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How To Play AFL

Don’t know anything about AFL?

Here are the rules…

Aussie Rules is a pretty difficult game to understand at first as there seems to be no rules and masses of people, climbing over the top of each other to catch or kick the odd shaped ball. But once you have got the hang of it the game is a wonderful fast flowing fiesta of footy.

So here are few pointers to help you follow the game.

Every Aussie Rules match has two teams with 18 players per side (plus you can have interchange players.) It is played on a large oval-shaped grass pitch with two tall posts and two smaller posts at each end. The overall aim: to score goals by kicking through the opposition’s posts and stop the other team from scoring by obstructing or tackling. There are 4 x 20 minute quarters and the winner is the team to have scored the most goals.

The game starts with the umpire bouncing the ball on the ground. Matches held during the day use a red ball, at night games are played with a yellow ball.


Games takes place on a grass oval, no specific size but must fit into a certain  from 135 to 185 metres in length and 110 to 155 metres wide. There are four posts at either end of the oval, the inner two being the goal posts, and the outer two, the behind posts. Kick between the middle posts and score 6 points, kick inside the out her 2 and score 1 point

On the oval white lines mark the outer boundary, a 50 metre wide centre square with two circles in the middle of it, 2 goal squares and further out – the fifty metre line.


In AFL a player can use any part of their body to move the ball up the oval. Most common is kicking, handballing and running while holding the ball.

If running while holding the ball you must perform a running bounce at least every 15 metres. If a player fails to do so, the umpire calls a free kick for the opposing team at the point where the player overstepped the mark. The ‘running too far’ signal by the umpire is indicated by rolling clenched fists around each other. With the odd shaped ball, the running bounce is quite a skill and some

players prefer to touch the ball to the ground which is considered the same technically, however slows momentum

One of the major rules is ‘holding the ball’ which helps prevent players from deliberately slowing down the play. This is put into practice when a player is tackled and they must dispose of the ball by either kicking it or handballing it.If it is called by the umpire as a held ball, the team who performed the tackle is awarded a free kick.

When handballing,the ball must be punched from one hand with the alternate fist, and is not allowed to be punched like a volleyball serve. You can’t hand or throw the ball to a teammate.

In AFL there is no offside rule.


In AFL kicking is the most common method for advancing the ball up the field. Here are a few of the more common methods of kicking seen in AFL:

Drop punt: The most used kick where the ball is dropped vertically and kicked before it hits the ground. Grubber: Is used to make it harder for the opposition to gain control of the ball, as it rolls and skids along the ground. Torpedo Punt: Is harder to catch as it spins on its long axis, but is used because it can travel slightly further. Check side Punt: Also known as a banana kick, it bends away from the body and is often used for a set shot on goal with a narrow angle.


One distinguishing feature of Aussie Rules is the mark. This is when a player catches a ball which has been kicked and travelled over 15 metres without being intercepted by a person or the ground, cleanly. Each year an award is given out to the mark of the year. Usually the top markers take an average of around eight a game. After a mark has been awarded the player then receives a free kick.

There are a variety of types of marks;

Overhead mark: Catching the ball with hands above the head

Contested mark: Catching the ball against one or more opponents who are also attempting to mark or spoil that player from achieving the mark

Pack mark: Catching the ball while another player is in close distance to the fall of the ball.

High mark:Catching the ball while jumping.

Spectacular mark: Often named‘screamer’ or ‘speckie’, is when the player catches the ball in the air using their legs to elevate themselves further by springing off the back of another player on the oval.

Chest mark: Catching the ball and drawing it into the chest.

Out in front: Catching the ball with arms extended in front of the body.

One handed mark: Catching the ball with one hand.

Diving mark: Catching the ball when jumping horizontally.

With the flight of the ball: Catching the ball when running in the same direction the ball is travelling in.

Standing one’s ground: Catching the ball when standing still which is often difficult as it gives opportunities for opponents to intercept the ball.

Backing into a pack: Catching the ball when travelling backwards but facing the ball.

Half Volley: Not technically a mark,however sometimes a player catches the ball so close to the ground it is often hard to decipher whether or not it bounced off the ground – up to the umpire to decide.

Juggled mark: Catching the ball with two or more touches to gain control.

Fingertip mark: Catching the ball with only the player’s finger tips catching it at full stretch.

