(also known as team handball
, European handball
or Olympic handball
is a team sport
in which two teams of seven players each (six outcourt players and a goalkeeper
) pass a ball using their hands with the aim of throwing it into the goal of the other team. A standard match consists of two periods of 30 minutes, and the team that scores more goals wins.
Handball game highlights video
Modern handball is played on a court of 40 by 20 metres (131 by 66 ft), with a goal in the middle of each end. The goals are surrounded by a 6-meter (20 ft) zone where only the defending goalkeeper is allowed; goals must be scored by throwing the ball from outside the zone or while "diving" into it. The sport is usually played indoors, but outdoor variants exist in the forms of field handball
, Czech handball
(which were more common in the past) and beach handball
. The game is fast and high-scoring: professional teams now typically score between 20 and 35 goals each, though lower scores were not uncommon until a few decades ago. Players may score hat tricks
. Body contact is permitted for the defenders trying to stop the attackers from approaching the goal. No protective equipment is mandated, but players may wear soft protective bands, pads and mouth guards.
The game was codified at the end of the 19th century in Denmark. The modern set of rules was published on 29 October 1917 in Berlin
, which is seen as the date of birth of the sport,
and had several revisions since. The first official handball match was played in the same year in Germany.
The first international games were played under these rules for men in 1925 and for women in 1930. Men's handball was first played at the 1936 Summer Olympics
in Berlin as outdoors, and the next time at the 1972 Summer Olympics
as indoors, and has been an Olympic sport since. Women's team handball was added at the 1976 Summer Olympics
Origins and development
A picture copied from an amphora shows youths playing a version of handball, circa 500 B.C.
A postage stamp from East Germany depicting handball at the 1972 Olympics
Games similar to handball were played in Ancient Greece
and are represented on amphorae and stone carvings. Although detailed textual reference is rare, there are numerous descriptions of ball games being played where players throw the ball to one another; sometimes this is done in order to avoid interception by a player on the opposing team. Such games were played widely and served as both a form of exercise and a social event.
The team handball game of today was codified at the end of the 19th century in northern Europe
: primarily in Denmark
. The first written set of team handball rules was published in 1906 by the Danish gym teacher, lieutenant
and Olympic medalist Holger Nielsen
grammar school, north of Copenhagen
. The modern set of rules was published on 29 October 1917 by Max Heiser, Karl Schelenz
, and Erich Konigh from Berlin
, Germany; this day is therefore seen as the "date of birth" of the sport.
The first ever official handball match was played on 2 December 1917 in Berlin.
After 1919 the rules were improved by Karl Schelenz. The first international games were played under these rules, between Germany
by men in 1925 and between Germany
by women in 1930.
Men's field handball was played at the 1936 Summer Olympics
in Berlin. During the next several decades, indoor handball flourished and evolved in the Scandinavian countries. The sport re-emerged onto the world stage as team handball for the 1972 Summer Olympics
. Women's team handball was added at the 1976 Summer Olympics
. Due to its popularity in the region, the Eastern European countries that refined the event became the dominant force in the sport when it was reintroduced.
The International Handball Federation
organised the men's world championship in 1938 and every four (sometimes three) years from World War II to 1995. Since the 1995 world championship in Iceland, the competition has been held every two years. The women's world championship has been held since 1957. The IHF also organizes women's and men's junior world championships. By July 2009, the IHF listed 166 member federations - approximately 795,000 teams and 19 million players.
The rules are laid out in the IHF's set of rules.
Two teams of seven players (six court players plus one goalkeeper) take the court and attempt to score points by putting the game ball into the opposing team's goal. In handling the ball, players are subject to the following restrictions:
- After receiving the ball, players can pass, keep possession, or shoot the ball.
- Players are not allowed to touch the ball with their feet, the goalkeeper is the only one allowed to use their feet but only within the goal area
- If possessing the ball, players must dribble (not similar to a basketball dribble), or can take up to three steps for up to three seconds at a time without dribbling.
