Sports Officiating

Handball Rules

Part 1. The Game

Rule 1.1 Types of games. Four-wall handball may be played by two, three or four players. When played by two, it is called singles; when played by three, cutthroat (See Interpretation No.1); and when played by four, doubles.

Rule 1.2 Description. Handball is a competitive game in which either hand or either fist may be used to serve and return the ball.

Rule 1.3 Objective. The objective is to win each rally by serving or returning the ball so the opponent is unable to keep the ball in play. A rally is won when one player is unable to return the opponent's shot to the front wall before it touches the floor twice, or when a player returns the ball so that it hits the floor before striking the front wall.

Rule 1.4 Points and outs. Points are scored only by the serving side when it serves an ace (un-returnable serve) or wins a rally. When the serving side loses one rally in singles or two rallies in doubles, it loses the serve. Losing the serve is called an "out".

Rule 1.5 Game, match, tiebreaker. A match is won by the first side winning two games. The first two games of a match are played to 21 points. In the event each side wins a game, a tie-breaker is played to 11 points.

Part 2. Courts and Equipment

Rule 2.1 Courts. The specifications for the standard four-wall handball court are:

A. Dimensions. The court is 20 feet wide, 20 feet high and 40 feet long, with back wall recommended minimum height of 14 feet.

B. Lines and zones. Handball courts shall be divided and marked on the floors with 2-inch-wide lines. Recommended colors are white or red. The lines shall be marked as follows:

1.) Short line. The short line is parallel to the front and back walls. Its outside edge is 20 feet from the front wall.

2.) Service line. The service line is parallel to the short line and its outside edge is 5 feet in front of the outside edge of the short line.

3.) Service zone. The service zone is the area between the outer edges of the short and service lines.

4.) Service boxes. A service box is located at each end of the service zone by lines which have outside measurements of 18 inches from, and parallel to, each side wall.

5.) Receiver's restraining lines. Five feet back of the outside edge of the short line, lines should be marked on the floor extending at least 6 inches from the side wall. These lines, parallel to the short line, may also be marked as a broken line extending from side wall to side wall.. (See Rule 4. 4.A).

Rule 2.2 Ball

A. Specifications.

1.) Material. The material should be rubber or synthetic material.

2.) Color. Color is optional.

3.) Size. 1 and 7/8-inch diameter, with l/32-inch variation.

4.) Weight. The ball shall be 58-62 grams, with a variation of 2 grams. A lighter ball may be used for any division provided it is USHA approved and is specified on the entry blank.

5.) Rebound. Rebound from free fall, 70-inch drop to a hardwood floor is 48 to 52 inches at a temperature of 68 degrees F.

B. Selection. A new ball must be selected by the referee for use in each match in all tournaments. During a game the referee has the authority to change balls if he deems it necessary. Though it is the referee's decision, he should honor requests when made by both sides or when he detects erratic bounces.

Rule 2.3 Gloves.

A. General. Gloves must be worn.

B. Style. Gloves must be light in color and made of a soft material or leather. The fingers may not be webbed, connected or removed.

C. Foreign substances. No foreign substance, tape or rubber bands shall be used on the fingers or on the palms on the outside of the gloves. Metal or hard substances may not be worn under the glove if, in the opinion of the referee, it creates an unfair advantage (See interpretation No. 2).

D. Wet Gloves. Gloves must be changed when they become sufficiently wet to moisten the ball. This is the referee's decision. Gloves with holes that expose the skin may not be worn. It is the player's responsibility to have an ample supply of dry gloves.

Rule 2.4 Uniform.

A. General. All parts of the uniform, consisting of a shirt, shorts, socks and shoes, must be clean at the beginning of a match. Only customary handball attire, in the referee's judgment, can be worn. Players may not play without shirts. Shirts must be full length, not cut off in the torso.

B. Color. Color is optional. Unusual patterns that affect the opposing player's view of the ball or distract him may not be worn.

