08 April 2020

Getting started – Handball

March 20, 2012
Getting started - Handball

Looking for a new sport to take you through the Olympic year? How about a fast paced, high goal scoring team sport that promises to keep you on your toes by having you running, jumping and throwing all at once?

Discovering handball could be just what you’ve been looking for!

Believe it or not, handball is the most popular sport worldwide for women and is currently the fastest growing sport in schools in the UK, being played in more than 400 schools and 40 competitive senior teams in England.

It has been an Olympic sport since 1972 and was voted the most entertaining spectator sport at the Sydney Olympics. It was also the first sport to sell out at the Athens and Sydney Games and it has already sold out for London 2012.

Handball really is a huge worldwide sport and with more than 31 million people playing worldwide in over 800,000 teams, we think it’s definitely something to find out more about.

To do this we went straight to the top and asked the manager of the women’s GB team, Melanie Chowns, to explain to us the basics of this much loved game.

So what is it all about?

Handball is described as water polo on dry land and is all about speed. It is officially the fastest ball sport in the world, where everyone defends and everyone attacks.

It is an excellent activity for increasing fitness levels, as it combines running, jumping and throwing.

The aim

The aim of handball is quite simple; to pass the ball among your teammates, throw it into the opposition’s net and score more goals than your opponents. It is so fast paced that normally a lot of goals are scored in a match with an attack occurring every minute of the game.

The team

On the court there are two teams of seven players; one goalkeeper and six outfield players, and there are a further seven players on the bench. Rolling substitutes are used, so players can continue to work at a high pace throughout the game.

The court

Handball is played usually indoors on a court that is 40m by 20m. It has two goals; one at the centre of each end, and they are surrounded by a six metre semicircular line from the goal posts.

The ball is made of either leather or a synthetic material. Women use the size two handball and because only a single hand is allowed to catch and throw the ball, it has a sticky resin making it easier to handle.


Back: A player who shoots from the backcourt. They are usually tall, with a strong shot and high leap.

Centre back or Playmaker: A midcourt player who directs the team’s attacking play.

Double dribble: When a player has the ball and bounces it, then holds it and then bounces it again. This is not allowed.

Dribble: To move the ball by bouncing it on the floor.

Jump shot: A shot attempted whilst leaping off the ground.

Pivot: An attacking player who is usually around the opponent’s goal area line; also called a ‘line player’.

Penalty throw: Taken from the seven-metre line with the goal being defended only by the goalkeeper. Awarded for a serious offence or because the defence illegally spoiled a clear goal scoring chance.

Shoot-out: A method for breaking tie games after extra time. Players take penalty throws and when one makes a goal and the other team misses the scoring team wins.

Throw-off: A throw from the centre line, which restarts play at the beginning of each period and after each goal.

The rules

Each match has 60 minutes of play. There are two periods of 30 minutes with a 15 minute half-time break where the teams switch sides of the court.

Throughout the game, a player cannot take more than three steps without bouncing the ball and cannot hold the ball for more than three seconds. This is called “walking” and results in a turnover.

If a player has the ball and bounces it, then holds it and then bounces it again, this is known as double dribble and is not allowed. Similarly, contact with the foot is not allowed for any player apart from the goalkeeper.

With the exception of the goalkeeper, nobody is allowed in the goal area. A player can jump over the area but must shoot or pass the ball before touching the floor.

Throw-ins are awarded after the ball has crossed a side-line. It is taken by the side that did not touch it last, with the player putting one foot on the line where the ball went out and passing it back on court. The attacking side will take a corner throw when a defender has knocked the ball over the goal line but wide of the goal itself.

Goal throws happen when the ball comes off a goalkeeper and crosses the goal line. The goalkeeper then takes the throw from within their own area.


Handball is a contact sport and fouls are an integral part of the game.

A foul will be called for tripping, pushing, hitting, charging or holding. Minor infringements result in a free throw, while if a clear scoring chance is spoiled, the attacking team receive a penalty throw.

Depending on the seriousness of the offence, the referee can give players a yellow card for a warning, a two minute suspension or a red card for a permanent dismissal.

Where can I buy the right kit?

Just visit www.ukhandball.com for the UK’s handball superstore to get everything you need to help you get started.

Where can I play?

There are various clubs and teams around the country that you can join. Find a club near you on the England Handball website, which has a handy club finder tool.

So, there are the basics to get you thinking about handball. Learning new rules of a game can be quite confusing and overwhelming, so visit the British Handball website for their brilliant visual guide to help you learn more about this fantastic game.

More info: www.britishhandball.com

Want to find out about handball at the Olympics?

Just visit: www.london2012.com/handball

Watch handball live

If you haven’t got tickets for handball at the Olympics you can still see this exciting sport live. GB women take on Poland as part of the qualifying group for the 2012 European Championships on March 22 at Loughborough University.

Poland and Great Britain both lost their first two qualifying matches against former world champions Russia and Montenegro, so both will be keen to bounce back with two victories to keep their hopes of reaching the finals of the European Championships alive.

Adult tickets are £5, concessions £3.50, students £2.50 and for schoolchildren it is free.

For more details or to buy tickets go to www.britishhandball.com

Follow handball on twitter

@ britishhandball – the official Twitter account for British handball.

@GBwomenhandball – follow the GB women’s team’s journey to London 2012 Olympic Games. Inside info on the players, results and the drama as it unfolds!

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Select a sport

Find out how to get started, training plans and expert advice.