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How to Play Handball: The Street Rules

I love playing handball and teaching other people how to play this wonderful sport.

What Is Handball?

For those of you who do not know what handball is, it is a sport similar to racquetball. The difference is that you play with your hands. The walls are very similar, and some of the same rules apply. But in my opinion, handball is a bit harder due to the fact that you are using a part of your body to hit the ball, not a wooden racquet. There are two varieties of handball. There is street and professional. The information I will be providing will be about the street version.

As a teenager, I can remember the days of running to the park to go play handball. It was one of my favorite things to do. Hundreds of kids would meet at the park to play, and we would be there from morning until dark. Yeah, sometimes you had a bit of a wait to get a turn (not usually in my case, I was a very good player—I just had to toot my own horn), but those times were filled with competition and laughter.

The actual court I use to play in Brooklyn.

The actual court I use to play in Brooklyn.

Equipment Used

  • The Ball: There are two types of balls you can use. The one used for the street game is a bit smaller than an apple. The ball is hard but can be squeezed. If you are playing in a professional competition, the ball is about the size of a plum and is much harder.
  • Gloves: If you are starting out, or are still not used to having swollen hands, you should purchase a pair of handball gloves. These will protect your hands, eliminate the swelling, and allow you to hit the ball harder.
  • Clothing: You should wear comfortable clothing, but not anything too loose. It might get in the way of your swing and also make it harder to run around.
  • Protective Glasses: These are a good idea if you don't want to get a black eye. The ball can hit you in the face. It has happened to me, and it doesn't feel pretty.
  • Footwear: You always want to wear sneakers. There is no way for you to run around in flip-flops. You will definitely fall and hurt yourself. I had a friend who always insisted on wearing flip-flops, and he fell all the time. Some people never learn!

Basic Rules

The game requires great hand-eye coordination. You can play singles or doubles like you would in racquetball or tennis. The court is set up with out boundaries, a short line, and a long line. When serving, you need to make sure that your ball passes the short line but does not go beyond the long line. It needs to be inside the side boundary lines as well. You may hit the ball without it bouncing, or allowing it to bounce once. The turn is over if it bounces once and is not hit.

  • Singles: If you serve and the ball goes out of bounds, it is then the other player's turn. If you serve and the ball goes short or long, you have another chance. But you only get two chances. If you hit the ball on the floor before it hits the wall, you automatically lose your turn, and the other player serves.
  • Doubles: If you are playing with a partner, the rules are the same, except that you each have a chance. So if you are serving, and your play is over, your partner then goes. Once your partner's play is over, the other team then goes.
  • Returning the Ball: When returning the ball, it must hit the wall before it does the floor. Otherwise, the server will score a point. If you completely miss the ball, and the ball was served appropriately, you will also give the server a point. The play stops when the ball is either hit out of bounds, or the ball touches the floor before it touches the wall. Basically, you never want the ball to hit the floor before the wall. In any case, this is an out.


Handball requires great strategy. You want your opponent to run around the court like crazy, and you want to hit the ball low enough so that they will have trouble retrieving it. If your ball hits the groove between the wall and the floor, that is awesome! Your opponent does not have much of a chance to pick that up. We call that a killer. It is not impossible to retrieve that type of play, but it is very hard. And if you can master the skill of placing the ball exactly where you want it, you have a great chance of beating many people. Placing the ball is very important.

You need to keep an eye on where your opponent is at all times. The reason being is that you want to place the ball somewhere where it would be hard for them to get to. The farther away the ball is from them, the more of a chance they are going to miss. Even if they get it, by the time they reach the ball, their main goal is just putting the ball on the wall. They will have no time to try to place it where they want it.

Power Isn't Everything

It is great to have power when hitting the ball, but power should not be used in every circumstance. For example, if your opponent is way in the back near the long line because of a ball they just hit, you would then hit the ball very lightly. The other player will have to run as fast as they can in order to get the ball back to the wall before the second bounce. If they happen to get it, you should then hit the ball hard enough to send it over their head, so the ball goes to the back of the court. This way, the player will have to once again run back to get it.


You get a point only if you are serving. If you win a play and you are not serving, then it is time for you to serve. Points are scored one at a time. We either played a game to seven, 11, or 21. This depended on how many people were waiting or if you were having any type of competition. A shut-out game is if you are playing a game of 11 or 21 and you score 7 points without the other person scoring anything. We considered this an automatic win.