C. Wet shirts. Referee may demand that a wet shirt be changed. Players must have an ample supply of dry shirts.

D. Lettering and insignia. Lettering or insignia in poor taste is not allowed.

E. Shoes. Shoes must have soles that do not mark or damage the floor.

F. Headband (sweatband). Players must have access to a headband. They will not be required to wear it unless the referee deems it necessary to help keep the floor from getting wet.

Rule 2.5 Eye protection.

A. General. Protective eye wear must be properly worn at all times during play. The USHA recommends that players select lensed eye protection designed for court sports, with polycarbonate lenses of at least 3 m.m. center thickness.

B. Violations. Failure to wear appropriate protective eyewear properly will result in a technical (see Rule 4.9), and the player will be charged a timeout to secure eyewear. The second violation in the same match will result in a forfeit. (See Interpretation No. 3).

Part 3. Officials and Officiating

Rule 3.1 Tournament director. All tournaments shall be managed by a tournament director, who shall designate the officials. Whenever possible, the officials should include a chief of referees, a floor manager, match referees and linesmen.

A. Responsibilities. The tournament director is responsible for overseeing the entire tournament. He, or his delegated representative, shall be present at all times.

B. Rules briefing. Before all tournaments, all officials and players should be briefed on rules and on local court hinders or other regulations. This briefing should also be in writing. The current USHA rules will apply and be made available. Any modifications made by the Tournament Director should be stated on the entry form, and be available to all players at registration. It is also recommended that referee clinics be held before all USHA-sanctioned tournaments.

Rule 3.2 Chief of referees. The chief of referees is in charge of assigning referees to all tournament matches.

Rule 3.3 Removal of referee. One or more players may request that a referee be replaced. The decision to do so is at the sole discretion of the tournament director or chief of referees. Special consideration should be given to such a request if all players are in agreement.

Rule 3.4 Referee.

A. Pre-match duties. Before each match begins, it shall be the duty of the referee to:

1.) Playability. Check on adequacy of preparation of the handball court with respect to playability.

2.) Equipment. Check on availability and suitability of all materials necessary for the match, such as handballs, towels, scorecards, pencils and a timepiece.

3.) Assisting officials. Check readiness and provide instructions to assisting officials.

4.) Court hinders. Explain court hinders, if any, to players. (See Rule 4.3.A.).

5.) Inspect gloves, uniforms and eye protection. Remind players to have an adequate supply of extra gloves and shirts. Inspect compliance of gloves and hands with rules. Remind players that failure to wear eye protection properly will result in a technical, and a second violation in a forfeit.

6.) Start game. Introduce players, toss coin to determine order of serve and signal start of game.

7.) Time. The assigned referee should be present 15 minutes before match time.

8.) Two-minute warning. Give a two-minute warning before the match and before each game.

9.) Scoring. Announce the scores before each rally. (See Rule 4.1.E).

B. Decisions. The referee shall make all decisions with regard to the rules and the referee has the authority to change his call. Where line judges are used, the referee shall announce all final judgments. In the absence of line judges, if both players in singles or three out of four in a doubles match disagree with a call made by the referee, the referee should consider reversing his call.

1.) Spectators. The referee shall have jurisdiction over the spectators, as well as the players, while the match is in progress. (See Rule 5.6)

C. Protests. Any decision involving a rules interpretation may be protested before the next serve. It will then be resolved by the chief of referees or tournament director. Judgment calls may not be protested. If the player's protest is upheld, the proper ruling will be made. If the player's protest is not upheld, the player shall be charged with a timeout. If the player is out of timeouts, he will be charged with a technical.

D. Forfeitures. A match may be forfeited by the referee when:

1.) Flagrant unsportsman-like conduct. Any player refuses to abide by the referee's decision or engages in flagrant unsportsman-like conduct.