- No attacking or defending players other than the defending goalkeeper are allowed to touch the floor of the goal area (within six metres of the goal). A shot or pass in the goal area is valid if completed before touching the floor. Goalkeepers are allowed outside the goal area, but are not allowed to cross the goal area boundary with the ball in their hands.
- The ball may not be passed back to the goalkeeper when they are positioned in the goal area.
Notable scoring opportunities can occur when attacking players jump into the goal area. For example, an attacking player may catch a pass while launching inside the goal area, and then shoot or pass before touching the floor. Doubling occurs when a diving attacking player passes to another diving teammate.
Schematic diagram of a handball court
An outdoor handball field
Handball is played on a court 40 by 20 metres (131 ft 2.80 in × 65 ft 7.40 in), with a goal in the centre of each end. The goals are surrounded by a near-semicircular area, called the zone or the crease, defined by a line six meters from the goal. A dashed near-semicircular line nine metres from the goal marks the free-throw line. Each line on the court is part of the area it encompasses. This implies that the middle line belongs to both halves at the same time.
The goals are two meters high and three meters wide. They must be securely bolted either to the floor or the wall behind.
The goal posts and the crossbar must be made out of the same material (e.g., wood
) and feature a quadratic cross section with sides of 8 cm (3 in). The three sides of the beams visible from the playing field must be painted alternatingly in two contrasting colors which both have to contrast against the background. The colors on both goals must be the same.
Each goal must feature a net. This must be fastened in such a way that a ball thrown into the goal does not leave or pass the goal under normal circumstances. If necessary, a second net may be clasped to the back of the net on the inside.
The goals are surrounded by the crease, also called the zone. This area is delineated by two quarter circles with a radius of six metres around the far corners of each goal post and a connecting line parallel to the goal line. Only the defending goalkeeper is allowed inside this zone. However, court players may catch and touch the ball in the air within it as long as the player starts their jump outside the zone and releases the ball before they land (landing inside the perimeter is allowed in this case as long as the ball has been released).
If a player without the ball contacts the ground inside the goal perimeter, or the line surrounding the perimeter, they must take the most direct path out of it. However, should a player cross the zone in an attempt to gain an advantage (e.g., better position) their team cedes the ball. Similarly, violation of the zone by a defending player is penalized only if they do so in order to gain an advantage in defending.
Outside of one long edge of the court to both sides of the middle line are the substitution areas for each team. Team officials, substitutes, and suspended players must wait within this area. A team's area is the same side as the goal the team is defending; during halftime, substitution areas are swapped. Any player entering or leaving the play must cross the substitution line which is part of the side line and extends 4.5 metres (15 ft) from the middle line to the team's side.
A standard match has two 30-minute halves with a 10- or 15-minute (major Championships/Olympics) halftime intermission. At half-time, teams switch sides of the court as well as benches. For youths, the length of the halves is reduced—25 minutes at ages 12 to 15, and 20 minutes at ages 8 to 11; though national federations of some countries may differ in their implementation from the official guidelines.
If a decision must be reached in a particular match (e.g., in a tournament) and it ends in a draw after regular time, there are at maximum two overtimes, each consisting of two straight 5-minute periods with a one-minute break in between. Should these not decide the game either, the winning team is determined in a penalty shootout (best-of-five rounds; if still tied, extra rounds are added until one team wins).
The referees may call timeout
according to their sole discretion; typical reasons are injuries, suspensions, or court cleaning. Penalty throws should trigger a timeout only for lengthy delays, such as a change of the goalkeeper.
Since 2012, teams can call 3 team timeouts per game (up to two per half), which last one minute each. This right may only be invoked by the team in possession of the ball. Team representatives must show a green card marked with a black T on the timekeeper's desk. The timekeeper then immediately interrupts the game by sounding an acoustic signal to stop the clock. Before 2012, teams were allowed only one timeout per half. For the purpose of calling timeouts, overtime and shootouts are extensions of the second half.
A handball match is adjudicated by two equal referees. Some national bodies allow games with only a single referee in special cases like illness on short notice. Should the referees disagree on any occasion, a decision is made on mutual agreement during a short timeout; or, in case of punishments, the more severe of the two comes into effect. The referees are obliged to make their decisions "on the basis of their observations of facts".
