Watching or playing a game of Aussie Rules for the first time can be a confusing experience, but getting a few of the basic rules under your belt can make footy seem a relatively simple game to understand.

The basics of Aussie Rules

  • Teams are made up of 22 players — 18 of these are on the ground at any one time.

  • There are three field umpires, two boundary umpires and two goal umpires.

  • The game is divided into four quarters of 20 minutes each, plus ‘time-on’ (extra time for stops in play).

  • Teams swap ends (i.e. kick in the other direction) at the end of each quarter.

Aim of the game and scoring

The essential aim of the game is to score more points in total than the opposition by kicking goals. On the oval pitch are four goal posts each end — two big ones in the middle and a smaller one either side.

A goal is scored when the ball is kicked, without being touched by anyone else, through the two tallest posts in the middle (goalposts). It is worth six points .

A point or a behind is scored if the ball is touched by a player before crossing the goal-scoring line, if it hits one of the goalposts or it passes over the goalpost, or when the ball goes between a goalpost (the tall one) and a point post (the shorter one). A point can also be scored when a defender has carried the ball behind their own goal line rather than risk the opposition scoring a goal.

A team’s score is often written in terms such as as 4.10.34 and literally means 4 goals, 10 points, 34 points total.

Basics of the game

The game starts with the umpire holding the ball high and bouncing it in the centre square. Two players or “ruckmen” jump for the ball and try to tap it down to one of their teammates. This starting method also occurs after every goal, with the ball being brought back to the center on each occasion. (N.B. If the ground is too wet or muddy or the ball isn't bouncing high enough, the umpire will throw the ball up, instead of bouncing it.)

The ball can be passed backwards and forwards, but cannot be thrown; it must instead be ‘handballed’, which involves holding the ball in the palm of the hand and punching it with the other. Players can also kick the ball - if it is kicked more than 15m (16.4yd) and caught by another player who is not touched in flight and calls a ‘mark,’ then they get a free kick.

Players can run with the ball but must not run more than 15m (16.4yd) without bouncing the ball or touching it to the ground. Tackling is allowed, but it must be below the shoulder and above the knee. Players can also knock each other out of the way using a ‘hip and shoulder’ from the side.

Players can be penalised with the award of a free kick to the opposition for a number of reasons. Here are just a few of them:

  • Holding the man — The opposition can’t tackle or hold onto you if you don’t have the ball in your possession.
  • Around the neck — Tackling an opponent over shoulder height.
  • Holding the ball — If a player is tackled with the ball and he doesn't attempt to release it quickly, as long as he had a prior opportunity to release it.
  • Push in the back —  A shove in the back of an opponent is not allowed.
  • Throwing the ball — You can’t throw the ball; you must ‘handball’ it.
  • Out on the full — Kicking the ball over the boundary line without it bouncing before it crosses the boundary.
  • Running too far — Running more than 15m (16.4yd) with the ball without bouncing it or touching it to the ground.
  • Deliberate — A player is adjudged to have deliberately forced the ball out of bounds.

There are many other rules and infringements in addition to those listed here, but hopefully what we’ve covered is enough to help you to get to grips with some of the basics and perhaps enjoy watching or even taking part in Aussie Rules.

Picture Credit: Neale Cousland /