Handball 101

Team handball, also known as European handball or Olympic handball, is a sport where two teams pass a ball and the aim of each team is to throw the ball into the goal of the other team. A team consists of sex outfield players and one goalkeeper. A standard match consists of 2 x 30 minutes. The team the scores the most goals wins.

Notable sporting events where handball is played include the Summer Olympics, the Pan American Games, the Asian Games and the All-Africa Games.

Basic rules

Duration of a match

For teams at ages 16 years and older: 2 x 30 minutes

For teams at ages 12-16 years: 2 x 25 minutes

For teams at ages 8-12 years: 2 x 20 minutes

A standard match consists of two 30 minute long periods. There is a 15 minute half-time where the teams switches sides of the court (and switches benches).

If a match ends in a draw where a draw is not acceptable (e.g. during tournament play), a maximum of two overtimes of 2 x 5 minutes is allowed. The break during overtime is just 1 minute. If overtime play is not enough to produce a winner, the winning team is determined by a penalty shootout consisting of five rounds. If no winner has been determined after five rounds, extra rounds will continue until a team wins.



Team handball is a fast-paced game that typically features a lot of body contact. Contact is however only allowed when the defensive player is completely in front of the offensive players (between the offensive player and the goal).

Handball players are allowed an unlimited number of faults (similar to basketball's fouls) during a match and the use of faults is incorporated in normal defense strategies. This distinguishes handball from basketball where only 5 or 6 fouls are permitted.

Earlier, the number of goals during a match between similarly skilled handball teams used to be quite low. Since the 1980's the improvement of offensive tactics, including the widespread use of a counterattack as a reaction to a failed attack from the opponent, has caused the average number of goals in a match to skyrocket. Today, both teams will typically score at least 20 goals each during a match, and it is not uncommon to see matches where both teams score 30+ goals.