2.) Three technicals. A player or side receives three technicals in a match, or two technicals for failure to properly wear eye protection.

3.) Leaving the court. Any player leaves the court at a time not allowed by these rules without permission of the referee.

4.) Failure to report.

a. No show. Any player for a singles match, or any team for a doubles match, fails to report to play.

b. Late start penalty. If a player is not ready to play (or resume play) on time, the opponent shall be awarded one point. The opponent will then be awarded one additional point for each full minute of delay of game up to 10 minutes. The match shall then be forfeited. This applies to the start of the match, between-game timeouts, timeouts during a game and glove-change timeouts. Players should stay within earshot of the referee to help prevent the delay-of-game penalty. It is the obligation of the players to be ready to resume play on time even if the referee fails to give time warnings. If the matches are on, or ahead of schedule, the players must be in the court warming up at least 10 minutes before the assigned match time to assure a prompt start. If running behind, the players must be dressed and ready to enter the court for a maximum 10-minute, in-court warm up.

If a player shows up less than 10 minutes before the scheduled starting time, his warm-up time will be reduced accordingly. The tournament director may permit a longer delay if circumstances warrant.

E. Defaults. A player or team may be forfeited by the tournament director or official in charge for failure to comply with the tournament or host facility's rules while on the tournament premises, for failure to referee or for any other improper conduct on the tournament premises.

F. Other rulings. The referee shall rule on all matters not covered in the USHA Official Rules. However, the referee may be overruled by the chief of referees or tournament director, the latter of whom shall have final authority.

Rule 3.5 Line judges.

A. Linesmen. If possible, two linesmen will be used in all matches, positioned at the most advantageous viewpoints. A linesman's opinion is based on his agreement or disagreement with the referee's call. If a linesman is uncertain, he should abstain from expressing an opinion.

B. Duties and responsibilities. Linesmen are designated to help decide appealed calls. In the event of an appeal, and after a very brief explanation of the appeal by the referee, the linesmen must indicate their opinions of the referee's call. The signal to show agreement with the referee is arm extended with thumb up, disagreement is shown by thumb pointing down. The signal to show no opinion or that the line judge is unsure, or his view was blocked, is arm extended with an open hand and palm down. Line judges should not signal until the referee acknowledges the appeal and asks for a ruling.

C. Result of response. If both line judges signal no opinion, the referee's call stands. If both line judges disagree with the referee, the referee must reverse his ruling. If only one line judge disagrees with the referee's call, the referee may let the call stand, reverse his call or call for a replay.

Rule 3.6 Appeals.

A. Appealable calls. The server may appeal a short or other service fault. He may also appeal receiving line violations. If his appeal is upheld, the server is awarded the serve over. If he had one short, the call would cancel the previous fault call, and he would be awarded two serves, because he was judged to have made a legal serve. If, in the opinion of the referee, the ball could not have been returned, a point shall be awarded the server. If the appeal is not upheld, the call would be two shorts, a side out.

After the rally has ended, either player may appeal on a double-bounce call or non-call, kill shots called good, killshots called no good and court hinders. The outcome may result in a point being awarded, a side out, or a replay depending on the linesmen's opinions. If both linesmen disagree with the referee's call or non-call, the call is reversed or replayed. After the rally has ended, either player may appeal faults and skip serves not called. If he wins the appeal, he is awarded the appropriate call.

At no time may a player appeal a screen serve, hinder (other than court hinders), technicals or other discretionary calls.

B. How to appeal. A player must make appeals directly to the referee before the referee announces the score. The referee will then request the opinion of the linesmen.

The referee may also appeal to the linesmen himself if he is uncertain of his own call, and may then maintain, reverse or nullify his own call. A replay shall be called if the referee believes it is necessary in the interest of fairness.

Rule 3.7 Scorers. The scorer, when utilized, shall keep a record of the progress of the game in the manner prescribed by the tournament director. As a minimum, the progress record shall include the order of serves, outs, and points.

