Most popular in Europe, handball has been a regular at the Olympics since the 1970s.

While there were similar games played in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, the sport was formally established in Germany in the first part of the 20th century.

Contact is generally limited, though it is a very physically demanding sport due to its fast pace.

The interest in handball odds is significant in several northern European countries.

It might not be a widespread game in the UK, but many other European nations have highly competitive handball leagues which attract thousands of fans. The record attendance for a handball match was over 44,000 in Frankfurt in 2014. 

If you are looking to try out live betting on handball, it’s good to double-check your understanding of the rules.

Object Of The Game

The objective of handball is to score more legal goals than your opponent in the allotted time.

Think of it as football with your hands, although competed on a much smaller court which is 40 metres by 20 metres.

Like football, handball is competed over two halves. The match is played over 60 minutes in total, with half-time generally being 10 or 15 minutes at major events.

If the scores are tied at full-time, matches can go to a maximum of two overtime periods. If still level, a penalty shootout can be played.

Referees are allowed to call for timeouts, and teams have an allocated number of timeouts per game, just as we see in the NBA and NFL.

Youth matches are competed over a shorter duration. 

Size Of Teams And Ball

Handball teams are compromised of seven players, one of which is allocated as the goalkeeper and must wear a different kit.

There are also seven substitutes. The use of the bench is similar to basketball with unlimited rolling subs throughout the match, enabling coaches to use specific lineups in certain situations.

Only goalkeepers can move inside the goal perimeter, and they are the only players allowed to touch the ball with all parts of their body.

In possession, however, they must adhere to the same rules as the rest of the players on the court.

Coaches can opt to swap the goalkeeper for a court player to give themselves a numerical advantage in possession.

In contrast to many other sports, the team retains possession even if the goalkeeper deflects the ball out of bounds. 

Handball is played with a spherical ball. The size and weight of the ball varies depending on the gender and age of the players – the circumference is 58-60 centimetres for men’s handball and 54-56 centimetres for women’s handball. 

How To Win In Handball

To score in handball, you must throw the ball into the goal. The goals are two metres high and three metres wide.

For a team to win a handball match, they must score more goals than their opponent when the final whistle sounds.

Beginners guide to Handball Rules

Whether a goal is legal is decided by the two referees, who are assisted by a timekeeper and a scorekeeper.

Goals can only be scored from outside the zone. Penalties are taken from a dedicated spot just outside the goalkeeper-only area. 

Awarded Throws

Referees can award ‘special throws’ to a team. These are reserved for certain circumstances, such as the ball going out of bounds, a turnover of possession or after a timeout is called. 


A throw-off, for instance, is used following a goal. This is when one player has the ball with a foot on the half-court line and the rest of their team are in the defensive half.

The ‘fast throw-off’ has been a revelation, enabling teams to quickly hit back after conceding.

Throw Ins

Throw ins take place when the ball crosses the side line or hits the ceiling.

The team which did not touch the ball last is allowed to take a throw-in, and the defending team must be three metres away from the thrower, though they can stand directly outside their own goal area.

Goalkeeper Throws

The most common awarded throw is when the goalkeeper is allowed to restart play.

This comes from either an attacking violation, a goalkeeper save which goes behind the goal or when the ball goes behind the outer goal line from the attacking team.

Free Throws

Similar to a free-kick in football, referees can give teams a free throw.

This, however, does not carry the same advantage, as it often allows the defence to reset and makes it hard to get a direct shot on goal off.

Seven-Metre Throw

If a clear goal scoring opportunity is prevented by illegal play, teams will receive a seven-metre throw.

These are often awarded multiple times per game. It is similar to a penalty in football, with the thrower shooting from just outside the area and the goalkeeper forced to keep a three-metre distance. 

Key Handball Rules

  • A senior match of handball consists of two 30-minute halves with a short break in between.

  • Each team is allowed seven players on the court, including a goalkeeper. Substitutions are allowed frequently throughout the match.

  • Matches can be played indoors or outdoors. Courts are 40 by 20 metres with a zone around each goal. Players are limited on how and when they can enter the zone.

  • The ball must be spherical, and must weigh between 290 and 475 grams.

  • The officiating crew includes two referees, a timekeeper and scorekeeper. 

  • If scores are level and a winner is required, two periods of overtime are followed by a penalty shootout.

  • Referees can award yellow cards or two-minute suspensions. Red cards are given for three yellow cards, and are accompanied by an automatic two-minute suspension.

  • Should a goalkeeper deflect the ball over the outer line, their team remains in possession.

  • Court players cannot stand still for longer than three seconds with the ball. They can take three steps before needing to dribble the ball, otherwise they are called for a travel. They can touch the ball with any part of their body down to and including the knee.

*Credit for all of the photos in this article belongs to AP Photo*

Sam is a sports tipster, specialising in the Premier League and Champions League.

He covers most sports, including cricket and Formula One. Sam particularly enjoys those on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean – notably MLB and NBA.

Watching, writing and talking about sports betting takes up most of his time, whether that is for a day out at T20 Finals Day or a long night of basketball.

Having been writing for several years, Sam has been working with 888Sport since 2016, contributing multiple articles per week to the blog.