Top 10 Rules Of Handball

handball rules and regulations

Handball is a unique sport that combines aspects of soccer and basketball into one exciting package. While the three games are visually similar in many ways, handball has a number of rules that differ from both basketball and soccer. Read on to learn more about the top ten rules of handball!

What are the Most Important Rules of Handball?

  1. Goals
  2. Game Structure
  3. Substitutions
  4. Dribbling
  5. Penalties
  6. Throw-Off
  7. Throw-In
  8. Goalkeeper-Throw
  9. Free-Throw
  10. Seven-Meter Throw

1. Goals

handball goalsThe most important rule in handball is concerning how a goal is scored. The objective of the game is to score more goals than your opponent, so determining what is or is not a goal is very important.

To score a goal, a player must throw the ball into the opposing team’s goal. There is a six-meter crease surrounding the goal where only the defending goalie can stand. If a player scores a goal from within this zone, it is not counted as a goal. The physical goals are two meters high and three meters wide. This is half the length and half the width of a typical ice hockey goal.

After a goal is scored, a throw-off occurs.

Typically, there are between 40 and 70 goals scored in total during a handball game. That’s more than two goals a minute! National Major League matches can be even more high-scoring, with single-team score totals averaging above 50 goals per match. The quick-scoring nature of handball puts a heavy importance on scoring goals during each possession, similar to in basketball.

2. Game Structure

handball game structure

Handball games are 30 minutes long. Each game consists of two periods, each of which is 15 minutes long. Between the two periods is halftime which lasts about 15 minutes. After halftime, the two teams switch sides of the court. They also switch benches, which is different from similar sports, such as soccer and hockey.

Regular season games, depending on the league, can end in a tie. However, if a decision must be reached, there will be an overtime period. Overtimes are sudden death, meaning the first goal to be scored is the game-winner. There can be at most two overtime periods, each of which lasts five minutes. If there is no winner after the two overtime periods, a shootout is used to decide a winner. Shootouts are best of five rounds, with extra rounds if necessary. This shootout style is similar to penalty kicks in soccer. 

3. Substitutions

Handball Substitution

Teams can make substitutions at any point during the game, similar to in ice hockey. There is a special substitution area where players who are going to enter the game must wait. There is no limit on how many substitutions a team can make or how many times one player can come in and out of the game.

Handball is a seven-versus-seven-player game. Additionally, teams are allowed to have seven extra players on their bench. This means the average player plays about half of the game. Since handball is a very fast-paced game, it is important to make quick substitutions to keep the players refreshed.

A team’s substitution area is on the same side of the court as the goal that they are defending. At halftime, when the teams switch sides, they switch substitution areas as well. 

4. Dribbling

Handball Dribbling

Dribbling is an important way to move the ball in handball. A ball carrier may dribble for as long as they wish, similar to basketball. However, after they stop dribbling, they may only take three steps. If the player stops moving after they stop dribbling, they have three seconds to pass or shoot the ball. If the player returns to dribbling after they have already stopped, a double dribble infraction is called. 

An infraction of any of these dribbling rules results in a loss of possession. A wasted possession is costly in handball, so players must not make mindless dribbling errors.

Passing is a much faster way to move the ball than dribbling. Since handball is a very fast-paced sport, passing is used much more commonly to move the ball.

5. Penalties

Handball Penalties

Referees can give players penalties for any illegal action. Small infractions result in a free throw, whereas more serious actions can result in penalties.

Referees give out penalties progressively. For a typical penalty, such as illegal contact to another player, a yellow card will be given out. If a player collects three yellow cards, they will receive a red card and be ejected from the game. This will also result in their team having to play down a man for two minutes. Red cards can also be given out for one particularly serious infraction. An example of this is if a player attempts to injure another player.

If players argue penalties with the referee, they are typically given a yellow card. Coaches can also receive penalties or ejections. This usually happens when a coach disagrees with a call the referee makes.