Rule 3.8 Floor manager. The floor manager informs players of their court assignments and times.

Part 4. Play Regulations.

Rule 4.1 Serve.

A. Order. In singles, the player winning the toss of a coin serves first in the first game. The other player serves first in the second game. If a tiebreaker is necessary, the player who scored the higher total of points in the first two games serves first. If both players score an equal number of points in the first two games, another coin toss will be made to determine which player serves first.

In doubles, the side winning the toss of a coin chooses to serve or receive in the first game. The other side shall choose for the second game. If a tiebreaker is necessary, the team scoring the higher total of points in the first two games shall choose. If both teams score an equal number of points in the first two games, another coin toss will be made to determine which team has the choice.

B. Start. Games are started by the referee announcing “play ball,” and then the score, “0 – 0.”

C. Place. The server may serve from any place in the service zone. No part of either foot may touch the floor beyond the outer edge of either line of the service zone. Server must remain in the service zone until the served ball passes the short line. Violations are called “foot faults." (See Rule 4.3 C.1.).

D. Manner. The server must come to a complete stop in the service zone before beginning the serve. The serve is begun by bouncing the ball to the floor in the service zone. Although the server may bounce and catch the ball several times before serving, when actually beginning the serve the ball must be struck on a single bounce. If a player allows the ball to bounce more than once after a single drop and then hits it, a fault will be called (See Rule 4.3 C.8). The ball must be struck by the server's hand or fist so that it hits the front wall first and on the rebound hits the floor behind the short line, either with or without touching one of the side walls. If the server bounces the ball outside the service zone as he begins his serve, a fault will be called (See Rule 4.3 C.7).

E. Time. A serve may not be made until the referee has announced the score (See Rule 3.4.A.9). The referee shall call point or side out as soon as a rally ends. The receiver then has up to 10 seconds to assume a receiving position. When the receiver has assumed a receiving position or 10 seconds have elapsed, whichever occurs first, and the server has had reasonable time to get to his serving position, the referee shall announce the score and the server must serve (strike the ball) within 10 seconds.

If the first serve results in a fault or screen, the referee shall give the receiver a reasonable time to take a receiving position and then the referee shall announce "second serve" after which the server must serve within 10 seconds. (See Interpretation No. 4).

Rule 4.2 Doubles.

A. Server. At the beginning of each game in doubles, each side informs the referee of the order of service, which must be followed throughout the game. Only the first server on the first serving team may serve the first time up. This player must continue to serve first throughout the game. When the game's first server is put out on his initial serve, the side is out. Thereafter, both players on each side shall serve until an out for each occurs. It is not necessary for the server to alternate serves to the opponents.

B. Partner's position. On each serve, the server's partner shall stand erect with his back to the nearer side wall and with both feet on the floor within the service box until the served ball passes the short line. Violations are called “foot faults."

Rule 4.3 Defective serves. Defective serves are of four types and result in the following:

A. Dead-ball serves. A dead-ball serve results in no penalty and the server is given another serve without canceling a prior illegal serve. This occurs in the following situations:

1.) Court hinders. If a served ball takes an erratic bounce due to a court obstruction or wetness (before the serve has become a legal serve) a court hinder is called and the serve is replayed. (See Rule 3.4.A.4 )

2.) Broken ball. If the ball is determined to have broken on the serve, a new ball shall be substituted, and the serve shall be replayed.

B. Screen serves. A screen serve call stops play, and the server gets another serve. Two consecutive screen serves result in a “fault.”

1.) Screen balls. If, in the referee's judgment, the ball passes so close to the server or the server's partner that the receiver's view of the ball is obstructed, a screen should be called. (See Interpretation No. 5). Also, if the served ball hits the server’s partner on the fly rebounding from the front wall or from the front wall and a side wall while the server’s partner is in a legal position within the service box, it shall be treated as a screen serve. It is also a screen when any otherwise legally served ball passes behind the server's partner, between the partner and the nearer side wall.

