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Handball – the quick game which never fails to excite you


Handball is one of the popular sports in which two teams of seven players compete to win the match. It’s a team sport where the players pass a ball by the hands with the aim of throwing it into the goalpost in the opponent’s area. A match consists of two halves of 30 minutes and the team which scores more goals wins the match.

As the handball court is small in size which measures 40 by 20 meters only, the game is fast and a high scoring one. Professional teams score 20 to 35 goals each.

Handball is a popular sport in Europe. Naturally, the European countries dominate the world championships. In the women’s championships also, European countries remain the dominant force.

Handball is a popular sport also in East Asia, North Africa and parts of South America and has a good fan following.

In the handball courts, there will be a goal in the middle at each end and a 6-meter zone covers the goals. The defending goalkeeper protects the area and he/she is the only person allowed in the zone.

In general, handball is an indoor game. But in some variants of the game like field handball, Czech handball, and beach handball, it is played as an outdoor game.

At the end of the 19th century, the game was codified in Denmark. Subsequently, in the year 1917, a set of rules for the game was published in Germany. And the rules underwent several revisions from that time.

The first international games for men were held in the year 1925 and for women in the year 1930. In 1936, handball made its first appearance in the Olympics held in Berlin.

History of handball

Handball - black & white image

Early Days

Handball has a very long history and proof are available to show the existence of the game even during prehistoric times. Some cave drawings belonged to that era depicted people throwing a stone or an object.

Evidence from ancient times also showed the playing of the primitive form of the handball. Homer described a game “Urania” which ancient greeks played, in the Odyssey and another one, Dr.Claudius Galenus who belonged to 130 to 200 A.D. also described “Harpaston” played by the Romans.

Another historical evidence is the songs of German lyrical poet Walther von der Vogelweide (1170-1230), which had words about “Fangballspiel” (‘catch ball game’).

In modern times, the handball in the present form started to evolve. Haandboldm, Hazena, and Torball were the three games, which considered to be the predecessor of the baseball, evolved in the same period and they had a different set of rules.

Handball during 20th Century

Organizing large scale tournaments was a difficult task, then. Subsequently, Karl Schelenz unified the rules and the new set of rules came into force in Berlin in the year 1917.

As the game developed, the international governing body, Federation Internationale Handball Amateur was formed in the year 1928. Then in the year 1946, the sport’s regulator was renamed as International Handball Federation (IHF) in Copenhagen, Denmark.

In the year 1936, handball made its first successful Olympic appearance in Berlin Games. Following it, the governing body organized “The first Field Handball World Championships.” in 1938 in Germany.

During that period, 11 players on each side played the game in a football pitch and the field handball lasted up to the year 1966. Then during the 1940s, Indoor Handball came into place in Denmark.

In the new version of the game, there were seven players per side and the court was slightly larger than the basketball court. Further, with the inclusion of rules from other sports like basketball, handball became an easier sport to play.

The IHF, the governing body of the sport, tried to popularise the game. In the year 1972, indoor handball got its place in the Olympic Games held in Munich. In the subsequent Olympic event held in the year 1976 in Montreal, the female team also made the entry for the first time.

Then handball became an important Olympic sport both for men and women and by the 1990s, it became a popular sport. From its initial European centric nature, the game spread to many countries and is now being played in Asian, African, American and even Oceanian countries.

The Handball Court

Handball court

The standard dimension of the handball court is 40m x 20m. It measures 40 meters long and 20 meters wide and a centerline divides the court into two equal halves.

At each end of the court, there is a goal that measures 3 meters in width and 2 meters in height.

The Playing Field:

The playing area of the court measures 40 meters by 20 meters.

Half Line:

A half line is a centerline in the middle of the court which divides the court into two equal halves.

Free Throw Line:

The free-throw line is a semi-circular line that is 9 meters away from the goal. If a team commits a foul outside the goal area line, the other team gets a free throw and the free throw will take place from anywhere beyond the free-throw line.

The line is a dotted line to differentiate it from the goal area line, which is a continuous line.

Goal Area Line:

The goal area line is a continuous line that is 6 meters away from the goal. The goalkeeper who defends the area is free to move within this area and he/she cannot move beyond this line.

While the goalkeeper is in this area, he can touch the ball with feet or any other parts of the body. And, no other player is allowed in this area.

Penalty Line:

handball penalty line

Penalty line is 7 meters away from the center of the goal. Whenever the defensive team commits a foul inside the goal area, the offensive team gets a penalty.

The penalty in handball is similar to the penalty in football. But in handball, the players can’t enter near the goal area and they have to jump into the air and throw the ball while in mid-air. The rules allow no other player to interrupt while the penalty is in progress.

