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What is Team Handball

Updated on March 5, 2013
Team handball is a competitive and fast-moving game.
Team handball is a competitive and fast-moving game. | Source

Team handball is a fast-paced, exciting sport. Popular in Europe, team handball enjoys a reputation for being a dynamic and fun sport -- and it is a featured sport in the Summer Olympic Games. Nonetheless, it does not enjoy widespread popularity in the United States.

Which is a shame. The objective in the game is simple: throw the ball into the other team's goal. In this respect, it is similar to soccer or hockey. Only simpler: the players use a ball, and they throw it instead of kicking it. In short, team handball might be the purest team sport.

The Basics of Team Handball

Team handball originated in Europe and has several variations, including Czech handball and field handball. The sport is typically played indoors, but some variations are played outdoors. Team handball is played by two teams comprised of seven players. There are six field players and one goalkeeper per team. The ball is passed among the players with the intent of scoring a goal on the opposing team. And, each match is played over two thirty-minute periods, with a ten-minute half time. Since the game moves so quickly, it is common to see twenty to thirty goals scored in an average round of team handball.

The Field

The game is played on a field or court measuring 130 by 66 feet. The field is demarcated by a dashed line in the center, and each team has a goal located at either end of the field. There is a free throw zone in the shape of a semicircle nine meters outside the goal. The goal is 3 meters wide by 2 meters tall, and is comprised of two cross bars, usually wood or aluminum with a net attached to the back.

In front of the goals are two six-meter semicircles which comprise the defense zone. Only the defending goalkeeper is permitted to be inside this area.


The Ball

Team handball is played with a spherical ball and is usually made of a synthetic material. The size of the ball varies for men’s and women’s teams:

Adult Men (over age 16): 58-60 centimeters in diameter, 425-475 grams in weight

Adult Women (over age 14): 54-56 centimeters in diameter, 325-375 grams in weight


Field players may touch the ball with any part of their body. After receiving the ball, a player may run with the ball for three steps, hold the ball for three seconds, and unlimited dribble with three steps before and after dribbling. After three steps, the player must pass, shoot, or dribble the ball. Carrying the ball is completely prohibited.

Goalkeepers may participate in normal play of the ball. He or she is not permitted to pass the goal line while holding or dribbling the ball.

At any time, each team may have up to twelve players. Those not actively playing as part of the seven-member team on the field can be substituted into the game. In the case of a tie game, a maximum of two five-minute overtime periods may be played. If there is no tie-breaker after the overtime rounds, the game is decided by a shoot-out.

There are typically two referees per game: a goal line referee and a field referee. There are also a timekeeper and a scorekeeper, who assist by monitoring suspensions and starting and stopping the clock. Referees may award “throws” to a team. There are several different types, which require different positions from the thrower and impose restrictions on the opposing team. Referees may also penalize players, typically for actions directed at another player such as holding, pushing, hitting, or tripping.

Team handball is a dynamic and fast-paced game that enjoys greater popularity in European countries. It is an exciting game that can quickly be learned by novices.


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