Spoiling the mark is a technique used by the defence to stop a player from making the mark, but legally. It is normally a hand or a fist used in a punching motion either just prior to, or just after, a player catches the ball. However a player is not allowed to push other players out of the marking contest.


When the ball is considered to be in an opposing team’s possession, a player usually carries out a tackle to gain possession, or prevent the other team from maintaining control of the ball. Due to the contact nature of the sport, and the no offside rule, a player can be tackled from any direction. Because of this, teams often employ a shepherding method – where a player is protected by their own team when they have the ball as they are advancing on the field.

When tackling, the person conducting the tackle must do so below the shoulders and above the knees of the person they are tackling, and that player can be thrown to the ground. The tackler is not allowed to push in the back when tackling – making it quite a skill to do so correctly.

When a player is tackled, they must dispose of the ball, by either kicking or handballing it. If they do not, and had prior opportunity to have done so, they are penalised for ‘holding the ball’ and therefore a free kick is handed to the team of the player who made the tackle.

There are a variety of types of tackles which can be carried out in AFL:

Perfect tackle: Conducted when the opponent has had prior opportunity to dispose the ball, but makes it impossible for them to do so, such as pinning their arms which makes them not able to kick or handball it.

Gang tackle: When a player is tackled by more than one opponent at the same time.

Diving tackle: Tackling when off the ground.

Broken tackle: When the player being tackled is able to break free from it.

Slam tackle: When the player getting tackled’s head is deliberately slammed into the ground and is not always tolerated.

Wing tackle: When an arm is pinned in a tackle.

There are a few rules when it comes to tackling – a high tackle is not allowed, which is when the tackle takes place above the shoulder, and results in a free kick for the team who’s player was illegally tackled. Spear tackles are also not tolerated, which is when a player throws them self into an opponent using their shoulder to bring them down, and is a reportable offence which can result in suspension.

The player who has the ball in the tackle has methods at hand in which to dodge an imminent tackle such as:

Footwork: Techniques such as dummying,side stepping and baulking are all common methods.

Breaking: Methods such as chopping,fending off with your arms, shrugging, arching the back and ducking the head.

Lubricant: Some players wear lubricant on their arms which decreases the amount of grip a tackler can manage.


Shepherding is a technique used in AFL to prevent a player from the opposing side to gain possession of the ball or from tackling a team mate. Shepherding is a legal from of obstruction in AFL and can occur even if a player is not in possession of the ball. Normally, shepherding is carried out by a player using their body to stop their opponent from reaching a contest, which is usually achieved by rigid outstretched arms and using body weight between the players.

Another form of shepherding is bumping, which is when a player uses their hip and shoulder to bump another player, not using their arms. This technique can be carried out by anyone against any opponent as long as they are within five metres of the ball. Bumping can only occur if the player bumping has their feet on the ground, and no contact can be made with the head. A shirt front, which is a front on bump and usually quite aggressive, is a reportable offence and considered illegal. While a tackle is usually more effective in dispossessing a player, a bump is normally a harder physical hit, although will not result in a free kick, whereas tackles can.


Free kicks are awarded in AFL by the umpire, the player who has caused the free kick ‘stands the mark’, while the person with the ball on the other team moves back to kick the ball over the player standing on the mark. The person taking the free kicks lines up the player on the mark, and the centre of the attacking goal into the same line before they take the free kick. A free kick does not have to be carried out as a kick, it can also be hand balled.

There are a variety of reasons for a free kick to be awarded such as:

Holding the ball: When a player does not dispose of the ball when tackled.

Running too far while carrying the ball.

High tackling: Tackling a player above the shoulder.

Holding the man: Holding/tackling a player who does not have the ball.

Tripping: Tackling a player below the knees.

Pushing in the back.

Taking/chopping the arms: Spoiling a mark by restricting an opponent’s arm.

Out on the full: When the ball is kicked and travels over the boundary line before bouncing.

Deliberately out of bounds: When a player deliberately forces the ball out of bounds.

Throwing: When a player throws the ball as opposed to handballing.

Illegal shepherd.

Kicking in danger: When a player kicks an opponent while attempting to kick the ball off the ground.

(text source thanks to :

Images thanks to: Second Nature Films)

John Longmire

"AFL football is an integral part of so many different people's lives. It brings people together, of all races, all religions and really means so many different things to so many different people in communities throughout the country and throughout the world. It's very tribal. "