Goalkeeper’s Line:

This line marks and limits the area of the defensive goalkeeper and he/she can’t move beyond the line with the ball.

Handball – Equipment


ball used in handball

Handball players use the ball which resembles the ball used in volleyball or football. But, nowadays the ball made exclusively for handball are in use which is useful in easy carrying and passing from hand to hand.

The ball is made of leather and synthetic material and it should be of the size to fit in the hands of the players.

As per the sizes, there are three regulation sizes of handball available. The ball with a circumference of 50-52 cm is for the players over the age of 8, the ball with a circumference of 54-56 cm is for women and males aged between 12 and 16 and the ball with the circumference of 58-60 cm is for male players aged over 16.

Goal Centre

goal post in handball

At each end of the court, there is a goal center. It measures 2meters in height and 3 meters in width. Both the goal centers will be of the same color and are made up of aluminum. Each goal center has a net in it which is attached to the ground and doesn’t allow the ball to pass through.


handball glove

To make handling the ball easy, players need gloves. Gloves help in proper gripping and maneuvering of the ball. Players also use sunglasses to protect their eyes from injuries.


handball shoe

In the case of shoes and also for other protective gear, there are no prescribed standards in handball. So, players can choose the shoes which make them feel comfortable and prevent any injuries.

Basic Rules of Handball

The six metre line

It is the area where no other players are allowed and the goalkeeper is the only person who can touch the ground of the goal area. The only exception is, a player can land into the area after shooting the ball into the goal area by jumping up.


A handball player should not take more than three steps without dribbling the ball. And he/she should not hold the ball for more than three seconds without dribbling, bouncing and shooting. In either case, it is said to be ‘walking’ and the player will lose the possession of the ball.

Double dribble in handball

The players can not bounce the ball for the second time after holding the ball. It is called double dribble and is against the rules.


Though the ball can touch the parts of the body, kicking is not allowed in handball. And the player will lose possession of the ball if the ball touches the foot.

Handball fouls

Tripping, pushing, hitting, clinching, charging or holding is not allowed in handball and it will be declared foul if players are involved in any of these activities.


Teams get free-throws when the opponent violates rules. In free-throw, all defenders are required to stay 3m away from the person who is taking the free-throw.


These are awarded when denying a clear scoring opportunity with an infringement.

Handball sanctions

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In handball, the referee awards the players with a yellow card, suspension or red card, which depends on the seriousness of the offenses. Here, the yellow card represents a warning , suspension implies sitting out for two minutes and the red card is issued for dismissal of the player.


When the ball crosses the sideline, the team which has not touched the ball last gets the ‘throw-in.’ A player from the team will pass the ball back into the court by putting one foot on the line where the ball went out of the court.


When a player from the defending side knocks the ball over the goal line, the attacking team takes the corner and a player from the attacking side will pass the ball in by putting one foot on the corner of the sideline and the goal line.


When the ball comes off a goalkeeper and crosses the goal line it will result in goal throw and the goalkeeper then takes the throw from within their own area.

Handball – Terms

There are many terms used in handball to denote certain activities in playing the game. It will be helpful to know the basic terms before playing the game, And here is a list of the basic terms used in handball.

Court player

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Other than goalkeepers, all the players playing on the court are known as court players.


The player inside the goal area who defends the goal from the opposition team.

Corner Throw

In the corner throw, any one player from the attacking side throws from the corner of the court. If a defending player plays the ball over the goal line on either side of the goal, it will result in a corner throw.

Free throw

It is the free chance given to a team if the opponent team does a foul during the game. In this chance, the ball is thrown from a line which is 9 meters away from the goal.

Penalty throw

The penalty shot is thrown from a mark at a distance of 7mts from the goal. In a penalty throw, a player is allotted to score a goal through direct throw into the goal center.

Referee’s throw

If a match is stopped due to any other reason, the referees will start the play by throwing the ball.

Dive shot

dive shot in handball
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It is the mandatory way by which goal is scored in handball. The handball player has to jump above the floor and move towards the goal while putting the goal. And also, the player should not touch the d-line.


A handball player throws the ball into the goal post to score the goal. In this attempt, the ball should hit the tape mark to consider it as a goal.


It is throwing back the ball into the court after it crosses any of the sidelines. In throwing the ball, the player could use either both hands or a single hand and the feet of the player must be in contact with the ground.


It is the throw done from the center of the court to start the play after a goal is scored.

Throw out

A goalkeeper does this throw out to pass the ball to the teammate after he/she gets the ball in the goal area.

Variations of Handball

Beach Handball

A variation of handball, which is played on sand instead of indoors. And it is also known as sandball.

Field Handball

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In the beginning, handball was played on the larger ground with grass. This variant is known as field handball and also as outdoor handball or grass handball.

