Olympic handball rules explained

Handball is a mix of soccer, basketball and hockey, but so much more fun to watch. Here we explain the ins and outs of Olympic handball.

When I was in grade six, my physical education teacher was an Olympian. She played on the US Olympic handball team in 1996 and showed us her game footage for all of our 11-year-olds to watch. But… we didn’t know what handball was.

So she showed it to us and it is, to this day, one of the funniest sports I have ever played. It is also one of the most random sports that I know of. Well done to you, Coach Neder.

What are the rules of Olympic handball?

You can compare it to a healthy mix of football (without kicking) and basketball (without constant dribbling).

There are 14 players on the pitch (six players and a goalie) and the objective is to get the ball into the net. In each 30-minute half, players are able to dribble the ball, but not as seen in basketball. The expectation is to dribble once and take three steps before passing it to another player.

Passing is the only effective way to get the ball down the field on offense, but defense is a bit trickier. Defenders cannot defend as we see in basketball or football, they are forced to stop the progress of the ball with their hands or by literally standing in their way. Anything more physical can result in yellow cards for said defender.

NBC Olympics provides a detailed rulebook if you’re interested in fouls, subs, and things in between. But now you have the knowledge of handball like I did when I was a little kid.