Handball Terms and Techniques

  • Ace: When serving, if you are able to get the ball within playing boundaries, and the opponent is not able to even touch the ball, you have aced them.
  • Backhand: This is similar to a backhand in tennis. For example, if you are right-handed and the ball is on your left side, you would still use your right hand. You would turn your hand so that the palm is facing outwards.
  • Ball On/In: This is when a ball from another court enters the court you are playing on. The play is stopped and then restarted once the ball is removed.
  • Block/Moving Block: If you hit another player with the ball, it is called a block. Or if a person is intentionally moving in front of you, preventing you from being able to have a shot, it is a moving block.
  • Bullet: This is when the ball does not bounce at all.
  • Crack: On outdoor handball courts, there are a lot of cracks on the ground. If the ball hits the crack, it is still good. This can hurt the chances of you being able to hit the ball, since hitting the crack will make the ball fly in directions that you can't possibly follow.
  • Cut/Chop/Slice: This is a hard skill to learn. You must put a twist on the ball by moving your hand in a chop-like fashion. The ball will hit the wall with a spin, making its landing unpredictable.
  • Double-down: If it is your turn to serve, and the wrong teammate serves, you automatically lose your turn.
  • Fist Shot: If you want to hit the ball really hard, it is called a fist shot. This is when you hit the ball with your knuckles, actually punching it.
  • Fly Shot: This is when you hit the ball in mid-air before it hits the ground.
A handball court.

A handball court.

  • Killer: This is when you hit the ball really low to the ground. This play is not impossible to pick up, but it is hard. There is also something called killing the corner. This is when you aim the ball perfectly to one corner, right near the out line, and hit it really low. The chances of your opponent retrieving that shot are low.
  • Lob (Overhead Shot): This is when you hit the ball underhand, making it go really high on the wall, and then landing the ball far to the back near the long line. You can also do an overhand shot, which is almost the same as far as placing the ball, but you don't hit the ball underhand.
  • Man-on-Court: This is when an outside individual is on the court while the ball is in play, meaning a person who does not belong there.
  • Out-on-Wall: When you hit the ball, and it goes into the outlines on the wall.
  • Pick-up: This is when the ball is really close to the ground, but you still manage to pick it up on the first bounce.
  • Pop (Choke): This is when the ball hits the floor and the wall at the same time. The ball will usually pop straight up in the air. The play is dead, and the ball is considered out.
  • Power Side: This is the side of the court that you feel most comfortable on. Usually, the stronger player will play on the side that the other player does not feel comfortable on.
  • Roller: This is when the ball hits the bottom of the wall so low that it just rolls. It is really a lucky shot that usually happens when you are trying to kill the ball. This shot is good, and you automatically get the point if you are serving.
  • Screen Serve (Under-leg): If the ball is served and goes under your legs, it is out. If the game is in play, and it goes between your legs, the ball is still live, and you must continue playing.
  • Whip: This is when you cup your hand to make the ball bounce to the wall. In this case, you are not slapping the ball.

You Can Practice Anywhere

It is very important to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. If you are looking for a fun and healthy sport, handball is the game.

Like anything else, practice makes perfect. I started playing when I was eight years old, and by the time I was 15, I could play with the best of them in my neighborhood. They do offer handball courts at some of your local YMCAs, but I believe they play more of the professional way, using the smaller ball and more than one wall.

If you want to try it, but can't find an official type of wall, the side of a building works quite well for practice!

Questions & Answers

Question: When serving if the ball is short can it still be played if the opponent decides to hit it while playing handball?

Answer: No, if it's short it has to be served again.

Question: Can you play handball without the court?

Answer: You can use a wall--any wall really, but in order to have the correct lines on the wall and lines on the court, you would need to use a handball court.

Question: How do you get out in Handball?

Answer: You are out if you hit the ball out of bounds or miss hitting it on your turn. You must hit it with only 1 bounce or no bounce. It must be hit within the boundaries on the wall and within the lines on the ground. You are also out if you attempt 2 times on serving and you hit long or short. If you serve out of bounds you are out.

Question: How do you score in handball?

Answer: You have to be serving to score. If the other team misses or hits the ball out while you or your team is serving you get the point.

Question: Is ' deathmatch ' a term people use when playing handball?

Answer: I never used the term but have heard of it.

© 2010 Jennifer Bates


Jennifer Bates (author) from West Palm Beach on August 09, 2020:

I mean there is no rule stating you have to face a certain way but you do have to hit it on the way and over the short line, so it would be hard to face anyway but forward. Thanks for commenting.

Jennifer Bates (author) from West Palm Beach on August 09, 2020:

Aww thanks for sharing, I went to PS194 in Brooklyn. JHS014, your comment reminds me of my childhood! Thanks for commenting.

All luv on August 03, 2020:

Do you have to be facing a certain way when surving?