Czech Handball

This variant of handball resembles the team handball in all aspects with slight variations in rules.

Unicycle Handball

unicycle handball

In this variant of handball, competitors ride unicycles with the ball and aim to throw the ball into a vertical hoop which is placed 6 feet above the ground.

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How to play Handball

Playing Team Handball

Know the court completely

handball court

Before starting to play handball one has to get familiar with the handball court. The player should know the dimensions of the court, the goal area line, free throw line, penalty line and half-line. Knowing about the three standard sizes of ball and choosing the right one is also essential in playing the game.

Organize a team

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In a team, there are seven players while playing the game. Among them, one player is the goalie and the other six players are the court players. Each team can have a total of 12 players or 14 players who can play during the game.

If any of the players playing in the field leaves the court, any other player waiting outside can substitute him as in other sports like basketball and volleyball. And also, a player can be interchanged with a player outside during the play. But, the goalie of a team can’t be interchanged.

Players of a team wear uniforms of the same color but the goalie wears a uniform in a different color. The uniforms are numbered from 1-20. And in standard games, there will always be two referees. One referee is for the court and the other one is for the goal. The decisions of the referees are final.

Know the objective of the game

handball team

The teams score goals by throwing the ball into the opponent’s goal. Finally, the team which scores more goals becomes the winner of the game. If the scores are level, a game can end in a tie. But, if it is a tournament an extra time of 2- 5 minutes is allowed to decide the winner.

A team scores a goal if only the ball completely crosses the goal line and enters inside the goal. And, a player can score a goal also by goal-throw, free-throw, throw-in or throw-off.

The duration of play

The game consists of two equal halves of 30-minutes play with a 10-minutes break in between. Still shorter versions are also played as youth or tournament games which have two equal halves of 15 – 20 minutes each.

The duration of the game is the running time of the game and the game is stopped only for the break or if there is an injury for the players. During halftime, the teams change benches.

Know the limitations of the players

The players can touch the ball with any part of the body. But touching the ball with the parts below the knee is not allowed. In handball kicking the ball is not allowed.

A player can stay in place only for three seconds if he/she possesses the ball. Similarly, a player can move only three steps with the ball in possession. These rules ensure the quickness of the game. If a player violates the rule, the ball goes to the opponent team. So, players have to decide quickly whether to dribble, shoot or pass the ball.

While the play is in progress, a player can dribble a ball as long as he/she wants. But holding the ball after dribbling and going again for dribbling is “double dribbling” and it is prohibited.

Setting an illegal screen, charging and carrying the ball into the goalie area are other offenses a handball player would commit during the play.

Know the different types of throws

There are different types of throws in handball.

In this article, we already know about throw-off, throw-in, free-throw, referee-throw and goal throw. And there is also a 7-meter throw, which is given when a foul interrupts a clear chance of scoring.

Know the violation of rules

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During play, players commit violations of rules in many ways. If a player commits a violation, the ball will be awarded to the opponent team.

Passive play

Keeping the ball with a team without attacking or trying to score is an offense and is called passive play.

Hitting with the ball

Pulling, hitting, or punching the ball of the hands of an opponent is an offense by the rule. Also, a player should not make contact with the ball below the knee.

And diving on the floor for a ball that is rolling or not moving, outstretching the arms or legs to push, hold, obstruct, trip, or hit the opponent or to charge into a defensive player are other violations of rules.

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Know about the punishments

Warning/yellow card

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A player doesn’t have chances for more warnings. He/she will get one warning for a rule violation and each team can receive a total of three warnings only.

2-minute suspension.

The referee will award a 2-minute suspension to a player for serious and repeated violation of rules, illegal substitution, and unsportsmanlike conduct. For this punishment, there is no need to give prior warning. And the player has to sit outside for two minutes and the team will continue playing with one player short.

Disqualification/red card

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A player gets the red card which indicates disqualification for unprofessional conduct, serious foul play, or for receiving a two-minute suspension for the third time. It makes the team one player short in the available players to play the game.

In the case of issuing a red card, the team also gets a two minutes suspension and it can replace the player only after the end of the two minutes.


When a player attacks another player, it is considered a serious offense and he will receive the exclusion. Then the player could not play for the rest of the match and the team has to play the match with one player short.

Practice more

You have to keep playing to improve your game.

To become the master of the game, a team has to practice more and more passing, as passing is quicker than dribbling in getting the ball to the goal.

In defending, you have to keep your hands up. You have to work on that to improve the blocking of shots and passing opportunities from the opponent team.

In dribbling, you have to work on using one hand effectively and the other hand for shielding the ball from the opponents.

As every sportsman knows, practice makes you a perfect player. So, practice more and enjoy your handball!

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