Their judgements are final and can be appealed against only if not in compliance with the rules.
The referees (blue shirts) keep both teams between them.
The referees position themselves in such a way that the team players are confined between them. They stand diagonally aligned so that each can observe one side line. Depending on their positions, one is called field referee and the other goal referee. These positions automatically switch on ball turnover. They physically exchange their positions approximately every 10 minutes (long exchange), and change sides every five minutes (short exchange).
The IHF defines 18 hand signals for quick visual communication with players and officials. The signal for warning is accompanied by a yellow card
A disqualification for the game is indicated by a red card
followed by a blue card
if the disqualification will be accompanied by a report.
The referees also use whistle blows to indicate infractions or to restart the play.
The referees are supported by a scorekeeper and a timekeeper who attend to formal things such as keeping track of goals and suspensions, or starting and stopping the clock, respectively. They also keep an eye on the benches and notify the referees on substitution errors. Their desk is located between the two substitution areas.
Team players, substitutes, and officials
Each team consists of seven players on court and seven substitute players on the bench. One player on the court must be the designated goalkeeper, differing in his clothing from the rest of the field players. Substitution of players can be done in any number and at any time during game play. An exchange takes place over the substitution line. A prior notification of the referees is not necessary.
Some national bodies, such as the Deutsche Handball Bund (DHB, "German Handball Federation"), allow substitution in junior teams only when in ball possession or during timeouts. This restriction is intended to prevent early specialization of players to offence or defence.
Field players are allowed to touch the ball with any part of their bodies above and including the knee. As in several other team sports, a distinction is made between catching and dribbling
. A player who is in possession of the ball may stand stationary for only three seconds, and may take only three steps. They must then either shoot, pass, or dribble the ball. Taking more than three steps at any time is considered travelling, and results in a turnover. A player may dribble as many times as they want (though, since passing is faster, it is the preferred method of attack), as long as during each dribble the hand contacts only the top of the ball. Therefore, carrying
is completely prohibited, and results in a turnover. After the dribble is picked up, the player has the right to another three seconds or three steps. The ball must then be passed or shot, as further holding or dribbling will result in a double dribble
turnover and a free throw for the other team. Other offensive infractions that result in a turnover include charging and setting an illegal screen. Carrying the ball into the six-meter zone results either in ball possession by the goalkeeper (by attacker) or turnover (by defender).
Only the goalkeepers
are allowed to move freely within the goal perimeter, although they may not cross the goal perimeter line while carrying or dribbling the ball. Within the zone, they are allowed to touch the ball with all parts of their bodies, including their feet, with a defensive aim (for other actions, they are subject to the same restrictions as the field players). The goalkeepers may participate in the normal play of their teammates. They may be substituted by a regular field player if their team elects to use this scheme in order to outnumber the defending players. Earlier, this field player become the designated goalkeeper on the court; and had to wear some vest or bib to be identified as such. That shirt had to be equal in colour and form to the goalkeeper's shirt, to avoid confusion. A rule change meant to make the game more offensive now allows any player to substitute with the goalkeeper. The new rule resembles the one used in ice hockey. This rule was first used in the women's world championship in December 2015 and has since been used by the men's European championship in January 2016 and by both genders in the Olympic tournament in Rio in 2016.
If either goalkeeper deflects the ball over the outer goal line, their team stays in possession of the ball, in contrast to other sports like football
. The goalkeeper resumes the play with a throw from within the zone ("goalkeeper throw"). Passing to one's own goalkeeper results in a turnover. In a penalty shot, throwing the ball against the head of a goalkeeper who is not moving risks a direct disqualification ("red card").
Outside of own D-zone, the goalkeeper is treated as a current field player, and has to follow field players' rules; holding or tackling an opponent player outside the area risks a direct disqualification.[clarification needed]
The goalkeeper may not return to the area with the ball.
