An introduction to handball

Handball is a popular European team sport with a history dating back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. It’s increasingly enjoyed worldwide. Requiring strength, endurance and dexterity, handball is a straightforward yet demanding game. There are plenty of similarities to basketball and soccer. 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.

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Handball origins

The first modern handball game is believed to have been played in Germany. It was 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 and medieval times around Europe. 

Handball setup

Team handball is played on an indoor court slightly larger than a basketball court, extending 131.2 by 65.6 feet. Each team has seven players on the floor at a time, including one goalie per side. The six players running on the floor are court players. There is a center line dividing the court into two halves, and a semicircle surrounds each goal.

Handball objective

The aim of handball is simple: score more goals than your opponent. To score, you advance the ball up the court and throw the ball completely across the goal line into the net. Handball is typically played in two 30-minute halves. The team with more points at the end is the winner.

Court players

Court players can touch the ball with any body part above the knee, but they cannot kick the ball. When a player has the ball, they get three seconds to stand in place and three steps in any direction before they must get rid of the ball or begin to dribble. Dribbling, like in basketball, extends the time a player may possess the ball. Court 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 court 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 to a teammate.
  • Free-throw: A player gets a chance to throw it from a specific spot if they are interrupted illegally by the other team.
  • 7-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 main piece of equipment is the ball itself, typically a 32-panel leather ball. The ball may vary in size depending on whether you are playing competitively or recreationally. It also varies between balls made for men or women. Men’s handballs are slightly larger than women’s handballs. They measure 1.9 to 1.96 feet in circumference compared to about 1.77 to 1.83 feet.

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 wear jerseys in a unique color.

Handball variations

American handball, also referred to as wallball, is a popular variation. It’s playable 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.

Best equipment for playing handball

best 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. 

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best 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. 

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best 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. 

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