Australian Rules Football, or “Footy”, is a fast moving, physical sport that is completely unique from American football, soccer, or rugby. The game is played between two teams of 18 players on a large oval field. In Australia, professional teams play on cricket ovals, meaning that the playing field can be as large as 500 feet long and 450 feet wide, sometimes larger! The primary aim of the game is to score goals by kicking a ball through a set of goalposts on either end of the field. An Australian Rules football is shaped similarly to an American football with rounded ends. Players advance the ball by kicking or handballing (hitting with a clenched fist) it to teammates or running with the ball. Players cannot throw the ball, and must touch the ball to the ground once for every 15 meters they run with it. There is no offside rule, and the ball can be advanced in any direction.
Australian Rules Football is one of the oldest sports in the world, its rules having been codified in 1859 in Melbourne. The highest level of play is the professional Australian Football League, which had its’ first season 1897. Today, 17 teams compete in the AFL every year to win the Grand Final, which is the most attended domestic club sporting championship in the world.
- Running with the Ball: Players can carry and run with the ball to advance it. However, they must touch it to the ground once every 15 meters, if they run further without touching the ball to the ground a free kick is awarded to the other team. This is usually accomplished by bouncing the ball off the ground like a basketball dribble while running.
- Hand Passing: You cannot throw the ball in Australian rules football. To pass the ball to a teammate using your hands, you have to hit the ball with a closed fist. This is done to move the ball over short distances.
- Kicking: Kicking is used to either pass the ball to teammates or to score goals. When the ball has been kicked, if a player catches the ball on the fly (before it has been touched by another player or the ground) that player is awarded a “mark”, or free kick. They can then back up a short distance from the spot where they took the mark and kick the ball again without being interfered with by opposing players, or they can choose to “play on” by running with the ball or hand passing to a teammate.
- Goal Scoring: At each end of the field is a set of 4 vertical goalposts in a line, with the middle two posts being taller than the outer posts. A goal is scored by kicking the ball between the middle (or taller) two goalposts, and is worth 6 points. Kicking the ball between one of the outer goalposts and an inner goalpost is called a “behind”, and is only worth 1 point. The ball can touch the ground before going through the posts. However if it is touched by a player’s hand or otherwise not kicked through the goalposts, it is only a behind regardless of where it goes through.
- Tackling: Defending players can tackle a player who is carrying the ball below the shoulders or above the knees. Tripping a player or hitting them above the shoulders is a foul and will result in a free kick for the opposing team. Pushing a player from behind is also a foul, they must be tackled to the side or backwards. A player that is being tackled must immediately dispose of the ball through a handball or kick. If a tackled player has the opportunity to dispose of the ball and does not do so properly, then a free kick is awarded to the tackler. If the player had no opportunity to dispose of the ball (if they received it and were immediately tackled and the ball was pinned to them by the tackler), then play is stopped and it is a “ball up”, like a jump ball in basketball. Players without possession of the ball can not be tackled, but they can push or bump into each other shoulder-to-shoulder if they are near the ball.
- Length and Timing: The professional game consists of 20 minute quarters. In the US we usually play 20 minute halves, though it can vary. There’s very little stoppage time, the ball is almost always live.
Want to start learning how to play the game? These videos show the proper technique for how to hand pass and kick the ball.