Each team is allowed to have a maximum of four team officials seated on the benches. An official is anybody who is neither player nor substitute. One official must be the designated representative who is usually the team manager
. Since 2012, representatives can call up to 3 team timeouts (up to twice per half), and may address the scorekeeper, timekeeper, and referees (before that, it was once per half); overtime and shootouts are considered extensions of the second half. Other officials typically include physicians
or managers. Neither official is allowed to enter the playing court without the permission of the referees.
A size III handball
The ball is spherical and must be made either of leather or a synthetic material. It is not allowed to have a shiny or slippery surface. As the ball is intended to be operated by a single hand, its official sizes vary depending on age and gender of the participating teams.
The referees may award a special throw to a team. This usually happens after certain events such as scored goals, off-court balls, turnovers and timeouts. All of these special throws require the thrower to obtain a certain position, and pose restrictions on the positions of all other players. Sometimes the execution must wait for a whistle blow by the referee.
A throw-off takes place from the center of the court. The thrower must touch the middle line with one foot, and all the other offensive players must stay in their half until the referee restarts the game. The defending players must keep a distance of at least three meters from the thrower until the ball leaves his hand. A throw-off occurs at the beginning of each period and after the opposing team scores a goal. It must be cleared by the referees.
Modern handball introduced the "fast throw-off" concept; i.e., the play will be immediately restarted by the referees as soon as the executing team fulfills its requirements. Many teams leverage this rule to score easy goals before the opposition has time to form a stable defense line.
The team which did not touch the ball last is awarded a throw-in when the ball fully crosses the side line or touches the ceiling. If the ball crosses the outer goal line, a throw-in is awarded only if the defending field players touched the ball last. Execution requires the thrower to place one foot on the nearest outer line to the cause. All defending players must keep a distance of three metres (9.8 ft). However, they are allowed to stand immediately outside their own goal area even when the distance is less than three meters.
If the ball crosses the outer goal line without interference from the defending team or when deflected by the defending team's goalkeeper, or when the attacking team violates the D-zone as described above, a goalkeeper-throw is awarded to the defending team. This is the most common turnover. The goalkeeper resumes the play with a throw from anywhere within the goal area.
A free-throw restarts the play after an interruption by the referees. It takes places from the spot where the interruption was caused, as long as this spot is outside of the free-throw line of the opposing team. In the latter case, the throw is deferred to the nearest spot on the free-throw line. Free-throws are the equivalent to free-kicks
in association football; however, conceding them is typically not seen as poor sportsmanship for the defending side, and in itself, they carry no major disadvantages. (In particular, being awarded a free throw while being on warning for passive play will not reset the warning, whereas a shot on goal will.) The thrower may take a direct attempt for a goal which, however, is rarely feasible if the defending team has organised a defense. However, if a free throw is awarded and the half or game ends, a direct throw at the goal is typically attempted, which occasionally goes in.
A seven-metre throw
A seven-meter throw is awarded when a clear chance of scoring is illegally prevented anywhere on the court by an opposing team player, official, or spectator. It is awarded also when the referees have interrupted a legitimate scoring chance for any reason. The thrower steps with one foot behind the seven-metre (23 ft) line with only the defending goalkeeper between him and the goal. The goalkeeper must keep a distance of three metres (9.8 ft), which is marked by a short tick on the floor. All other players must remain behind the free-throw line until execution and the defending field players must keep a distance of three meters. The thrower must await the whistle blow of the referee. A seven-meter throw is the equivalent to a penalty kick
in association football; however, it is far more common and typically occurs several times in a single game.
Yellow card shown in a handball match
Penalties are given to players, in progressive format, for fouls that require more punishment than just a free-throw. Actions directed mainly at the opponent and not the ball (such as reaching around, holding, pushing, tripping, and jumping into opponent) as well as contact from the side, from behind a player or impeding the opponent's counterattack are all considered illegal and are subject to penalty. Any infraction that prevents a clear scoring opportunity will result in a seven-meter penalty shot.
Typically the referee will give a warning yellow card for an illegal action; but, if the contact was particularly dangerous, like striking the opponent in the head, neck or throat, the referee can forego the warning for an immediate two-minute suspension. Players are warned once before given a yellow card; they risk being red-carded if they draw three yellows.
