There is evidence of ancient Roman women playing a version of handball called expulsim ludere. There are records of handball-like games in medieval France, and among the Inuit in Greenland, in the Middle Ages. By the 19th century, there existed similar games of håndbold from Denmark, házená in the Czech Republic, hádzaná in Slovakia, gandbol in Ukraine, and torball in Germany.
The team handball game of today was codified at the end of the 19th century in northern Europe—primarily in Denmark, Germany, Norway and Sweden. The first written set of team handball rules was published in 1906 by the Danish gym teacher, lieutenant and Olympic medalist Holger Nielsen from Ordrup 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 Germany. After 1919 these rules were improved by Karl Schelenz. The first international games were played under these rules, between Germany and Belgium for men in 1925 and between Germany and Austria for women in 1930.
In 1926, the Congress of the International Amateur Athletics Federation nominated a committee to draw up international rules for field handball. The International Amateur Handball Federation was formed in 1928, and the International Handball Federation was formed in 1946.
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 in Munich. 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 4 (sometimes 3) years from World War II to 1995. Since the 1995 world championship in Iceland, the competition has been every two years. The women's world championship has been played 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 field players plus one goalkeeper) take the field 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:
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 team-mate.
Handball is played on a court 40 by 20 metres (131 ft × 66 ft), 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.
Each goal has a circle clearance area of three meters in width and two meters in height. It 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 or aluminium) 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 a such a way that a ball thrown into 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. 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, the court players may catch and touch the ball in the air within it as long as the player starts his jump outside the zone and releases the ball before he lands (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, he 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 playing field to both sides of the middle line are the substitution areas for each team. The areas usually contain the benches as seating opportunities. Team officials, substitutes, and suspended players must wait within this area. The area always lies to the same side as the team's own goal. During half-time, 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 meters from the middle line to the team's side.
A standard match for all teams of 16 and older has two periods of 30 minutes with an interval of 10–15 minutes. 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 16, and 20 minutes at ages 8 to 12; 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 afterwards until won by one team).
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.
Each team may call one team timeout (TTO) per period which lasts one minute. This right may only be invoked by team in ball possession. To do so, the representative of the team lays a green card marked with a black T on the desk of the timekeeper. The timekeeper then immediately interrupts the game by sounding an acoustic signal and stops the time. As of 2012, rule changes allow three TTOs, and two of them can be used in either period of the game or overtime.
A handball match is led by two equal referees, namely the goal line referee and the court referee. 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 calledfield 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 or disqualification is accompanied by a yellow or red card, respectively. 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 in between the two substitutions areas.
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, setting an illegal screen, or carrying the ball into the six-meter zone.
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. 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. This field player becomes the designated goalkeeper on the court; and must wear some vest or bib to be identified as such.
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 soccer. The goalkeeper resumes the play with a throw from within the zone ("goalkeeper throw"). Passing to one's own goalkeeper results in a turnover. Throwing the ball against the head of the goalkeeper when he is not moving is to be punished by disqualification ("red card").
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. The representative may call a team timeout once every period and may address the scorekeeper, timekeeper, and referees. As of 2012, the representative may call a total of three team timeouts, with a maximum of two per period or overtime. Other officials typically include >physicians or managers. Neither official is allowed to enter the playing court without the permission of the referees.
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.
|Size||Class||Circumference (cm)||Weight (g)|
|III||Men and male over-16s||58–60||425–475|
|II||Women, male over-12s, and female over-14s||54–56||325–375|
Though this is not officially regulated, the ball is usually resinated. The resin improves the ability of the players to manipulate the ball with a single hand, as in spinning trick shots. Some indoor arenas prohibit the usage of resin, since many products leave sticky stains on the floor.
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. 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 meters. 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, making 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-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-meter line with only the defending goalkeeper between him and the goal. The goalkeeper must keep a distance of three meters, which is marked by a short tick on the floor. All other players must remain behind the free-throw line until execution. 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.
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, hitting, 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. A player can get only one warning before receiving a two-minute suspension. One player is only permitted two two-minute suspensions; after the third time, they will be shown the red card.
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. 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—note: the player is not the one punished, and can be substituted in again, as the penalty consists of the team playing with a one player less than the opposing team.
After having lost the ball during an attack, the ball has to be laid down quickly or else the player not following this rule will face a two-minute suspension. Also, gesticulating or verbally questioning the referee's order, as well as arguing with the officials' decisions, will normally result in a two-minute suspension. If this is done in a very provocative way, the player can be given a double two-minute suspension if they do not walk straight off the field to the bench after being given a suspension, or if the referee deems the tempo deliberately slow. Illegal substitution (that is, any substitution that does not take place in the specified substitution area, or where the entering player enters before the exiting player exits) is also punishable by a two-minute suspension.
Players are typically referred to by the position 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.
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:
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 standardized 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 defense 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 specialized 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-meter and 9-meter lines to form a wall; the 5–1, when one of the players cruises outside the 9-meter perimeter, usually targeting the center forwards while the other 5 line up on the 6-meter 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.