Handball is a ubiquitous term used to describe two distinct sports whose evolution occurred without any reference to one another. Each sport is played throughout the world; the only true similarities that exist between these sports is the use of a ball as the scoring object, and the fact that each form of handball is played by both men and women.

Team handball, which is also known as European handball and Olympic handball, is a sport contested by teams comprised of six players plus a goal keeper. The sport is governed by the International Handball Federation, which oversees both Olympic competition as well as annual world and regional championships.

The offensive and defensive strategies of handball are similar to soccer in many respects. The object of team handball is to advance the ball through either individual attacking movements or by coordinated passing between teammates. The ultimate intention of the offensive team is to throw the ball into the opposing team's goal for a score. The primary means by which players touch or direct the ball is by their hands, but all other parts of the body may be employed for the control of the ball, with the exception of the feet. In this fashion handball is an alter ego to soccer, where the emphasis in the control of the ball is with the feet of the players, and the rest of the body with the exception of the hands is available to a player for ball control.

Team handball is played on a large rectangular indoor surface that has dimensions of approximately 130 ft by 65 ft (40 m by 20 m). The goals are positioned at each end of the playing surface, 6.5 ft high and 10 ft wide (2 m by 3 m). A semi-circular arc defining the goal area is marked on the playing surface 20 ft (6 m) in front of each goal. The only player permitted within the goal area is the goal keeper, except where an opponent enters the space by incidental means in the course of play. The players do not wear any significant protective equipment.

A free throw line is fixed 30 ft (9 m) from each goal. As the name suggests, a free throw is a possession awarded to a team by the referee as a result of an infraction committed by an opponent. The ball is capable of being handled with relative ease in one hand by any player: at the elite men's level, the ball has a circumference of 24 in (58 cm to 60 cm), with a weight of approximately 1 lb (450 g). Players will commonly deliver a shot on goal by way of an overhand throw, a sidearm throw, or variations of each that produce a bounce shot at the goal.

The rules by which a player and team may advance the ball on the floor in handball are somewhat complicated. A player is permitted to take up to three steps with the ball in any sequence, and the player may hold the ball for a maximum of 3 seconds. The ball may be dribbled, in the manner of a basketball, and it may be passed to a teammate by any means so long as it is not kicked. Team handball does not permit the holding or physically striking of an opponent. The fast-paced nature of handball commonly produces team scores of 20 goals or more, which leads to numerous game situations where the permitted obstruction of a player's path leads to significant physical contact.

All shots on an opposing goal must be taken from beyond the arc that defines the goal area. Where a

Handball match in Kiel, Germany.
ball is directed out of bounds, it is returned to play by way of a throw in. Balls that are sent past the goal and the end line out of play by the opposing team are returned to play with a goalkeeper's throw. Both of these devices are similar to their soccer counterparts, the throw in and the goal kick.

The referee has the power to impose temporary suspensions, where players are sent off from the playing surface for a two-minute period. More serious fouls may result in the award of a penalty shot taken from a designated spot 23 ft (7 m) from the goal.

Success in team handball is built upon team play and precise passing schemes. The athletes tend to possess significant aerobic fitness, lateral quickness, and excellent balance. The ability of a player to deliver an effective shot while off balance, either as a result of contact or as a part of an effort to avoid an opponent, is an important handball skill.

The second form of sport that takes the name of handball is descended from an ancient sport native to Ireland, where a game originated that required the players to throw a ball a ball against a wall in ways that the shot on its rebound could not be returned by the opponent. This handball game became popular at various English private schools by the mid-1800s, and it was subsequently exported to the United States through immigration from England, where the growth of handball was driven by its popularity in both the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) facilities and the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). One wall games ultimately became the four wall court game played today through out the world, where individual competitors or doubles teams pursue the same object as that first created in the old Irish game.

Four wall handball is similar in its playing principles to those of racquetball or squash, with a more simplified rules set. A four wall court is 20 ft wide, 40 ft long and 20 ft high (6 m by 12 m by 6 m), with a small rubber ball delivered by each player against the walls through a hard slapping motion to direct the ball; each player wears gloves to protect their hands. A player drives the ball against the front wall from behind a service line. If the ball is not returned by the opponent, or if the ball bounces more than once after rebounding from the front wall, a point is scored. A player may only score on their own serve. A player may not impede, or hinder an opponent from returning a shot.

Four wall handball is a game which also requires significant aerobic and anaerobic fitness, as each contested point has no limit as to time or the number of shots that may be taken. Competitive players will often dive for well hit balls; lateral quickness, core strength, and the ability to move explosively within a small space, while maintaining one's balance and concentration on the next shot are the components to handball success. Tactics, especially in ball placement and anticipating the direction of the next shot taken by an opponent, are of critical importance. A part of the tactical considerations is an understanding by the player as to how the ball is likely to rebound from the walls of the court on a shot. The relationship between the angles at which the ball strikes the walls, and the effect of any spin imparted to the ball when struck by the opponent, form an important part of handball tactics.

SEE ALSO Racquetball; Soccer; Squash; Stretching and flexibility.