If there is a penalty that prevents a clear scoring opportunity, a seven-meter free throw will be awarded. 

6. Throw-Off

Handball Throw Off

A throw-off is used to restart play after a goal or at the beginning of a period. One team is given possession of the ball, and they elect one player to throw the ball into play. This player lines up in the middle of the court, and all the opposing players must stay on the other side of the court, at least three meters away. The thrower passes the ball to one of their teammates to restart play. After that, normal play commences. 

Many teams have set plays to execute immediately after a throw-off. Having a quick play ready can allow you to score a quick goal before the opposing team is ready.

7. Throw-In

Handball Throw In

A throw-in is used to restart play after a ball goes out of bounds. This can happen from a ball being thrown or deflected past the sideline or hitting the ceiling. In either case, there is a dead ball, meaning play stops and the clock freezes. Next, a player on the team who did not put the ball out of bounds is awarded a throw-in.

The player who is awarded the throw-in must stand out of bounds in the place nearest to where the ball went out of play. Players on the other team must stand at least three meters away, in bounds. However, if the opposing team’s goal is within three meters of the player executing the throw-in, the defenders may stand within three meters in order to defend their goal. Play resumes when the player with the ball passes it inbounds. They cannot walk in bounds. 

8. Goalkeeper-Throw

Handball Goalkeeper Throw

A goalkeeper throw is the most common turnover in handball. This occurs when the attacking team throws the ball out of bounds over the goal line rather than off to the sides of the court. This commonly happens when missing a shot or making a bad stretch pass. A goalkeeper throw also occurs after a ball goes out of bounds over the goal line after being deflected by the goalkeeper. This happens commonly because if the goalie makes a save the ball will often be deflected out of bounds off of him. Lastly, the goalkeeper throw can occur after the attacking team has a crease violation.

When a goalkeeper throw happens, the goalie is given the ball in their crease. They can pass the ball from anywhere within their crease to restart play. 

9. Free-Throw

Handball Free Throw

A free-throw occurs after any interruption by the referee, which usually is a slight infringement by the defending team. A free-throw is similar to a free kick in soccer, but it offers much less of an advantage. A free-throw is executed from the spot of the foul. If that spot is within the free-throw line, the free-throw will take place at the closest point on the free-throw arc.

The free-throw arc is very far away from the goal, so it is very difficult to score off a free-throw. As a result, most players elect to pass the ball on a free-throw.  

10. Seven-Meter Throw

Handball Seven Meter Throw

A seven-meter throw is the equivalent of a penalty kick in soccer. It occurs after a clear scoring chance is illegally prohibited, no matter where on the court the scoring chance was. 

There is a special spot on the court for seven-meter throws. As the name suggests, it is seven meters away from the goal. The goalie must stand within four meters of their own goal so that they cannot completely cut off the angle. All other players must wait behind the free-throw line.

The thrower must wait to shoot until after the referee signifies them to do so. If anyone on the defensive team makes an infringement, such as moving past the free-throw line, the shot will be repeated. Once the ball is thrown, the gameplay is resumed.


How long can you hold the ball in handball?

In handball, players are allowed to hold onto the ball for a maximum of five seconds when they are being closely defended by another player. If a player holds the ball for longer than five seconds, a turnover occurs, and the other team receives the ball. Handball players are only allowed to take three steps while holding the ball without dribbling it, otherwise, a turnover will occur.

What types of penalties are there in handball?

There are various types of fouls in handball, all of which can cause a player to receive a penalty. Some of the things which can earn a penalty in handball are tripping, pushing, charging, holding, and other aggressive actions. Penalties can either result in a yellow card and a free-throw or a red card and an ejection if it was particularly egregious.

How many passes are allowed in handball?

Six passes are allowed in handball. Once a team has taken possession of the ball, they are permitted to pass the ball a maximum of six times before they must take a shot on goal. If a team makes more than six passes or fails to take a shot after the sixth, then a free throw is assessed against the offending team, which also loses possession of the ball.