2.) Straddle balls. A legally served ball that travels between the legs of the server is an automatic screen.

C. Fault serves. The following serves are fault serves, and any two that are hit before a legal serve is executed result in an out:

1.) Foot fault.

a.) The server begins the service motion with one or both feet touching the floor outside the service zone (See Rule 4.1.C).

b.) The server leaves the service zone before the served ball passes the short line.

c.) In doubles, when the server's partner is not in the service box with both feet on the floor and his back to the nearer side wall from the time the serve is begun until the ball passes the short line.

2.) Short serve. Any serve that first hits the front wall and on the rebound hits the floor in front of, or on, the short line either with or without touching one side wall.

3.) Three-wall serve. Any serve that first hits the front wall and then hits any two other walls before hitting the floor.

4.) Ceiling serve. Any serve that hits the front wall first and then touches the ceiling.

5.) Long serve. Any serve that first hits the front wall and rebounds to the back wall before touching the floor.

6.) Out-of-court serve. Any serve that first strikes the front wall and then rebounds out of the court without touching the floor.

7.) Bouncing ball outside service zone. Any serve that is struck on a bounce that was made outside the service zone. (See Rule 4.1 D)

8.) Not hitting ball on first bounce from a single drop. (See Rule 4.1 D).

9.) Two consecutive screen serves. Two consecutive screen serves result in a fault. This is the only fault call that cannot be appealed.

D. Out serves. Any of the following results in an out:

1.) Missed serve. Any attempt to strike the ball on the first service bounce that results in a total miss, or in the ball touching any part of the server's body other than the striking hand.

2.) Non-front serve. Any served ball that does not strike the front wall first.

3.) Touched serve. Any served ball on the rebound from the front wall, before bouncing on the floor, that touches the server, or touches the server's partner when both of the partner’s feet are not touching the floor inside the service box or when the partner’s back is not to the nearer side wall. This includes a serve that is intentionally caught. When the partner is hit by the serve when he is not in his legal position, the out serve penalty supersedes the partner's foot fault (See Interpretation No. 6).

4.) Two consecutive fault serves. (See Rule 4.3 B).

5.) Crotch serve. Any serve that hits a crotch in the front wall is an out. All balls hitting the crotch of a wall and the floor shall be considered to have hit the floor first. A serve that rebounds on the fly from the front wall into the crotch of the back wall and the floor is a legal serve, as is a three-wall crotch serve.

6.) Out-of-order serve. In doubles, when either partner serves out of order, the points scored by that server will be subtracted and an out serve will be called. If the second server serves out of order, the out serve will apply to the first server and the second server will resume serving. If the player designated as the first server serves out of order, a sideout will be called (See Interpretation No. 7).

7.) Service delay. The server fails to serve the ball within 10 seconds after the referee has announced the score.

Rule 4.4 Return of serve.

A. Receiving position. The receiver or receivers must stand at least five feet behind the short line, as indicated by the receiver’s restraining lines, until the ball is struck by the server. Any violation of this rule results in a point for the server. (See Rule 2.1.B.5)

B. Fly return. In making a fly return, the receiver may play the ball anytime after it passes over the back edge of the short line and no part of his body may extend on or over the plane of the back edge of the short line when contacting the ball. A violation results in a point for the server. After contacting the ball, the receiver may step on or over the short line without penalty.

C. Legal return. After the ball is legally served, one of the players on the receiving side must strike the ball either on the fly or after the first bounce, and before the ball touches the floor the second time, to return the ball to the front wall either directly or after it has touched one or both side walls, the back wall, the ceiling, or any combination of those surfaces. A returned ball may not touch the floor before touching the front wall. A ball may be played off the back wall as well as the front wall, provided the ball does not touch the floor a second time. Failure to make a legal return results in a point for the server.

Changes of serve and more


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