What is handball? How to play it, rules and regulations explained

What is handball? How to play it, rules and regulations explained

Handball is one of the fast-paced and most exciting team sports globally. It is played in many parts of the world. The sport is also common in the Olympics. So, what is handball, and what is its origin? Below are all the details you need to know about the sport, including its origin and rules.

What is handball?
Ingvild Kristiansen of Herning-Ikast Handbold controls the ball during the Women's EHF European League third-place match against CS Minaur Baia Mare on 9 May 2021 in Romania. Photo: Dan Potor
Source: Getty Images

Handball is a team sport played for fun, fitness, and as a profession. It is a game contested between two teams of seven players. The aim is to throw the ball into the opponent's goal and score. Denmark, France, and Sweden are among the top-ranked nations in the game. Over the years, they have produced amazing athletes who excelled in the sport.

History of handball

The sport began during the early 20th century as an outdoor event. Meanwhile, the first official game occurred in 1925 between Germany and Belgium (men) and Germany and Austria (women) in 1930. Indoor activities were invented in the 1940s as a seven-a-side game played on smaller courts.

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When was handball invented?

The game was founded in the late 19th century in the northern parts of Europe (Germany and Scandinavia). However, the modern one developed in the early 20th century.

Handball at the Summer Olympics

Handball at the Summer Olympics
Gold medalists Team France pose during the medal ceremony for Men's Handball in Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Yoyogi National Stadium on 7 August 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Maja Hitij
Source: Getty Images

Men's handball was first introduced in the Olympics at the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich. The women's category was introduced in the 1976 Summer Olympics.

Who invented the handball?

According to sources, the sport was invented in Denmark in 1898. However, official handball rules got drafted in October 1917. Although the rules have changed over the years, the basics of the sport have remained the same. Some sources also credit Karl Schelenz for his role in transforming the game. The German is believed to have written several books on modern rules. Schelenz was a physical education teacher and a professional long-jump athlete.

How to play handball

The game is usually played on a hard-surface court with a goal at each end. The court is 40m long and 20m wide, while the nets are 2m high and 3m wide, meaning that a handball court is larger than a basketball court. The players aim to throw the ball into the opponent's goal. Each goal counts as one point. Therefore, the team with the most points wins the match.

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How many players are on each handball team?

How many players are in each handball team?
Brazil's Haniel Langaro prepares to shoot during their IHF Men's World Championship 2019 Group I match against Iceland at the Lanxess arena in Cologne on 23 January 2019. Photo: Patrik Stollarz
Source: Getty Images

The game consists of two teams of seven players each. The seven playing positions are goalkeeper, left-wing, left-back, middle-back, line player, right-back, and right-wing. Typically, defenders are tasked with preventing opponents from scoring, while attackers move forward to get a shot at the goal and score.

  • Goalkeeper: Responsible for defending the goal between the posts
  • Centre-back: A defender who often stands in the middle of the court and provides both defending and attacking options.
  • Right back: A right-handed defender preventing opponents from shooting
  • Left-back: A left-handed defender standing on the left side of the center-back. A left-back often prevents the opposition from shooting
  • Pivot: An attacking player who travels along the opponent's six-meter line. A pivot initiates attacking strategies and often plays in front of the team to close down the opposition's attacks.
  • Left-wing: An attacking player who often covers the left-hand side of the court. A left-wing player performs defensive and attacking duties.
  • Right-wing: Has the same responsibilities as the left wing down the opposite side (right-hand)

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How long is a handball match?

An adult game is 60 minutes, split into halves of 30 minutes each. Meanwhile, there is a ten-minute halftime break between the halves. There are even timeouts that make the game even longer.

What are the three types of handballs?

History of handball
Martin Kaeck of Sweden takes a shot on goal during the Men's Beach game at Katara Beach during the ANOC World Beach Games on 16 October 2019 in Doha, Qatar. Photo: Bryn Lennon
Source: Getty Images

Generally, the sport is categorized based on its playing ground, beach to the field, and indoor games. Beach handball is often played on the beach, while field one is staged outdoors on grass. The indoor one is probably the most popular of the three. It is staged on a hard court.

Where is handball played?

The sport is most popular in European countries like Germany, Denmark, France, Sweden, Norway, Spain, Russia, and Poland. In Africa, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Cameron, and Cape Verde are some of the best countries in the sport.

Rules of handball

Rules and regulations are important in any sport to safeguard the athletes and maintain the integrity of the game. The regulations also help to create fair competition between the teams. Here are some of the common rules that any handball fan should know.

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Starting a game

A typical match begins at the center of the court after the referee's whistle, with both teams on their halves. The opponents must be at least three meters (9 feet, 10 inches) from the player throwing.

Catching, touching, and striking the ball

The sport allows players to catch, move or strike using their hands, fists, arms, head, body, thighs, or knees. However, touching the ball with any part of the body below the knee is not allowed.

Keeping possession

Players are only allowed three seconds to stand with the ball before passing, dribbling, or shooting. Touching it more than once is prohibited unless it has touched the ground, touched another player, or bounced off a goalpost.

Dribbling rules

A player can advance toward the opponent's goalpost by passing to a teammate but should not take more than three steps without shooting, passing, or dribbling.


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How long is a handball match?
Norway's Goran Sogard Johannessen (R) is blocked by Germany's Julian Köster (L) and Djibril M'Bengue during their World Cup game. Photo: Jan Woitas
Source: Getty Images

Defensive players are prohibited from holding, hitting, pushing, or tripping opponents. However, one can use the flat part of the hand to knock a ball away from an offensive player.


A goalkeeper can only dive for and trap the ball on the ground while in the goal area. Other players may dive for a bouncing ball and tap it or throw it quickly to a teammate, but they cannot trap it with their feet.

Goal area rules

Only the goalkeeper is allowed to enter the goal area. Other players cannot touch the ball when it is on the ground in the goal area.

How substitutions work

There is no limit on substitutions that can be made during the action. An athlete entering must wait for the colleague to leave the playing field before entering. Meanwhile, faulty substitutions are punished by a two-minute suspension for the offending player.


Equipment in the sport is essential gear that helps players participate in the game much better. They include shoes, gloves, protective eyewear, shorts, and t-shirts. Teams were different colors of kits to avoid confusion when playing.

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What is handball, according to your understanding? Well, you now probably know more about the sport and how it is played. It is one of the most-followed games on earth as countries continue to invest in it.

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Source: SportsBrief.com