A red card results in an ejection from the game and a two-minute penalty for the team. A player may receive a red card directly for particularly rough penalties. For instance, any contact from behind during a fast break is now being treated with a red card; as does any deliberate intent to injure opponents. A red-carded player has to leave the playing area completely. A player who is disqualified may be substituted with another player after the two-minute penalty is served. A coach or official can also be penalized progressively. Any coach or official who receives a two-minute suspension will have to pull out one of their players for two minutes; however, the player is not the one punished, and can be substituted in again, as the penalty consists of the team playing with one fewer player than the opposing team.
After referees award the ball to the opponents for whatever reason, the player currently in possession of the ball has to lay it down quickly, or risk a two-minute suspension. Also, gesticulating or verbally questioning the referee's order, as well as arguing with the officials' decisions, will normally risk a yellow card. If the suspended player protests further, does not walk straight off the field to the bench, or if the referee deems the tempo deliberately slow, that player risks a double yellow card. Illegal substitution (outside of the dedicated area, or if the replacement player enters too early) is prohibited; if they do, they risk a yellow card.
Positions of attacking (red) and defending players (blue), in a 5-1 defense formation
Positions of attacking (red) and defending players (blue), in a 6-0 defense formation
Players are typically referred to by the positions they are playing. The positions are always denoted from the view of the respective goalkeeper, so that a defender on the right opposes an attacker on the left. However, not all of the following positions may be occupied depending on the formation or potential suspensions.
- Left and right wingman. These typically are fast players who excel at ball control and wide jumps from the outside of the goal perimeter in order to get into a better shooting angle at the goal. Teams usually try to occupy the left position with a right-handed player and vice versa.
- Left and right backcourt. Goal attempts by these players are typically made by jumping high and shooting over the defenders. Thus, it is usually advantageous to have tall players with a powerful shot for these positions.
- Centre backcourt. A player with experience is preferred on this position who acts as playmaker and the handball equivalent of a basketball point guard.
- Pivot (left and right, if applicable). This player tends to intermingle with the defence, setting picks and attempting to disrupt the defence's formation. This position requires the least jumping skills; but ball control and physical strength are advantages.
Sometimes, the offense uses formations with two pivot players.
There are many variations in defensive formations. Usually, they are described as n:m formations, where n is the number of players defending at the goal line and m the number of players defending more offensive. Exceptions are the 3:2:1 defense and n+m formation (e.g. 5+1), where m players defend some offensive player in man coverage (instead of the usual zone coverage).
- Far left and far right. The opponents of the wingmen.
- Half left and half right. The opponents of the left and right backcourts.
- Back center (left and right). Opponent of the pivot.
- Front center. Opponent of the center backcourt, may also be set against another specific backcourt player.
Attacks are played with all field players on the side of the defenders. Depending on the speed of the attack, one distinguishes between three attack waves with a decreasing chance of success:
Women's handball - a jump shot completes a fast-break
Men's handball - a jump shot (Kiril Lazarov
, world record-holder for the number of goals scored in one world championship)
First wave attacks are characterised by the absence of defending players around their goal perimeter. The chance of success is very high, as the throwing player is unhindered in his scoring attempt. Such attacks typically occur after an intercepted pass or a steal, and if the defending team can switch fast to offence. The far left or far right will usually try to run the attack, as they are not as tightly bound in the defence. On a turnover, they immediately sprint forward and receive the ball halfway to the other goal. Thus, these positions are commonly held by quick players.
If the first wave is not successful and some defending players have gained their positions around the zone, the second wave comes into play: the remaining players advance with quick passes to locally outnumber the retreating defenders. If one player manages to step up to the perimeter or catches the ball at this spot, he becomes unstoppable by legal defensive means. From this position, the chance of success is naturally very high. Second wave attacks became much more important with the "fast throw-off" rule.
The time during which the second wave may be successful is very short, as then the defenders closed the gaps around the zone. In the third wave, the attackers use standardised attack patterns usually involving crossing and passing between the back court players who either try to pass the ball through a gap to their pivot, take a jumping shot from the backcourt at the goal, or lure the defence away from a wingman.
