have decreased considerably since 2000.

But I also believe that players who spend most of their time playing games that are an hour and 15 minutes long or so become conditioned to expect that’s how long a game should be. When placed into a situation where the time limit is longer, or where the game ends when seven innings are completed, they have a difficult time staying in the game mentally once that 1:15 point is reached.

Does it happen all the time, and with every player? Certainly not. When there is something at stake, such as a tournament championship, players can often manage to remain more invested in the game. Especially if it’s a close one.

Even then, however, you’ll often see a drop-off in the quality of play around the fifth inning or so. Suddenly two teams that seemed to be on top of it throughout the contest are suddenly making errors on simple plays, pitchers are having trouble finding the strike zone, and hitters are not managing the quality at-bats they did earlier.

And, since a lot of tournaments will remove the time limit for the finals (and even semi-finals), players’ time limit-conditioned internal clock will tend to take them out of a game before it’s actually over.

Where you’re most likely to see it, however, is in non-tournament play where there is no immediate end goal. Or maybe no end goal at all.

If you’re playing scrimmages or friendlies, it won’t be uncommon to see the level of play drop as the game gets past (or in some cases drags past) the typical time limit your team plays. You begin to wonder at what point the alien ship landed and the pod people took over your team’s bodies.

So what can you do? Being aware of this phenomenon is one thing. Keep an eye on the time, and when you’re getting close to your typical time limit find ways to give your players a mental energy boost:

  • If you’re good at pep talks, now might be a good time to give one. Try to re-light the pilot light.
  • You can remind your team that you still have 1,2,3 or whatever innings left to go before the game is over. Maybe suggest you focus on winning the next inning if you aren’t doing at already to keep the time horizon short.
  • Send the team off for a quick jog up the sidelines to clear their heads.
  • Tell them to re-set their mental clocks as if it’s a new game; maybe even do a pre-game cheer at that point if your team normally does one.
  • Try to get the lead domino excited about the next few innings so she can get her teammates excited.

We are all products of our conditioning. And right now, many players are being conditioned that fastpitch softball has a time limit, which means they only need to remain mentally focused during that time period.

Don’t let your players fall into that trap. Help them to remain on top of their game no matter how long the game is. It’ll be better for your team’s success. And it will be better for your players when they start (or continue) playing in situations where time limits aren’t a factor.

So what do you think? Is there some validity to these thoughts about time limits, or do your players not have any problems making the adjustment when the game goes longer? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Oct 21, 2016
Drop deads are the worst. Reverting back in time to a previous score and throwing out softball that was played makes no senses. My DD is 16U and all the players are coming off high school season with no time limits, and it begins to bother we how much time is wasted getting in and out of the dugout and all those pitcher high fives after every out it seems. It's not the girls fault as they shouldn't have to rush, but in todays game of time limits there is so much time wasted that could be playing. Since time limits aren't going away I wish umpires would enforce the rules regarding time between innings and mound visits. As a coach and parent I want to see my team/DD play as much as possible.

I agree there is some validity to the 7 innings played and short attention spans. My DD is freshman and there were 8 freshman on Varsity playing 7 inning games for the first time in their lives this year and you could see them struggle to stay engaged at times. It didn't help the team wasn't very good and lost a lot.
Aug 19, 2015
Atlanta, GA
And all the games that coaches play to manage the clock. Needless mound visits, changing pitchers when not needed, and even having your entire team exit the dugout when a girl comes home or even strikes out (not talking about after a home run; I mean for like a girl coming back to the dugout for any reason). 7-inning games eliminate all of that garbage and are so much more enjoyable.
May 16, 2016
Last weekend we played in a 10u A level ASA tournament that had 80 minute finish the inning for bracket play. The first game went 6 innings, score was 2-5. 2nd game we played 7 innings, the score was 4-5. The third game we played 6 innings, the score was 0-3. The championship was only 3 innings but it was a 0-12 slaughter rule. We ended up winning the tournament.

I was very impressed by the coaches involved in this tournament. The pace was very good, and none of the coaches pulled any bush league moves. We could have easily lost the 2nd game, we were down 4-1 in the 6th inning. If the opposing coach would have done a mound visit he could have ran the clock out.

I got a player on my team that is like watching paint dry when she is up to bat. Her at-bats seem like they last forever. After every pitch, she has to step out of the box take 4 practice swings, then takes forever to get back in the batters box. The opposing team was down 0-3 in the fifth inning. I coach 3rd base for this team and I had to yell at her to get back into the box. The other team was playing very quickly, I told all the girls on the team that we will play at whatever pace they want to. There were 7 seconds left on the clock, so we played an additional inning. I had a girl ask me why I did not slow down to run out the clock, I told her all we had to do was get one batter on base, and we would have won the game. I personally thought this was a great moment to teach the girls about proper etiquette. I don't like bad Karma either.
May 16, 2016
I am to the point now that I refuse to sign up for any USSSA tournaments around here. Some of these USSSA tournaments around here have 65 minute drop dead pool games, and 70 minute finish the inning bracket play games. The fees are not any cheaper.

I wish PGF offered more tournaments in this area. 90 minute finish the inning games are awesome in comparison to USSSA. The cost has been the same at the 10u level.


Allergic to BS
Nov 14, 2014
Having seen the full range between 1 hour - drop dead to full 7 inning games, I think that the optimum for tournament play is 1+20 finish the inning. When playing 4+ games per day, anything longer than that just becomes too much. An hour isn't at all long enough for the effort it takes to get a team on the field ready to play. Longer than an hour and a half, and that really starts taking a toll on pitchers, catchers, and even outfielders over the course of a long hot day.

I really hate drop dead...it causes all sorts of counter-intuitive decision making and BS things to happen.
Dec 18, 2016
We've recently started seeing 90 minutes plus one. So if we run out of time in the top of the 5th, we finish the 5th inning and play one more. Takes much of the gaming the clock out of it.
Jan 3, 2014
When DD played her first HS game I commented to anybody that'd listen that the best part of HS softball was watching a real, seven inning game played out and allowed to develop like the sport was intended.
Jul 16, 2013
Just some random thoughts....

1) College coaches also don't seem thrilled about the time limits. My contact with college coaches probably pales in comparison to some others on the board, but most I have talked to seem to feel that time limits eliminate an important part of the game from their perspective. They prefer full 7 inning games.

2) As our team started to age up, we noticed that we were playing more innings per game. At 12u/14u, we rarely played more than 5 innings and often played less than that. At 16u, 5 innings was common with the occasional 6 inning game. At 18u and then 23u, 6 inning games were common and we actually had a number of 7 inning complete games. A 23u tournament with 90 minute time limits will very often end with a 7 inning game. At least from my experience.
Oct 21, 2016
2) As our team started to age up, we noticed that we were playing more innings per game. At 12u/14u, we rarely played more than 5 innings and often played less than that. At 16u, 5 innings was common with the occasional 6 inning game. At 18u and then 23u, 6 inning games were common and we actually had a number of 7 inning complete games. A 23u tournament with 90 minute time limits will very often end with a 7 inning game. At least from my experience.
This is very true. DD's 16UA team made it to the finals of a USA tournament last weekend. For the final game it was 7 innings or 2 hours after all previous games were 80 min +1. The game was tied 0-0 in the top of the 6th before 3 Run Blast by the other team. The 7 inning game was completed in 90 mins.

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