What Are The Basic Rules Of Handball?

What Are The Basic Rules Of Handball

Looking for the most basic rules of handball? Look no further! Keep reading to learn the basics about the great sport of handball.

Handball Basic Rules

Handball is a popular sport played by men, women, and children that has a variety of rules and regulations. It requires 14 players, referees, the court, a ball, and two goals. Many other rules about players, gameplay, fouls, and more are listed in the International Handball Federation’s Rules of the Game. Find a list of the most important rules below.


All regulation handball must be played on a court with standard sizing and markings. Handball is usually played on a court that is 40 meters by 20 meters, with the goals placed in the center of the shorter ends. The crease or goal area is marked by a line six meters from the goal. A dashed line placed nine meters from each goal marks the free throw line.


handball game structure

Handball games typically last for 60 minutes and are split into two 30-minute halves. Teams score goals when they use their hands to throw the ball into their opponent’s goal. The team with the most goals at the end of regulation wins the game.

Number of Players

handball number of players

Each team is required to have seven players, composed of six field players and a goalkeeper. That makes for a total of 14 players on the handball court at all times. During regular play, this also means there will be six attacking players and seven defending players towards one part of the court while the attacking team’s goalkeeper is left behind to guard the goal. Players can be substituted at any time, provided they cross through their respective team’s substitution box on the sideline.

Crease/6-Meter Line

Handball Crease

No players other than the goalkeeper are allowed to enter the crease area, which is marked by a line six meters from the goal. The only exception to this rule is when a player jumps into the crease and lands inside of it after taking a shot.


If a player takes more than three steps without dribbling, passing, or shooting the ball, it is deemed a “walking” penalty. This can also happen if the player holds the ball for longer than three seconds. An informal name for this rule is the “three step rule.” If a player is dribbling and stops, they have three steps to stop before they are called for a walking violation that results in a turnover. Each player then has three seconds to either pass or shoot.

No Kicking

Field players are not allowed to kick the ball in handball. Kicking will result in the referee turning the ball over to the other non-offending team. The only exception to this rule is the goalkeeper, who may kick while within their own goal area.


Handball Trapping

The only player allowed to dive on top of the ball and trap it when it is on the ground is the goalkeeper. Any field player on either team who tries to dive and trap the ball will receive a foul and possession will be given to the non-offending team. That being said, the goalkeeper is only allowed to do this when the ball is inside of the crease.

Double Dribble

Handball double dribble

In handball, players can’t begin to dribble the ball, stop to hold it, and then dribble again. Doing so will result in a double-dribble penalty and turnover. As part of standard handball strategy, field players should instead focus on taking a maximum of three steps, dribble and then either pass or attempt to score.


Handball Throw In

When the ball crosses a boundary of the court, the opposite team of the last person to touch it will throw the ball back into play. Throw-ins are taken from the spot it left the court if it crosses a sideline or from the nearest corner of the court if it crosses an outer goal line. When performing a throw-in, one foot must remain on the sideline until the ball has left the thrower’s hand.


Tripping, pushing, charging, hitting, or grabbing your opponent is not allowed in handball and can lead to a foul. Fouls can result in a free throw for the other team or more serious punishments such as disqualification. Handball typically allows some contact to the front of the body between opposing players, however, it is at the discretion of the referee to decide what level of contact is deemed fair play. As in soccer, referees in handball may also disregard a foul if the pace of play carries on.

Yellow Cards

handball yellow cards

In handball, referees have yellow cards that they can administer to players when they deem a play to be excessively rough or unsportsmanlike. If a player receives a yellow card, it is taken as a warning from the referee. If the same player were to receive a second yellow card in the same game, they’d have to sit out for two minutes, and their team would continue playing without replacing that player on the court. A third yellow card to the same player will yield the same result. 

If a player commits a fourth punishable offense, they are ejected from the game. While this process is the standard method for governing play, particularly blatant fouls can immediately result in a two-minute penalty or even immediate ejection from the game. Once a team has received three collective yellow cards, every card handed out comes with a two-minute penalty.


Handball Substitution

Substitutions in handball are done “on the fly.” This means that players can enter or exit the field at any time as long as they cross through their team’s substitution box on the sideline. Rolling substitutions allow for quicker transitions, as play doesn’t have to be stopped to change personnel.


In the event of a tie after the 60 minutes of regulation, overtime will take place. Overtime in handball consists of two five-minute halves. Even if one team scores during overtime, the other team still has the rest of overtime to tie the game.

Penalty Throws

Handball Seven Meter Throw

If the game is still tied at the end of two overtimes, penalty throws will commence. Both teams alternate taking five penalty throws, and whichever team has more points after those throws is declared the winner. If the teams are still tied after these initial five throws, the shootout continues until one team has successfully scored and defended a goal in the same round.


What is the three step rule in handball?

The three step rule in handball relates to the number of steps players are allowed to take while in possession of the ball before being called for walking. Players holding the ball may take a maximum of three steps without dribbling. In handball, it is prohibited for players to walk around the court while holding onto the ball. If a player is dribbling and stops, they have three steps to stop before they are called for a walking violation that results in a turnover.

Can you kick the ball in handball?

No, players other than the goalie are not allowed to kick the ball in handball. Kicking the ball is a violation in handball and will result in a turnover. If a player other than the goalkeeper touches the ball with their feet, play will be stopped, and possession of the ball will be given to the opposing team. Turnovers in a handball game can be costly, so it is important for players to understand the rules against kicking the ball in handball.

What happens if there is a foul within the nine-meter area?

If someone is fouled in the nine-meter area, a free throw is granted to the fouled team to take from a point on the nine-meter line closest to where the foul was committed.

Usually, when a regular foul is committed, the team who got fouled is awarded a “free throw“ from the spot of the foul. The only time this process is different is when someone is fouled within the nine-meter area.