Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
An onside kick is a term used in American football and Canadian football for a play in which the ball is kicked with a much greater than usual hope that the team whose player kicked it will be in possession of the ball during or immediately after the play. Other benefits of kicking may be sacrificed to that end in an onside kick.
In most forms of American football, the only way for the kicking team to wind up in possession of the ball without the "aid" of the other team (by muffing or fumbling the ball) is at a free kick for the ball to cross the receiving team's restraining line (normally 10 yards in front of the kicking team's line). The kicker will usually try to get the ball to bounce, because players of the receiving team must not be interfered with in an attempt to catch it before it hits the ground, even by a player of the kicking side attempting to play the ball. The form of onside kick explained for Canadian football below has been illegal in American football since prior to 1923.
One technique, useful especially on a hard field such as one with an artificial surface, is to kick the ball in a way that it spins end-over-end very near the ground and makes a sudden bounce high in the air. The oblong shape of an American football can make it bounce off the ground and players in very unpredictable ways.
In Canadian football, as in rugby, a player of the kicking team (at any kick, not just a free kick) who is "onside" may recover the ball and retain possession for his team. This includes the kicker himself and anyone else behind the ball at the time it was kicked, other than the holder for a place kick. The form of onside kick available at a free kick in American football (see above) is so in Canadian football for a kickoff as well; however, the kick may well be chipped high instead of bounced, because the players of the receiving team have no particular first right to the ball as in American football—both sides may play the ball equally, even in the air.
There have been versions of American football that allow or allowed the kicking team to recover the ball once it hit the ground, regardless of onside or offside, and not only for free kicks. One such version, Arena football, is current. American football for approximately a decade in the 1910s and 1920s allowed all players of the kicking team except the kicker to recover the ball once it hit the ground beyond the neutral zone; after two years that was modified to require it be at least 20 yards downfield. The XFL of 2001 revived that rule, changing the minimum to 25 yards.
An onside kick from a free kick is usually a desperation technique used for a kickoff by a team trailing in the score with little time left in the game, in order to gain another possession of the ball and to hopefully allow scoring again. The risk is that if the receiving team does get posession of the ball — as they usually do — they will have much better field position, meaning they will have less distance of the field that they need to move the ball in order to score.
The older version of onside kick, still legal in Canadian football, was inherited from rugby as a way to make a forward pass before throwing the ball forward was legal. The term "onside kick" is now something of a misnomer in American football.
The idea of the early 20th Century, XFL, and Arena rule allowing kicking side recovery on grounded balls was generally to force the receiving team to play the ball, encourage quick (i.e. surprise) kicking, and thereby loosen the defense. However, the forward pass has been more effective in that regard.
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