PBS Kids GO! It's My Life
Team Sports: Handball

You're standing near a solid wall, waiting for a small object to come flying in your direction. Suddenly you see it, and you quickly reach out and try to smack it with your hand.

Are you:

  • Swatting mosquitoes against the Great Wall of China?
  • A baseball outfielder dealing with rowdy, food-throwing fans?
  • In the world's most violent puppet show?

NO! You're playing handball!

Handball, like racquetball, is a sport that's played by bouncing a ball against a wall. The players, usually two (singles) or four (doubles), hit the ball with their hands or fists, and try to make shots that the other player or team won't be able to return.

Handball players need to focus their minds and keep their eyes on the ball. They need to be quick to maneuver on the court and reach the speeding ball, and they need good strategy for setting up shots that their opponents can't get to in time. As you can imagine, handball is a great cardiovascular workout!

Handball Basics:

  • Handball can be played on both outdoor and indoor courts. If you're familiar with racquetball, then it's easy to think of the indoor game, also called four-wall handball, as being a lot like racquetball but without the racquets! In fact, handball players and racquetball players usually use the same courts.

  • The outdoor game is often played against a single wall, and is called one-wall handball.

  • In handball, like in volleyball, tennis, and racquetball, only the serving side scores points. When a team or player loses the serve, it's called a side out.

  • A point is scored when the ball hits the ground twice before an opponent can return it to the back wall. If the player returns the ball, but it hits the ground before it hits the back wall, it is also a point.

  • Games are usually played to 21 points.

  • Players always wear gloves and eye protectors because a ball can travel very fast.

Cool Handball Facts:

  • Sports involving hitting a ball with the hand are found in many different cultures, dating back thousands of years. A version that includes bouncing a ball against a wall may have originated in Scotland in the 1400's.

  • The modern version of outdoor, one-wall handball is believed to have started in Brooklyn, NY in the early 1990's, when people started bouncing tennis balls against the high wooden jetties along the seashore.

  • When a handball player makes a shot that rebounds so low that his or her opponent has no chance of returning it, it's called a kill shot.

What Kids Are Saying About Handball:

"Handball is a fun sport because anyone can play it. All you need is a ball and a court."
--Sandy, 11

"I like handball. My school has it and we all play at recess."
--Michael, 9

"I like to play handball because it's cool and it's fun to learn how to play."
--Shayna, 13

"My dad grew up playing handball outdoors, and now we play it together at our health club. We have fun and sweat a lot."
--Terence, 11

Get Involved!

  • If you have a YMCA in your area, this might be the best place to ask about beginner's indoor handball classes and youth leagues.

  • Racquet clubs are also a good place to start, since many places that have racquetball leagues also have handball leagues.

  • In many areas, there are one-wall handball courts at local parks. Visit the courts with an adult and find out about sign-ups for clubs or leagues.

  • Check out the United States Handball Association's Web site at www.ushandball.org.

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