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An introduction to handball

A popular European team sport with a history dating back hundreds, if not thousands, of years, handball is an increasingly enjoyed activity worldwide. Requiring strength, endurance and dexterity, handball is a fairly straightforward yet demanding game.

For the uninitiated, there are plenty of similarities with basketball and soccer, so those familiar with those sports may find it easy to adapt. There isn’t much required to get started: you need people to play, a place to play, some athletic apparel and, of course, a handball. Here is how to play.

What is handball?

Handball origins

The first modern handball game is believed to have been played in Germany, inspired by games played throughout Northern Europe in the decades prior. There is even evidence of games similar to handball having been played as far back as Ancient Greece as well as medieval times around Europe. 

Handball setup

Team handball is played on an indoor court slightly larger than a basketball court, extending 40 meters in length by 20 meters. Each team has seven players on the floor at a time, including one goalie per side. The six players running on the floor are referred to as court players or fielders. There is a center line dividing the court into two halves, and a semicircle surrounds each goal.

The main piece of equipment is the ball itself, typically a 32-panel leather ball. A men’s handball is slightly larger than the women’s handball, measuring 58-60 centimeters in circumference compared to about 54-56 centimeters.

Handball objective

The aim of handball is simple: score more goals than your opponent. This is done by advancing the ball up the court and throwing the ball completely across the goalline into the net. Handball is typically played in two 30-minute halves; the team ahead at the end is the winner.

How to play handball

Court players

Court players can touch the ball with any body part above the knee; they cannot kick the ball. When a player has the ball, they are allowed three seconds to stand in place and three steps in any direction before they must get rid of the ball — passing or shooting — or begin to dribble. Dribbling, like in basketball, extends the time a player may possess the ball.

Field players cannot enter the goal crease unless they land in it after throwing the ball. Conversely, goalies may exit their crease provided they follow the rules for field players.

Handball throws

There are several types of throws in handball.

  • Throw-in: Like in soccer, if the ball goes out of bounds, a player stands on the sideline and throws it into their teammate.
  • Free-throw: A player gets a chance to throw it from a specific spot if they were interrupted illegally by the other team.
  • Seven-meter throw: Like a penalty in soccer or a free throw in basketball, this is awarded to a player when they are interrupted during a clear scoring chance. They stand seven meters away from the goal line and take a shot to score.
  • Goal-throw: The goalie is awarded a throw when they block a shot out of bounds or the attacking team misses the mark.

Handball equipment

The game’s main component is the ball; depending on whether you are playing competitively or recreationally, the ball may vary in size. Many players wear goggles to protect their eyes, while proper footwear, such as basketball shoes, is also required.

Players on the same team typically wear the same colored jerseys. To differentiate themselves from field players, goalies should wear jerseys in a unique color.

Handball variations

American handball, also referred to as wallball, is a popular game variation. It can be played with two or four players on a small court with one, three or four walls. The game plays out similarly to tennis or racquetball. One player serves the ball, hitting it against the wall, while the other player attempts to return it against the wall to their opponent. If a player falls to return the ball, a point is scored.

What you need to buy for playing handball

Skybounce Rubber Handballs

Skybounce Rubber Handballs

This pack of 12 handballs provides great value for those seeking recreational play. Made for both indoor and outdoor play, they are ideal for beginners and intermediates seeking casual fun. Sold by Amazon

Head Impulse Racquetball Eyewear

Head Impulse Racquetball Eyewear

It’s important to protect your eyes while playing this fast-paced game as the ball moves at high speeds. These comfortable and inexpensive glasses by Head are light and shatterproof, perfect for a variety of games. Sold by Amazon and Dick’s Sporting Goods

Puma Liga Core Jersey

Puma Liga Core Jersey 

Available in a dozen colors, this V-neck jersey features moisture-wicking material to keep you dry while you play. Sold by Amazon

Under Armour Men's Tech Graphic Shorts

Under Armour Men’s Tech Graphic Shorts 

Lightweight and breathable with plenty of stretch, these athletic shorts are made with a soft, quick-drying fabric for maximum comfort. They also feature pockets. Sold by Amazon 


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