An attempt by the team that is kicking off to kick the football so that they can recover it. An onside kick can be recovered by the kicking team only after it travels 10 yards beyond the point where it was originally kicked. If the kicking team touches the ball prior to it traveling 10 yards, or if the kick goes out of bounds, it is a penalty and the receiving team gains possession of the football.
An onside kick is usually used in the late stages of a game when a team is trailing by an amount from which it cannot recover in the time remaining. It is a desperation tactic, since onside kicks are rarely successful. Most teams will kick the ball low so that it bounces up in the air, allowing them a chance to cross the 10 yards and recover the ball. Receiving teams will put on a set of players with the best catching skills to combat the onside kick--this unit is often referred to as a "hands team". An onside kick can also be used earlier in the game as a surprise tactic to catch the other team unaware and gain an extra possession. Kicks earlier in the game tend to be trick plays relying heavily on deception. It is a high-risk move, as an onside kick recovered by the receiving team results in excellent field position.