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Starting the game Goal rules
Ball rules Player rules
Physical contact Officials
Types of throw Equipment

Handball court

The handball court


Objective: Two teams try to get the ball into the opponent's net using only the hands, arms, head, torso, thighs, and knees. The ball can be passed and dribbled.

There are 12 players on a team, with a maximum of 7 on court at any one time, including a goalkeeper. A game lasts for two halves of thirty minutes each, with a ten minute break in between, when the teams change ends. Time can be added for free throws and penalty throws.

If there must be a winning team, two extra periods of four or five minutes each are played, without an interval. If the score is still equal, two more halves may be played, or a series of five penalties each will be taken.


Starting the game

The team winning the toss has the option of beginning the game with a throw off or by choosing the end they are to aim for in the first half. Throw offs are taken from the centre, within three seconds of the referee blowing the whistle.

All other players must be in their own half of the court and the players of the non-starting team must be at least 3 metres (10 feet) away from the player taking the throw. The ball can go in any direction.


A goal is scored when the ball completely crosses the goal line and goes into the goal. After a goal, play restarts with a throw off from the centre by the team that did not score. Goals count as one, and the team that have scored the most by the end of the game win.

After a goal, play is restarted from the centre with a throw off by the non-scoring team.

Ball rules

Players can stop, catch, throw, bounce or strike the ball in any way they want using the hands, fists, arms, head, body, thighs, or knees. They can move the ball from one hand to the other.

The ball must not be in the possession of one player for any more than 3 seconds in one go, and can be passed while sitting, kneeling, or lying on the floor.

Players can stop the ball then catch it, as long as they do not move while they do this.

Players may not touch the ball more than once, unless it touches the ground, another player, the goal, or is fumbled or passed from one hand to the other.

The referee will decide if a ball has been caught cleanly, if so, a fumble would count as a second touch and would be against the rules. If the ball has not been caught cleanly, that player is allowed to touch it again.

The ball must not touch a player below the knee or on the foot, and players cannot dive for the ball while they are on the ground. These rules do not apply for goalkeepers. The ball must not be played deliberately across the side line or goal line.

Moving with the ball

A player may not take any more than three steps while holding the ball, but players can stop, bounce the ball with one hand, and take another three steps.

If a running or jumping player catches the ball, the steps are not counted until after both feet have touched the ground either together or in turn.

The ball can be bounced repeatedly with one hand while running with it (dribbling) or standing. After catching the ball, a player has up to three steps and up to three seconds to hold it before passing.

Once the ball has touched the ground, another player, or the goal, the player may have the ball back. There is no limit on steps between bouncing and recatching the ball.

The ball can be rolled along the ground with one hand.

Physical contact

During play, players are allowed to use hands and arms to win possession, and obstruct an opponent with the body whether they have the ball or not.

Players are not allowed to grab the ball with one or both hands, or strike it from an opponent's hands, obstruct an opponent with the hands, arms, or legs, or catch an opponent with one or both hands.

All pushing, tripping, running into or jumping into of opponents is also against the rules. Players cannot push or force opponents into the goal area, or deliberately throw the ball at an opponent, or to move the ball towards an opponent in a threatening manner.

Handball court diagram

Handball court diagram

A - goal
B - goalkeeper line
C - penalty line
D - goal area line
E - free throw line
F - centre line
G - substitution line

Types of throw, when ball is out of play, and infringments

Free throws

A free throw is awarded to a team if the opponents:

- Enter or leave the court without official permission.

- An illegal throw in.

- Illegally playing the ball (see Ball rules, above)

- Deliberately putting the ball out of play.

- Illegal obstruction or tackling or defence (see Physical contact, above)

- Infringements into the goal area by court players (not the goalkeeper).

- Deliberately playing the ball into own goal area.

- Infringements by the goalkeeper, except those which incur penalty throws.

- Unsporting conduct.

A free throw can be taken from the spot where the offence occurred without the referee blowing the whistle. If the infringement was committed by a defender between the goal line and the free throw line, then the free thrown is taken from the nearest point outside the free throw line.

If the free throw is delayed the referee will blow the whistle, and the free throw must be taken within three seconds. If not, a free throw is awarded to the other team.

The attackers must not touch or cross their opponents free throw line before the throw is taken. When a free throw is to be taken from the free throw line, the defenders may stand on their goal area line.

Opponents should be at least 3 metres (10 feet) away until the ball has left the throwing player's hands. The ball can be thrown in any direction, the thrower must keep at least one foot on the ground.

The throwing player must not touch the ball again until it has touched either another player or the goal. Goals can be scored directly from free throws.

Penalty throws

A penalty throw is awarded to a team if the opponents:

- commit a foul anywhere on the court, or stop a clear chance to score.

- a defender enters their own goal area and gains an advantage against an opponent who has the ball.

- a defender deliberately plays the ball into their own goal area and it touches the goalkeeper.

- the goalkeeper carries or throws the ball into their own goal area.

