Kick-to-kick is a pastime and well-known tradition of Australian rules football fans, and a recognised Australian term for kick and catch type games. In its "markers up" form, it is the usual casual version of Australian rules (similar to the relationship between backyard/beach cricket and the established forms of cricket).
Although not a sport in itself, the term is used to describe a social exercise played in parks, fields, streets and back yards that requires at least two people.
The two players will space themselves about 15 metres or more apart and alternate kicking whilst the other marks. Sometimes players will run and/or bounce when returning a long ball and experiment with different kicking styles, such as the drop punt, torpedo punt or checkside punt. If goal posts are present, participants will often position themselves in front and behind the posts to practice scoring. Kick-to-kick is often a family pastime and many footballers learned their skills in games of backyard kick-to-kick with their brothers or sisters until the dark of night.
Kick-to-kick has long been a pitch invasion tradition in the breaks immediately after official Australian rules football matches.
Playing "Kick to kick football" is sometimes used by Australian rules fans as a derogatory term to describe uncontested, possession based style of play sometimes seen at the professional AFL level, which many fans find boring and compare to non-contact sports such as basketball, and netball. This is because kick-to-kick does not generally involve any of the contesting found in an official game of Australian rules football, such as tackling, bumping, smothering (known as a "charge down" in rugby league), spoiling and other one percenters which often result in more unpredictable change of possession.
More formal kick-to-kick can involve multiple players, usually grouped in two bunches at either end for easier return of the ball, resulting in similar informal games, such as force 'em backs. This type of play can include some play contesting, many Australian rules fans requiring a stepladder player to emulate the specky or spectacular mark seen on the football field, often also heard crying out famous names of spectacular mark proponents such as Jesaulenko, Ablett or Capper. The more formal version of kick-to-kick has also often been referred to as "end-to-end footy". It is basically a game of two groups of players - a group at each end. Each group alternates with the other in terms of kicking and contesting for possession of the ball. In essence, ‘whoever gets' the ball at the receiving end wins that play and gets to kick the ball back to the other group. As each person in the group contests individually against the other members of the group for the ball it is an 'every man for himself' activity. It has become a most popular activity of Australian footballers and is often used by clubs, particularly at the commencement of training sessions. It has long been played in schools, local parks and various organizations for many decades because it is very easy to access the Australian footy game in this form: one does not have to join a formal club, few people are needed to 'kick up' a ball amongst themselves and many fewer injuries result from playing it than in the formal game. In proper context, the formal Aussie Rules football match, by contrast, requires a field of 18 players per side plus interchange players [that is, there are 36 needed on the field at any one time to play the game properly]. Also, the size of the ground needed is cricket ground size. The beauty of regular kick-to-kick activity is that you only need a few 'players' to play it, and in school grounds, with one group playing at each end, players really only need about 50-70 metres by about 30 metres of space in which to engage the activity satisfactorily. More specifically, in most versions, a person from the group at one end kicks the ball impartially to the group of people at the other end, whereupon all those 'players' then contest for possession of the ball, as they attempt to outmark each other or gain the ball in some other 'legal' manner, suitable to the rules of regular Australian football, so that the rules that apply to gaining access on a football during a proper game of Australian football also apply to the usual kick-to-kick version. The key difference being that the contest for the ball stops as soon as someone cleanly has the ball in his/her possession. There are also usually no teams, as the spirit of the activity is that each person competes for themselves and kicks impartially to the group at the other end. This all means that shepherding, tackling, smothering and excessive bumping, etc. are not a part of the activity. Whoever wins the ball at his end wins the opportunity to "have a kick", and is then free to kick it to the group at the other end without opposition or interference. In turn, then, the individuals receiving the kick at the other end, then also compete for the ball. Thus activity alternates between ends: kicking and competing for the ball, back and forth between the groups. Scoring is rarely a part of this kick-to-kick game – it is generally a more informal 'play' engagement in this sense, despite that play itself can become very competitive in kick-to-kick football. It can become so competitive at times, in fact, that some players (usually among those finding it hard to get a kick) will “wax” together to be able to get more kicks: that is, two or more people at the one end will agree to work or team together to get more overall possession of the ball, and players within this waxing unit will then take turns among themselves in kicking the ball to the other end when one of their members wins possession of the ball. On the other hand, the end-to-end activity can also become so informal as to also introduce more than one ball into the overall engagement, so that 2 or 3 balls can be in play simultaneously. Despite this informality, however, this does not always prevent the competitive spirit of the game, as some players trying to dominate will even try to win two or more balls upon one another to the point of carrying one or more under each arm. If he is greedy enough, he will also want to kick each of them!
In some versions, when there are three or more people playing, it could turn into a game called marks up, markers up or King of the Pack where one person kicks into the pack (where the rest of the people are) and whoever marks it cleanly, like in a real aussie rules game, will swap with the person who kicked it. This is a popular game to play at parks or in schools at recess when there is not enough time to sort out teams and start a game.
Kick-to-kick is used as a warm-up exercise of many Australian rules football clubs and has been the beginnings of many clubs in far-flung places.
The ancient indigenous Australian game of Marn Grook, which is believed by some to have influenced Australian rules football is similar in many ways to the modern varieties of the kick-to-kick pastime.
Despite a similar ball, rugby union and rugby league fans and players do not tend to participate in kick-to-kick as much as Australian rules football fans (primarily because kicking is a specialist technique in these sports; and because of variants of the codes that are playable on a small scale, such as touch football). Gaelic football fans also participate in a form of kick-to-kick with the round ball.
Michael Leunig painted "Street Football" in 1990.
The pastime inspired a short film named "Kick to Kick" by Tony McNamara in 2000.
Auskick in 2007 used the kick-to-kick tradition as part of their promotional television campaign, which shows kids from around the country kicking the football to each other to the tune of Gimme dat Thang (as "Gimme that thing").