What are the markings on a handball court and what purpose do they serve?

  • 6 meter line (Goal Area Line): The 6 meter line is used delineate the goal area where neither offensive or defensive players can physically stand. Players, however, can jump into this area, but must shoot or pass the ball prior to landing. If a player touches this line while in possession of the ball it is a “goalkeeper’s ball” (turnover). If an offensive or defensive player moves into the goal area they need to move back into the field of play as soon as possible without impacting play. If play is not impacted there is no penalty. If play, however, is impacted it may result in a penalty shot or free throw for the other team.
  • 9 meter line (Free Throw Line): The 9 meter dotted line is used when a “free throw” is awarded after a foul. All players on offense must start play above the 9 m line.
  • 7 meter line: The 7 meter line is used for penalty throws. The shooting player must stand behind this line and avoid touching or crossing this line when he shoots.
  • 4 meter dot (Goalkeeper’s Restraining Line): The 4 meter dot is only relevant on penalty throws and the goalkeeper must stand behind the dot. Many goalkeepers will defend the shot from this location to cut down the shooter’s angle for shots in the corners of the goal.
  • Substitution Area: 4.5 meters from the center line is a small line that defines the substitution area. Each team must make substitutions between the center line and the substitution line.

  • Handball FAQ Home Page: Link
  • Direct link to this question: Link

What is “passive play” and how is it called?

There are situations, typically towards the end of a close match, where a team would like to just keep possession and run out the clock. If, in the referee’s opinion, the team with the ball has not made a clear move to attack the opponent’s goal, he or she will call “passive play” by raising their arm in the air. The offensive team then has 6 passes in which to score a goal. If the offensive team fails to take a shot on goal, the referee will blow the whistle and the ball will be turned over to the defense.

A few notes regarding this rule

  • There is no set time for making the initial passive play call and it is up to the discretion of the officials. Typically it is around 20-30 seconds, but that can vary depending on the aggressiveness of the offense and defense.
  • While 6 passes are typically allowed, if the offense is overly passive the referee has the discretion to call a turnover sooner.
  • If there is a defensive foul, the initial pass on the free throw does not count as one of the 6 passes.
  • A defensive foul that results in a free throw will usually lengthen the time before passive play is called. At the very end of a match the offense will often try to create a foul while the defense will try to avoid a foul, but not to the point of creating too easy of a shot on goal.
  • If the offense recovers the ball on a shot on goal the passive play is lifted and the sequence of events starts over. A shot on goal would be a ball that either touches the goalkeeper or the posts and bounces back into play.
  • As it is the referee’s discretion, how passive play is called is often a point of controversy in that one team will claim that passive play is either being called too soon or too late.

  • Handball FAQ Home Page: Link
  • Direct link to this question: Link

What is a “free throw” in handball?

The basic sanction to an infraction (foul, double dribble, etc.) in handball is a “free throw.” (Note: A “free throw” in handball is not analogous to a “free throw” in basketball. Rather it is analogous to a “free kick” in soccer.) When an infraction occurs the referee blows the whistle once and signals with 1 arm towards the goal of the team that has been awarded a free throw. A player then gathers the ball and stands where the infraction occurred and throws it to a team mate. Or, alternatively the player can also try to score directly on goal.

Defensive players are required to stay 3 meters from the player throwing throwing the ball. If a foul is committed by a defensive player within the 9 meter area, the free throw takes place at the point of the 9 meter line closest to the place of the infraction. Additionally, players on offense are required to exit the area between the 6 and 9 meter lines and start play beyond the 9 meter line.

For most infractions the clock does not stop and the team awarded the free throw can immediately start play with a throw in. However, if the infraction also resulted in a yellow card or a 2 minute suspension the clock is stopped and throw in can only be started after the referee whistles to start the clock.

If at the end of a half a free throw is called, but the the throw in does not occur before time has expired the team awarded the free throw can still take one last shot on goal with no time remaining. One offensive player then takes the shot typically over a defensive wall 3 meters away.

  • Handball FAQ Home Page: Link
  • Direct link to this question: Link

What does it take to get a two minute suspension?

In handball, punishments tend to be metered our progressively. Normally if a player commits a minor foul he or she will receive a warning from the referee in the form of being shown a yellow card, as in soccer. If a player repeatedly commits the same offense, a serious foul without a warning, or other sorts of misconduct then he or she will receive a 2-minute penalty. Just as in ice hockey, the penalized player must then leave the playing field (although there is no designated “penalty box”) for a full 2 minutes regardless of the number of goals scored by the team on the power play. Team officials such as coaches can also receive 2 minute suspensions; in these cases, a player who was on the court at the time of the infraction will serve the penalty and their team will be short handed for 2 minutes. If a player accumulates 3 2-minute suspensions in the same match he will be disqualified for the remainder of that match although the team will only be short handed for 2 minutes.

How does player substitution work for Handball?

Much like in ice hockey, the players (including the goalie) are free to substitute on and off during the play always entering and exiting the court from the area near the half court line designated for substitutions. The new player cannot come on the court, however, until the departing player has exited the court entirely. Coming in too soon results in a 2 minute suspension. Many teams like to substitute 1 or 2 players for offensive/defensive purposes. These substitution patterns can easily be accomplished from defense to offense as the team on offense can slow play up a bit to make the substitution. The switch from offense to defense, however, cannot always be made because the time required for substituting could result in the offense having a man advantage.

What does it take for a defensive foul to result in a penalty shot?

Illegally interfering with a clear goal scoring opportunity by a defensive player, such as by grabbing the shooting arm of the offensive player from the side or from behind, will result in a penalty shot. Much like in soccer, the shooter is “expected” to score.  Another common occurrence is playing defense inside the 6 meters line.  This often takes place when a defender slides over to help.  As the defender tries to get in front of the advancing offensive player the defender loses track of the line and ends up defending inside the 6 meter line.

What constitutes a defensive foul?

A defensive player may obstruct his opponent by using his body and/or arms. Strictly speaking, he is not allowed to strike, grab or tackle the opponent. However, as the usual penalty for frontal tackling or grabbing is just a free throw, defenders regularly try to stop the attacker by
– blocking/grabbing the attackers ball handling arm with one arm/hand while
– putting the other hand on the attackers hip/back and
– pulling the attacker against his own chest.
In order to keep the game flowing (thereby opening up holes in the defense) the attacker will try to evade this. For the same reason, referees usually do not interfere as long as the attacker is still able to pass the ball safely along to a teammate.

What are the rules for the 6 meter goal area?

 Only the defending goalkeeper is allowed to stay inside the 6m goal area (though any player may attempt to catch and touch the ball in the air within it, or jump into the area and throw the ball before landing). Also, the restrictions for travelling with the ball do not apply to the goalie in this area. However, if he leaves the goal area, movement and dribbling rules apply as they would to any court player.

Can players kick the ball?

The goalkeeper is the only player that can touch the ball with their lower legs. If an offensive player touches the ball with his feet it is a turnover. If a defensive player intentionally kicks the ball it is a two minute penalty.

What size ball is used in handball?

Men’s handball  
– Circumference: 58-60 cm
– Diameter:
– Weight range:425-475g

Women’s handball  
– Circumference: 54-56 cm
– Diameter:
– Weight range:325-375g

For reference a handball is slightly smaller than a volleyball. However, a handball is heavier and is textured for easier gripping. Sometimes a cantaloupe is also used as a reference point for describing the size and weight of the ball.