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What is Handball?

By Kris Roudebush
Updated May 23, 2024
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Handball is a game that uses the hand or fist to hit a small ball. The game is broken up into rallies. Each rally is won when the other team is unable to return the ball before touching the floor twice. Points, however, are only awarded to the serving team either when the opponent fails to return a rally or when the serving team serves an ace. Therefore, the receiving team does not score points when the serving team fails to return the ball. An ace is a serve where the ball remains untouched by the other team. Games are won when one team earns 21 points. Matches are won when one team wins two games. The game of handball is so common in the United States that most health clubs have their own courts.

In the US the sport is taking off. You can find a branch of the US Handball Association (USHA) in every region of the country. California has the largest membership with 1,440 members. Mississippi comes in last with just 6 members. The United States has its own shrine to all things Handball, you can find the USHA’s Hall of Fame in Tucson, Arizona.

There is another version of handball, the European or Team Handball and this is the version played at the Olympics. Teams consist of seven players, one a goalkeeper. The ball is bounced or thrown into the opposing team’s goal. Feet are off limits' it’s a hands only game.

Team handball has been around at least since 600 BCE, where a version of the popular game was found on a tomb in Athens. More likely, it’s been around since humans have had technology to make a ball and challenge friends. There is evidence that the modern version was started towards the end of the 1800’s in Germany. It was played indoors during the winter to keep soccer players fit. The rules were simple and followed the basic structure of a soccer game, the only exception was, you couldn’t use your feet to kick the ball.

Outdoor handball made just one appearance in the 1936 Olympic Games. It would not be reintroduced until the 1972 games. When it was reintroduced to the games it was the indoor version of handball. At that time indoor handball was played, competitively, throughout the world. Outdoor handball is a dwindling sport but a small group of British players are trying to keep the sport alive in a beach version.

Sports n' Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Discussion Comments
By aLFredo — On Sep 23, 2011

I had never heard of handball (I grew up in Kentucky and then went to undergraduate in Mississippi - which the article noted has the lowest number handball members, so this might be the reason for my lack of knowledge of the sport).

That was until, one of the girls I played soccer with was actually recruited to play handball, although she had never played it before. However, she was a great athlete, so I am sure this was a good move by the recruiter.

I love that @drtroubles noted, handball is an affordable option. This is something that is great and true, that is what I loved about playing soccer. Until one was older and you had to buy the uniform, fancy cleats, etc. all you had to was buy a ball and go play!

By Mae82 — On Sep 22, 2011

@drtroubles - You should really try playing a game of handball with your son. It is a lot of fun and great exercise.

I recently started playing with handballs at my gym, and a few of my girlfriends and I have been having some pretty great games. It really is fantastic cardio.

I love that handball is an easy sport to get into and doesn't require a lot of handball accessories. We can just get a ball and start playing. My one friend is actually thinking of joining one of the city teams. I am not sure if I'll ever get to that level, but it sure is fun for a workout.

By drtroubles — On Sep 21, 2011

My son just started playing handball and joined one of the handball clubs at our local recreation center. So far he says that the games have been fun and challenging, and he enjoys that the game doesn't require as much equipment as some of the other sports at the center, making it an affordable option for us.

The only thing we really ended up purchasing were some handball gloves and one of the handball shirts that marks his team.

I am hoping that my son sticks with handball for awhile, as it looks like great exercise. Who knows, I may even join him for a game or two later on.

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