The third wave evolves into the normal offensive play when all defenders not only reach the zone, but gain their accustomed positions. Some teams then substitute specialised offence players. However, this implies that these players must play in the defence should the opposing team be able to switch quickly to offence. The latter is another benefit for fast playing teams.
If the attacking team does not make sufficient progress (eventually releasing a shot on goal), the referees can call passive play (since about 1995, the referee gives a passive warning some time before the actual call by holding one hand up in the air, signalling that the attacking team should release a shot soon), turning control over to the other team. A shot on goal or an infringement leading to a yellow card or two-minute penalty will mark the start of a new attack, causing the hand to be taken down; but a shot blocked by the defense or a normal free throw will not. If it were not for this rule, it would be easy for an attacking team to stall the game indefinitely, as it is difficult to intercept a pass without at the same time conceding dangerous openings towards the goal.
The usual formations of the defense are 6–0, when all the defense players line up between the 6-metre (20 ft) and 9-metre (30 ft) lines to form a wall; the 5–1, when one of the players cruises outside the 9-metre (30 ft) perimeter, usually targeting the center forwards while the other 5 line up on the 6-metre (20 ft) line; and the less common 4–2 when there are two such defenders out front. Very fast teams will also try a 3–3 formation which is close to a switching man-to-man style. The formations vary greatly from country to country, and reflect each country's style of play. 6–0 is sometimes known as "flat defense", and all other formations are usually called "offensive defense".
Handball teams are usually organised as clubs
. On a national level, the clubs are associated in federations which organize matches in leagues and tournaments.
- Austria: Handball Liga Austria, Bundesliga Männer (men), Women Handball Austria, Bundesliga Frauen (women), Österreichischer Cup (men, women)
- Belgium: BENE-League Handball (shared competition with the Netherlands)
- Bosnia and Herzegovina: Handball Championship of Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Croatia: Croatian First League of Handball
- Czech Republic: Czech Handball Extraliga
- Denmark: Damehåndboldligaen, Jack & Jones Ligaen
- England: England Handball Association
- France: Ligue Nationale de Handball
- Germany: Handball-Bundesliga, Handball-Bundesliga (women)
- Greece: Greek Men's handball championship
- Hungary: Nemzeti Bajnokság I (men), Nemzeti Bajnokság I (women)
- Iceland: Olís deildin
- Israel: Ligat Winner
- Macedonia: Macedonian Handball Super League
- Montenegro: First League (men), First League (women), Second League (men), Second League (women)
- Netherlands: BENE-League Handball (shared competition with Belgium), Eredivisie (women)
- Norway: Eliteserien (men's handball), Eliteserien (women's handball)
- Poland: Polish Superliga (men's handball), Ekstraklasa (women's handball)
- Portugal: Andebol 1 (men), 1ª Divisão Feminino (women)
- Romania: Liga Națională (men), Liga Naţională (women)
- Russia: Men's Championship, Women's Championship, Women's Handball Cup, Men's Handball Cup, Women's Handball Super Cup, Men's Handball Super Cup
- Scotland: Scottish Handball League
- Serbia: Serbian First League of Handball
- Slovakia: Slovenská hadzanárska extraliga
- Slovenia: Slovenian First League of Handball, Handball Cup of Slovenia
- Spain: Liga ASOBAL, División de Plata de Balonmano
- Sweden: Handbollsligan (men)/Svensk handbollselit (women)
- Turkey: Turkish Women's Handball Super League (women)/Turkish Handball Super League (men)
Handball events have been selected as a main motif in numerous collectors' coins. One of the recent samples is the €10 Greek Handball commemorative coin
, minted in 2003 to commemorate the 2004 Summer Olympics
. On the coin, the modern athlete directs the ball in his hands towards his target, while in the background the ancient athlete is just about to throw a ball, in a game known as cheirosphaira, in a representation taken from a black-figure pottery
vase of the Archaic period.
UK 2012 Olympics commemorative coin
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