Ben on July 30, 2020:

I am a PR- raised in Brooklyn Ps25, JHS57 We have played off On school walls, Williamsburg park, orchard beach in the Bronx, Coney Island and on Sunday in our neighborhood we played Chinese handball . Back in the 1967-70

I won the nickname speedy killer because I love To serve real low and kill the ball. I also enjoyed spinning The ball off the wall. And when it landed on the ground it quickly shoots to a different direction. I also loved to baby the ball and make them run. It kept me in shape!

Now ,I move to Texas where is hard to find any handball court at all need my house. Never less, I maintain my fitness!

Now and then when I’m alone the thoughts of those days keeps me active.

Jennifer Bates (author) from West Palm Beach on July 17, 2020:

Hi yes you can move after you hit the ball.

Chain on July 16, 2020:

What about moving after you hit the ball ?

Scooter on June 18, 2020:

Handball is awesome but I think I play a different version but some parts were helpful

Jennifer Bates (author) from West Palm Beach on April 01, 2020:

Hello You do not need it to bounce to serve it. Yes you can bounce it like you said and catch it as long as you dont hit it. I did that all the time. I think you were just reading it incorrectly. But you definitely don't need to bounce it to serve it. At least not where I grew up. Thanks for your comment. Stay safe out there.

Spiro on April 01, 2020:

Jenny your wrong about being able to serve the ball without a bounce ,one bounce is required by the rules before a serve! Also your only down if you let it bounce more than once then serve it, not a down after a bounce if you don't serve it, sometimes it takes a bad bounce, you can catch it and start the serve over !

Jennifer Bates (author) from West Palm Beach on November 26, 2018:

PS 52 in Brooklyn? If so I used to play at PS 52 in Brooklyn as well!

val on November 18, 2018:

used to play with spaldeen, no gloves.

crotons park, orchard beach, Yankee stadium, out by st anselms and ps 52. really miss it!

Lorena on September 02, 2018:

I seen only one handball vourt in Woodbridge NJ but is run down. Where is there more?

I used to play out in Brooklyn in my teen years. Is a great sport.

jose on August 12, 2018:

i grew up playing handball in Brooklyn East New York, I learned to play with my left hand cause my best friend felix was a lefty so he would play with his right and i with my left . people I played with used to think I was a lefty since I got so good at playing with my left. I now live in Fajardo Puerto Rico since 1977 back and forth since. I am now a disables veteran and boy would I love to play again. too bad they don't have handball in Fajardo. I LOVE NEW YORK .

Jennifer Bates (author) from West Palm Beach on June 19, 2018:

Hi, thanks for your comment. I know that there are some handball groups in south FL. Check out this Facebook page sflgotnxt.fl They have handball events. Hope that helps.

David on June 17, 2018:

can you suggest where I find an intermediate handball game in Hollywood Florida. I am from New York City and I find myself living in Hollywood and I am way out of shape besides the fact that I'm in my mid-forties so I need to get healthy and Handball would be very inspiring to me. I'm not saying that I am ugly player but I read your article and I was like you when I was a kid and I would go to the courts from early in the morning til sundown. I really would appreciate your help regarding this matter because I'm fighting for custody of my daughter and I do not want to drop that before I get her since her mother died last October. I live near the Hollywood library near the BCC South Campus. Thank you very much

Jennifer Bates (author) from West Palm Beach on August 27, 2016:

At a sporting store you should be able to get one. Or order online.

Juan on August 05, 2016:

Where I could buy the small ball at

Pedro on December 08, 2014:

This intmioafron is off the hizool!

JAY on March 09, 2013:

Yeah, what's up guys?i was born & raised in Brooklyn & handball was & still is the main sport i's just that challenging & really have to be in shape in order to excell in this game.also strategy & ball placement is very important.only sport that requires very little.meaning just a wall & good proper attire.(sneakers, sweats,etc.).i encourage anybody to just go out try it.don't worry about losing in the beginning.just keep honing your skills & results will of luck.J-BK.

Jennifer Bates (author) from West Palm Beach on October 11, 2012:

Hi Rosa, thanks for your comment. I agree with you totally, my handball years were great years and when I wrote this hub it brought back many memories for me as well.

ROSA on October 10, 2012:


Jennifer Bates (author) from West Palm Beach on September 16, 2012:

Aww you are lucky! I wish I could play. Have fun..

Rebecca on September 14, 2012:

I used to play when I lived in NYC, but I moved away 35 years ago. Just discovered there is a public handball court 10 minutes from my home. I went out this morning and just practiced a bit on my own. What fun! I wonder if there are any women players around here -- Boston area. If so, please email me at rmyoung3 at gmail dot com.

