The game starts with a throw-off from the center of the court after the referee's whistle. The team taking the throw-off must be on its own half of the court, and the opponents must be at least three meters (9 feet, 10 inches) from the thrower. The thrower tries to throw the ball to a member of his/her own team. A goal may be scored directly from a throw-off. The throw-off occurs after every goal and is often taken quickly. To allow for faster play, after a goal is scored, the game can resume before all opponents are back on their side of the court (the team taking the throw-off, however, must still be on its own half).
A player may stop, catch, throw, bounce or strike the ball in any manner and in any direction, using hands, fists, arms, head, body, thighs or knees. However, a player may not intentionally touch the ball with any part of the body below the knee. The ball is almost always played with the hands.
A player in possession of the ball may stand stationary for only three seconds before shooting, passing or dribbling. A player may not touch the ball more than once, unless it has touched the ground, touched another player, or bounced off a goal post (in other words, a player can't pass to himself/herself).
Players typically advance the ball down the court by passing it between each other. A player in possession of the ball may not take more than three steps without shooting, passing or dribbling the ball. In handball, dribbling typically involves bouncing the ball and catching it - a slight variation from the more fluid dribbling associated with basketball.
Defensive players may not hold, hit, push or trip an offensive player. Among the tactics a defensive player may use to gain control of the ball are using the flat part of the hand to knock the ball away from the offensive player, and obstructing the opponent with the body, whether or not the player has the ball. It is forbidden to snatch the ball with one or both hands or violently strike or slap the ball from an opponent's hands. Offensive players may set basketball-style screens in order to shield or free a teammate from a defensive player.
Only the goalkeeper may dive for and trap the ball when it is stationary or rolling on the ground in the goal area. Once the goalkeeper leaves the goal area, the athlete must adhere to the same rules as field players. Other players may dive for a bouncing ball and tap it or throw it quickly to a teammate, but they cannot trap the ball with their feet.
Only the goalkeeper is permitted to enter the goal area, and the other players are not allowed to touch the ball when it is on the ground in the goal area.
If the player committing a foul is on the team not in possession of the ball, the referee may allow the play to continue until the offensive team scores a goal, loses possession or the action stops for other circumstances such as a free throw. This prevents an offensive advantage from being lost due to an undesired stoppage of play. Depending on the severity of a foul, a free throw or penalty throw can be awarded.
In case of excessive roughness or unsportsmanlike conduct, a player is warned by the referee and shown a yellow card, as in soccer. The next infraction, the player will have to sit out two minutes, and his/her team must play short-handed. A second such penalty on the same player garners another two-minute suspension and a third infraction results in a red card and the player is disqualified from the game. The penalized team then must play the next two minutes short-handed before being able to return to even strength. Punishments are normally given incrementally, but particularly severe violations may lead to immediate two-minute suspensions or disqualifications. After a team receives three yellow cards, all subsequent violations must result in two-minute penalties.
Out of bounds
If the entire ball passes across the sideline, the team that last touched the ball loses possession and the other team is awarded a throw-in.
There is no limit on substitutions, which can be made during the action, as in hockey, or during a time out. During play, the athlete entering the game must wait until the player s/he is replacing has completely cleared the playing field. Faulty substitutions are punished by a two-minute suspension for the offending player.