The thrower may not cross the penalty line before the ball leaves their hand. The ball must be thrown in the direction of goal, and at least one foot must be kept on the ground until after the throw is taken. The other foot can be lifted and moves, but both must stay behind the line.

The throw must be taken within three seconds of the referee blowing the whistle. The goalkeeper must be at least 3 metres (10 feet) away from the throwing player, but can move about in their area. The throw is retaken if the goalkeeper fouls.

All other players must be outside the area between the goal line and the free throw line. All opponents must be at least 3 metres (10 feet) away from the thrower until they release the ball.

If an attacker touches or crosses the free throw line before the ball is thrown, the throw is retaken if the goal is scored. A free throw is awarded to the defending team if the ball strikes the goal or goalkeeper and rebounds outside the area. Play continues if the goalkeeper stops or holds the ball.

If a defender touches or crosses the free throw line before the ball is thrown, if a goal is scored, it is valid, otherwise the throw is retaken.

Throw ins

If the ball completely crosses the side line (longer lines along the sides), a throw in is awarded to the team whose player did not touch the ball last before it went off court. It is taken from the point where the ball crossed the line.

The thrower must have at least one foot on the side line. If any defender is the last to touch the ball before it goes over a goal line (the shorter lines along the goal ends of the court) without going in the goal, a throw in is awarded to the attackers. This does not apply for the goalkeeper. See Goal rules for details.

It is taken from the corner on the side of the court where the ball went out, where the side line joins the goal line.

Referee's throw

The game is restarted with a referee's throw if the game is stopped because both teams infringe the rules at the same time, the game is stopped without any infringement of the rules, or if the ball hits the ceiling, or any other object above the floor.

The referee takes the throw from the point where the game was interrupted. If play is interrupted between the goal area line and the free throw line, the throw is taken from the nearest point outside the free throw line.

Players must be shoulder to shoulder with the referee and must not touch the ball until it has gone as high as it will go from that throw.

Goal rules

Goal throws

If the ball crosses a goal line after being last touched by the defending goalkeeper or any attacking player, a goal throw is awarded.

Goal throws are also awarded if the ball enters the net directly from a throw off, throw in, or goal throw.

The ball is thrown by the goalkeeper from within the goal area. The ball is in play as soon as it has crossed the goal area line. The goalkeeper must not play the ball again until it has touched another player.


The goalkeeper may defend the goal in any way, and they can, unlike other players, they can use their legs below the knees or feet, but only if the ball is moving towards the goal or goal line.

Within the goal area, the three second and three step rules do not apply for goalkeepers, outside this area, all rules apply as they always do to other players. Goalkeepers can leave the goal area during play. Goalkeepers cannot play or take the ball into the goal area, or touch the ball outside the goal area while they are inside it.

Goal area

Only the goalkeeper is allowed in the goal area. If the ball touches or crosses the goal area line, it may only be played by the goalkeeper. If the ball enters and leaves the goal area without touching the goalkeeper is still in play.

If a player deliberately plays the ball into their own goal area and the ball is touched before it leaves, their team will concede a goal if the ball enters the net, a penalty throw if the goalkeeper touches it, or a free throw in all other cases.

If the ball is accidentally put into their own team's goal area, play continues.

Player rules


Substitutes may enter the game at any time and as often as required. They enter from the substitutes area. The player they are replacing must leave the court at the same time.


To start the game, there must be at least five players on the court. Goalkeepers may not play in any other position, but other players can play as goalkeepers.

Once play has begun, play can continue even if one or both teams have fewer than five players in play.


The referee will caution a player guilty of fouling or unsporting conduct. If the player repeats the offence, they may be suspended. Suspensions last for two minutes. Substitutes may not be fielded to replace suspended players, except for the goalkeeper. In this case, another player would leave the court so that the goalkeeper could be substituted.

If a player is suspended three times in one game, they are disqualified. Serious breaches of the rules can result in immediate disqualification.


Each game is supervised by two referees. One waits behind the defence (goal line referee) and the other behind the attack (court referee). The referees change positions as play moves around the court.

There will also be a scorer and a timekeeper.


The ball

The ball is round and has an outer casing of coloured leather or synthetic material. For men, the weight is 425 to 475 grammes (15 to 17 ounces), with a circumference of 58 to 60 centimetres (22.5 to 24.5 inches). For women and juniors, the ball weighs 325 to 400 grammes (11 to 14 ounces), and has a circumference of 54 to 56 centimetres (21 to 24 inches).


Players usually wear shirts and shorts, with numbers on the back of the shirts from 1 to 12. Numbers 1 and 12 are reserved for goalkeepers, who wear different colours from their team-mates to distinguish them during play.

The captain of each team will wear an armband 4 centimetres (1.6 inches) around one upper arm.

The goals

The goals consist of two posts, 2 metres (6 feet 6 inches) high, and 3 metres (10 feet) apart, joined at the top by a crossbar. Both are made of wood, light metal, or a synthetic substance, and painted in two colours in alternate stripes. There are nets attached to the goals.

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