The Rules of Handball

Although it's nowhere near as popular as soccer, handball is still a very popular sport.
The Rules of Handball

Last update: 22 May, 2020

Handball is a very popular indoor sport around the world. In Europe, it’s widespread at both amateur and professional levels, and many teams on the continent have established themselves as international champions. However, it’s possible that you’re not that familiar with the rules of handball.

Children usually start playing this sport at school. At this age, it’s very good for physical, cognitive, and social development in children and teenagers.

However, young people don’t always receive encouragement to learn more about the rules of handball and the ethical behavior that applies both locally and internationally. So, today, we’ll look at this in more detail.

A brief history: the first rules of handball

As with soccer, it’s almost impossible to determine when exactly handball was first invented. However, historically speaking, we can see that ball games were already present in ancient civilizations.

Firstly, in Greece, there are records of a game called Ourania. This involved keeping a small ball in the air. The great poet Homer refers to this activity in his Odyssey, describing how players threw an apple-sized ball into the air and then jumped to catch it before the ball or their feet touched the ground.

Similar games were present during the Roman Empire and in the Middle Ages. However, the development of modern handball would only begin in the early 20th century in central and northern Europe, where it quickly gained popularity as a dynamic sport.

The first international rules of handball were created in 1926, standardizing various rules in force in different countries. Two years later, eleven countries founded the International Amateur Handball Federation for the 9th Summer Olympic Games.

Someone shooting in a game of handball.

This body would go on to become the current International Handball Federation (IHF), which governs the regulations of the sport and its competitions.

At that time, handball was still an outdoor sport with eleven players on each team. However, in the mid-1930s, the sport moved to indoor courts with teams of seven players.

It only became an Olympic sport in the 1970s and has been regularly a part of the games since the 1976 Berlin Olympics.

Basic rules of handball

The International Handball Federation is responsible for regulating handball at a professional level, with an emphasis on international competitions.

One of the federation’s responsibilities is to review, update, and enforce handball regulations, doing this alongside the national federations that comprise it.

The IHF updates the handball regulations every four years. Obviously, there are certain rules that are essential and define the sport and hardly undergo any changes.

Key rules

Handball rule number one is that players cannot intentionally touch the ball with their feet. The only exception is the goalkeeper when trying to stop the ball from going in the goal. Then, there are four other key rules:

  • Field of play: the court should be rectangular, 40 meters long and 20 meters wide, and have two equal halves. Each half should have a goal, whose arch is located in the center of the outer line.
  • The ball: handball uses a spherical ball made of leather or synthetic material. However, there are three official sizes, depending on the category they’re used in.
A game of handball.
  • In male competitions above the age of 16 years old, players use a 23 or 24-inch ball that weighs about one pound. On the other hand, women’s competitions over the age of 14 years old are played with a ball measuring 21 to 22 inches and weighing around 3/4 lb.
  • Duration of the match: official matches between players over the age of 16 are played in two 30-minute periods. For players between 12 and 16 years old, these periods are 25 minutes long, and for those between eight and twelve years old, the halves are just 20 minutes long. In all cases, the half time break lasts ten minutes.
  • Scoring: teams receive one point each time they score a goal. Then, the team with the highest number of points at the end of the game wins.
  • If the match finishes in a tie and the competition requires a winner, the teams will play two extra periods of five minutes. After this period, if there’s still no clear winner, the teams will take seven-meter throws to decide the game.

If you want to learn more about the rules of handball and the current regulations, check out the official website of the IHF!

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.