Vince on July 11, 2012:

Love playing, but I moved to NJ and although I have found a few courts, it is really hard to find players. If there is anyone in central NJ seeking some competitive handball, please let me know. I also have a partner, who is very good at the game. We are up for singles or doubles.

Jennifer Bates (author) from West Palm Beach on August 09, 2011:

Thanks Antonio for your comment. Yes Chinese handball is quite different. I really never got into that too much because it was not very challenging.

Antonio on August 09, 2011:

In elementary school we played a very modified variant of Chinese handball. The terms used there were a lot different than others I've heard. Chops, pops, straight A's and overlines just to name a few. I always thought Chinese was easier than any other variant, with more control over power and whatnot when hitting.

Jennifer Bates (author) from West Palm Beach on June 11, 2011:

Ha, ya a video camera would have been nice!! I never got into paddle ball much, I guess because I got so use to handball. Thanks for your comment!

RUBYJ459@YAHOO.COM on June 11, 2011:


Jennifer Bates (author) from West Palm Beach on May 25, 2011:

Hi Johnny. Thanks for your comment! You are right, everbody should try it.

johnnyzky on May 25, 2011:

Hey there I have been playing the sport for over 30 years and yes it is a city sport;how ever,in Puerto Rico I too have played hand ball like in Ceiba where a hand ball court was built in the 1980's.I love the sport and feel that every one in need of a complete body and mind exercise should try it.Thank You Jenn for this page.

Jennifer Bates (author) from West Palm Beach on August 28, 2010:

It is a great sport! I have handball gloves listed on my article. It is much easier to play with the gloves, but you will get use to it after a while.

Isaac Cho on August 28, 2010:

I've played handball for 1 year. I just need gloves. but I don't know where to get them. If I have gloves while playing, I would be better at it. I love handball. It makes me feel great. I also get to meet new people.

Jennifer Bates (author) from West Palm Beach on July 21, 2010:

Thanks changa for your comment. Yes, I think it is a great sport for all ages and kids would love it!

changa408 on July 21, 2010:

I have been playing handball for 25 years and have met a lot of great people who love it as much as I do that's why I think indoor players should reach out to kids that live in bad areas with nowhere to go but just parks and make it more affordable for them to get involved I think we would see a lot more good players in the future .

Jennifer Bates (author) from West Palm Beach on July 11, 2010:

That right wordsscriber, any wall or side of a building will do!

wordsscriber from California on July 11, 2010:

I have not play handball in some time. Brings back memories. We just used a wall or the side of a building.

Jennifer Bates (author) from West Palm Beach on July 07, 2010:

Thanks star. It is lots of fun.

stars439 from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State. on July 07, 2010:

Thank you for sharing. Very nice hub and looks like fun. God Bless You.

Anita on July 07, 2010:

I miss handball so much we had lots of fun playing handball instead of going to school. But i will be in Coney Island soon so maybe i will play a game! Ahh the good ole days..........

Jennifer Bates (author) from West Palm Beach on July 06, 2010:

LOL akirchner. If you are not use to it, the gloves work really well. It takes a little practice, but you generally have an idea since you play racquetball and it should not be that hard for you. I am sure you would do great!

Audrey Kirchner from Washington on July 06, 2010:

I've never played but always wondered about the rules. I used to watch the boys play in high school. I'm a huge racquetball fan though and love to play that. I just wonder if my poor broken down arms and hands could take handball!

Jennifer Bates (author) from West Palm Beach on July 06, 2010:

Thanks jj200. I think the kind of handball you use to play was called chinese handball. It is when a line of people stood in a row and had to bounce the ball to the wall in order. Something like that lol, after writing this hub, I really want to go and play. I haven't played in about a year. There are no outdoor courts where I live. : (

jj200 from My Bedroom on July 06, 2010:

I've heard of handball, though I thought it was a foreign thing. I believe it's popular in places like Germany and Australia to name a few. Though that is the indoor kind. Never heard of outdoor handball. This is quite different I believe. We played wall ball here in MA and it was similar but with more people. Those little blue balls were the best!

Cool hub Jenn.

Jennifer Bates (author) from West Palm Beach on July 06, 2010:

Hi Wendy. Yes believe me it gets you into great shape. It works every muscle in the body plus it is fun!

Wendy Henderson from Cape Coral on July 06, 2010:

I've never played either. It really looks fun. I be it would get someone in great shape.

Jennifer Bates (author) from West Palm Beach on July 05, 2010:

Yes, it is mostly a city thing. I have been places in which they had no idea of what it was. It is really fun!

Tony Lawrence from SE MA on July 05, 2010:

I have never played and have never seen anyone play except on TV. Must be a city thing?