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Handball 101: Basics

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Handball 101: Basics

Learn the basics of Olympic handball

Handball as we know it was invented in Germany and Scandinavia in the late 1800s, but sports of a similar nature can be traced back all the way to ancient Greece. A game known as ourania was described in Homer's Odyssey and the episkyros, later known as harpastum to the Romans, was also played in ancient Greece. Both of these games involved two teams, where the main objective was to advance the ball to a certain point with your hands or to keep it from the opposition. 

With longstanding ties to Germany, it is no surprise men's handball made its first Olympic appearance in 1936 when Berlin was the host country.  Handball took a hiatus from Olympic competition until Germany once again held the Games in 1972, this time in Munich. Since the 1972 Games, men's handball has remained on the Olympic program. Women's handball was introduced to the Olympics at the 1976 Games in Montreal, Canada.

The sport of handball combines elements of basketball and soccer. The ball is moved by either passing or dribbling up and down a court.  Unlike basketball, players do not shoot the ball into a hoop; rather they attempt to throw the ball past a goaltender guarding a soccer-like net.

Teams
There are 24 teams total - 12 on the men's side and 12 on the women's side - comprised of no more than 14 players. During play, each team has seven athletes on the court at one time - six field players and a goalie.

Positions
When on offense most teams use three backcourt players, two wingmen and a pivot.  Backcourt players are usually tall with good leaping abilities and are often the the leading goal scorers.  Wingmen are typically smaller, quicker players who position themselves toward the sidelines and shoot from more difficult angles.  The pivot is often a strong, aggressive player, who hovers near the 6-meter line, sets blocks and is a master at the diving shot.

Duration and Scoring
Contests consist of two 30-minute halves with a halftime separating the pair. If there is a draw in the quarterfinals and onward in the tournament, the match goes into overtime. The extra-time consists of two periods of play, each lasting five minutes. If the match remains tied at the end of the first overtime, the two sides will play a second overtime.

If there is a draw after both overtimes, a shootout competition is used to break the tie. In the shootout, five players from each side alternate taking shots from seven meters away from the net. If the match is still tied after both teams' players shoot, the shootout continues in a sudden-death format. In the sudden-death shootout, the winner is decided as soon as a goal differential is reached with each team having the same number of throws.

Handball 101

Learn more about handball:

Basics | Rules | Competition format | Olympic history | Venue | Glossary

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