1. British Council - Handball
  2. BBC - Handball - 2012 Olympics


The rules of handball

The basic rules of playing handball

The rules of handball are pretty simple and are aimed at ensuring the game flows freely. We've compiled a list of some of the basic handball rules to help you get a handle on this fast-moving sport.

Basic handball rules

The six metre line

No handball player (other than the goalkeeper) is allowed in the goal area (inside the 6m line). Exceptions are after a shot on goal, when the player jumps into the area and shoots the ball before landing in the goal area.
Rules of handball


If a handball player takes more than three steps without dribbling (bouncing the ball) or holds the ball for more than 3 seconds without bouncing it, shooting or passing, then that is deemed ‘walking’ and possession is lost.

'Double dribble’

Handball players cannot receive the ball and bounce it, then hold the ball, and bounce it again. This is termed ‘double dribble’ and is against the rules.


Handball players (other than the goalkeeper) must not kick the ball. If the ball touches the foot, then possession is awarded to the opposition.

Handball fouls

No tripping, pushing, hitting, clinching, charging or holding is allowed in handball.

Free-throws in handball

These are awarded for slight infringements of the rules. All defenders are required to stay 3m (9.84ft) away from the person taking the free-throw.

Penalty-throws in handball

These are awarded when denying a clear scoring opportunity with an infringement.

Handball sanctions

Depending on the seriousness of the offenses, the referee can award players with either a yellow card (warning), suspension (2 minutes sitting out), or a red card (dismissal).

Throw-ins in handball

These are awarded after the ball has crossed a side line. It is taken by the side who did not touch it last, with the player putting one foot on the line where ball went out and passing it back into the court.

Corners in handball

A corner is taken by the attacking side when a defender has knocked the ball over the goal line (other than in the goal). The player puts one foot on the corner of the side line and the goal line and passes the ball in.

Goal-throws in handball

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

Handball playing positions

Handball player positions explained

Handball positions consist of a goalkeeper, two full backs, two wingers, a circle runner and a center. Here's the lowdown on these handball playing positions.
There are 14 players in each team in handball, with seven on the pitch at any one time. The playing positions in handball are as follows:
Goalkeeper — the player who defends the goal with just about every part of the body! The goalkeeper is the only player who can touch the ball with their feet.
Centre — a creative handball player who directs play in both defense and attack. Also known as the ‘playmaker’ and sets up the tactics and the players in shooting positions.
Left and right backs — usually the largest players on the handball team. When defending, they try to block shots, and in attack they are the long-range handball shooters.
Circle runner — the creative force in attack and disruption to opponents when defending. The circle runner is quick and gets in among opposing defenders to either create openings for teammates or to get into a good scoring position themselves.
Left and right wingers — the fast players who patrol the sides of the court. They counter opposing wingers and in attack look to create openings for others, or shoot from the more difficult angles.
Substitutes — substitution is allowed at any moment, without limit and without time stoppage. There are seven substitutes on the sidelines for each handball side. But a substitue can’t play until the player they are swapping for is off the court.
The officials — there are four handball officials: a scorekeeper; a timekeeper, and two referees who control the play at close quarters.

The handball court

The basic dimensions of the handball court

Before you start out playing handball, here's a few handball basics, including the dimensions of the court and the ball used.
  • The handball court — measures 40m x 20m (131.25ft x 65.62ft).
  • The handball goal — 2m (6.56ft) tall and 3m (9.84ft) wide.
  • 6m line — the dividing line between goalkeepers and the rest of the players.
  • 7m line — where penalty shots are taken following fouls on players with a clear shooting chance on goal.
  • 9m line — an arcing dotted line extending from the goal. It marks where an attacking team resumes play after being fouled inside the line. Also known as the ‘free-throw line’.
  • Halfway line — where the game is started from at the beginning of the game and after half-time, and also for restarting after a goal is scored.
  • Substitution line — where players must leave the court when a substitution is made.
  • Goal area in handball — the area in which the goalkeeper operates. Players can jump in this area so long as they release the ball before they land.
The handball court
The handball
  • For the men’s game: the ball is 58 to 60cm (22.83 to 23.62in) in circumference and is 425 to 475g (15 to 16.75oz) in weight.
  • For the women’s game: the ball is 54 to 56cm (21.25 to 22.05in) in circumference and is 325 to 375g (11.46 to 13.23oz) in weight.
  • The growth of handball

    Development of team handball over the years

    Handball is a great sport for boosting your fitness. However, it is only in recent years that the sport has grown in popularity, with Scandinavian nations and others quick to get involved. Here’s a look at the development of handball over the years.
    The popularity of handball worldwide is a little akin to that of cricket or baseball in that not a great deal of nations play the game to a high standard, but in the countries that do, it is up there with the most popular sports in the country. 
    The origins of the modern game of handball can be traced to northern Europe, primarily Denmark, Germany, Norway and Sweden. Varying sets of rules were set up in both Denmark and Germany. Over time these were improved upon and eventually led to the first international matches – Germany and Belgium men’s teams meeting in 1925 under this code of laws.
    The sport remains popular in those countries where it first emerged. In Germany, for example, the sport is second only to football as a spectator sport. Other countries namely the Scandinavian nations of Sweden and Denmark plus France, Croatia and Spain are also very skilled in the sport. Norway and Russia generally continue to dominate the women’s side of the sport.
    The men’s game debuted on football fields at the 1936 Games in Berlin, and over time evolved so that it next appeared in indoor form in 1972 at Munich. The women’s game was added to the Olympics at Montreal in 1976. Today handball is played in over 150 countries.
    What of handball in Britain? Well the sport is firmly on the agenda and a GB team competed in the 2012 London Olympics as hosts. England and Scotland currently compete separately at a ‘Challenge’ Level of the sport. 
    The home nations joined forces for the Olympics and the British Handball Association (BHA) appointed a performance management chairman linked to the Olympics and employed a world class coach in an attempt to get Team GB up to standard in time for the games. The association is also funding the chance for many of the best players in England and Scotland to go and train in Danish Academies to mix with some of the best players and coaches on the planet.