Football Onside Kicks

Football Onside Kick

Sometimes, in football, a team finds itself in a situation where they are down by less than 14 points toward the end of the game, have just scored, and need to punt the ball to the opposing team. In these cases, the kicking team may elect to attempt an onside kick, a short kick that is designed to allow the kicking team to recover the ball and start a new scoring drive that could win them the game. Of course, onside kicks come with a lot of risks and must be used wisely. Read on to learn all about them!

What is an Onside Kick in Football?

In football, an onside kick is a type of kickoff in which the kicking team attempts to recover the football after kicking it a short distance. For the kicking team to recover the ball, the ball must travel at least ten yards from the spot of the kick before the kicking team is allowed to touch the ball.

Onside Kick Rules

If the kicking team touches the ball before it travels 10 yards, it is a penalty, and the receiving team is awarded possession of the football. For an onside kick to be successful, the kicking team must recover the ball. This is not easy, and it's a big risk. If the receiving team recovers the ball, they are more likely to score since they're getting the ball near the 50-yard line. The kicking team may try to disguise an onside kick to look like a normal kickoff. The placekicker will make the onside kick difficult to catch so that it gives players on the kicking team a chance to recover it.

In football, kickoffs must go at least 10 yards from the kicking team's restraining line before a member of the kicking team may legally touch it. The kicking team's restraining line is on its own 35-yard line.

Every member of the kicking team except the kicker must line up within one yard of the line of scrimmage. There are required to be at least four players lined up on either side of the kicker, preventing unbalanced formations. Previously, the kicking team was allowed to take a running start, but this rule was changed in 2018 in the interest of player safety. This rule applies to all kickoffs, not only those that result in an onside kick attempt.

Onside Kick Strategies

The onside kick is used as a desperation tactic, usually by a team that is trailing in a game with very little time left. The chance of success of an onside kick is low but increases if the receiving team is not expecting it. Teams employ one of two strategies when performing an onside kick: kicking the ball low and kicking the ball high. By kicking the ball low, the kicking team hopes the ball bounces off the ground and high enough into the air to create a jump ball for both teams. By kicking the ball high, the kicking team hopes to create the same scenario, though accurately kicking the ball high into the air is difficult. If the ball goes out of bounds during the kick, the receiving team is awarded possession.

Onside Kick Benefits

Onside kicks can have many benefits for a team, with the biggest benefit being the chance to start a new offensive drive right after you’ve scored. A successful onside kick that results in the kicking team recovering the ball can change the course of an entire game. Even though the recovering team will start in the backfield, the mere fact of having a new offensive drive to potentially score on can give a team new life in a tough situation. This becomes even better if the team does convert the gained drive into a scoring play.

Onside Kick Risks

Of course, onside kicks also come with a number of risks, some of which may outweigh their benefits. If an onside kick attempt fails, not only does the kicking team not receive a chance to score again, the receiving team now gains possession very close to their scoring end zone. This means that they could potentially score again. Additionally, if the game clock is low, a failed onside kick could give the receiving team enough time to simply kneel the ball and run out the clock, resulting in a win if they are ahead.  


What is an onside kick?

An onside kick is a play in which the kicking team attempts to kick the ball a short distance and recover possession during a kickoff. Onside kicks are typically only used in desperate late-game situations where teams have just scored and only need one more score to tie or win the game. Members of the kicking team are allowed to touch the ball after it has traveled 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. Onside kicks take advantage of this rule by the kicking team preventing the receiving team from touching the ball until it has traveled 10 yards and attempting to recover it themselves.

How do you set up an onside kick formation?

An onside kick formation is set up in a similar manner to a regular punt, as the kicking team does not want to let the receiving team know it is attempting an onside kick. The punter lines up about 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage, and the remaining ten members of the team (the long snapper, blockers, and gunners) line up on the line of scrimmage. There must be at least five players on each side of the kicker, with two players lined up outside the yard line numbers and two players between the hash marks and yard line numbers.

How do you kick an onside kick?

An onside kick is a very delicate play that must be executed precisely in order to be successful. A good onside kick will travel ten yards, be aimed towards the kicking team’s strongest recovering players, and have a good amount of wobble and bounce so that it is difficult for the receiving team to catch. Onside kicks are necessarily risky, and statistics indicate that only about 18.6% of them were recovered by the kicking team in 2021, with 12.9% being recovered in 2019 and only 4.5% in 2020. These statistics make it clear that the onside kick requires incredible precision to execute well.