American handball is a sport in which players use their hands to hit a small rubber ball against a wall so that it bounces off in such a way that their opponent cannot return it. There are three versions of handball (four-wall, three-wall and one-wall) that can each be played by either two players (singles), three players (cut-throat) or four players (doubles).
There are references to games in which a ball is hit or thrown extend as far back as Homer and ancient Egypt. A game similar to handball was played by Northern and Central Americans from 1500 B.C., most famously by the Aztecs as the Mesoamerican ballgame. However, there is no reference to a rebound game using a wall. These ancient games more closely resemble a form of hand tennis. Further examples of similar games include the European-originated games of Basque pelota (or Jai-alai), Valencian fronto, and International fronton.
The first recorded game of striking a ball with a hand against a wall was made in Scotland in 1427, when it was recorded that King James I ordered a cellar window in his palace courtyard blocked up, as it was interfering with his game. In Ireland, the earliest written record of a similar ball game is contained in the town statutes of Galway of 1527, which forbade the playing of ball games [generic] against the walls of the town. The first depiction of an Irish form of handball does not appear till 1785. The sport of handball in Ireland was eventually standardized as Gaelic handball. Australians were playing a similar game by the mid 19th century, which developed into the modern sport of Australian handball.
Major John Andre and General Sir Henry Clinton are said to have played a game called handball during the American Revolution, in "Treacherous Beauty," a book by Mark Jacob and Stephen H. Case about the Arnold-Andre conspiracy. The earliest record of the modern game being played in the United States lists two handball courts in San Francisco in 1873. The sport grew rapidly over the next few decades. In the early 1900s, four-wall handball was already well established, and a one-wall game was developed in New York City by beach goers who hit bald tennis balls with their hands against the sides of the wooden jetties that lined beaches. This led to a rise in one-wall handball around the beaches of New York, and by the 1930s, thousands of one-wall courts, both indoor and outdoor, had been built throughout the city. American handball today is seen predominantly in parks, beaches, and high school yards in New York, Chicago, and other large urban areas.
National championships in handball have been held annually in the United States since 1919. These championships were organized by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) until 1950, when their control was transferred to the newly formed United States Handball Association (USHA).
Influence on racquetball and wall paddleball
The sports of racquetball, Fives, four wall and one wall paddleball were heavily influenced by handball. Four wall paddleball and one wall paddleball were created when people used wooden paddles to play on handball courts. Four wall paddleball was invented in 1930 by Earl Riskey, a physical-education instructor at the University of Michigan, when he came up with the idea of using paddles to play on the school's handball courts. Racquetball was invented in 1949 by Joe Sobek in Greenwich, Connecticut when he played handball using a strung racquet.
American handball is played on a walled-court 40 by 20 feet (12.2 m × 6.1 m) with either a single (front) wall, three walls, or in a fully enclosed four-wall court. The four-wall court is a rectangular box. The front wall is 20 feet (6.1 m) square, and the side walls are 40 feet (12.2 m) long and 20 feet (6.1 m) high. In the middle of the floor of the court lies the short line, dividing the floor into two 20 feet (6.1 m) squares. Also along the floor is the service line, which is 5 feet (1.5 m) in front of the short line. The service zone is the area between these two lines. The back wall of the court is usually 12 feet (3.7 m) high, with an above gallery for the referee and scorer, and also spectators. A few courts have a glass back wall and/or glass side walls to allow for a better view of the match. (In three-wall court handball, the court often has a front wall and two full side walls, or the front wall is flanked by two triangular wings.)
Handball may be played as singles (two players against each other), doubles (two teams of two players), or "cut-throat" (three players rotating one-against-two). (In "cut-throat" handball, one server plays against two receivers, until he or she is put out. Then, the left-most receiver serves, and so serves rotate in this way until one player scores 21 points and wins.) The "cut-throat" mode of play is also known as "triangles".
The ball is "served" by one player standing in the service zone, by dropping the ball to the floor of the service zone and striking it on the bounce with the hand or fist so that it hits the front wall. The ball must hit the front wall first; it may then hit at most one side wall; the served ball must pass the short line before the first bounce, but must bounce before reaching the back wall. When the served ball lands in front of the short line, it is called a "short," while a serve which reaches the back wall without bouncing is called "long," and a serve which hits both side walls before bouncing is called a "3-wall". All these are service faults. If the server gets two faults in a row, he or she is out, and becomes the receiver. If a serve hits the ceiling, floor, or a side wall before hitting the front wall, the server is out (no second serve allowed). In doubles, the server's teammate has to stand in the service area with his/her back to a side wall in a service box, marked by a parallel line 18 inches (46 cm) from the side wall, until the ball passes the short line.
The receiver must stand at least 5 feet (1.5 m) behind the short line, indicated by dashed lines extending 6 inches (15 cm) from each side wall, while the server has the ball. Once the ball is served, he or she must hit the ball either directly ("on the fly") or after the first bounce so that it bounces off the front wall. However, if the receiver chooses to take the serve on the fly, he or she must first wait for the ball to cross the short line (the dashed line, in racketball). The ball must not bounce off the floor twice. Nor can any player during a return hit the ball off the floor before it touches the front wall. The server then hits the ball on the rebound from the front wall, and play continues with the opponents alternatively hitting the ball until one of them fails to make a legal return. After the serve and return, the ball may be played from anywhere, and may hit any number of walls and/or the ceiling, so long as it hits the front wall before bouncing on the floor. Players cannot hinder (block) their opponents from hitting the ball. If the server fails to make a legal return, he or she is out, and becomes the receiver. If the receiver fails to make the return, a point goes to the server, who continues to serve until he or she is out. So, only the server/serving team can score points. The game goes to the player/team to score 21 points first, and a match goes to the player/team to win two out of three games; the third game goes to 11 points.
A three-wall handball court is an outside court with a front-wall, two side-walls (these may be "full" or "halfs"—halfs being a pair of sloping side-walls), and no back-wall in the play area. It is played very much like an indoor four-wall court, only with the challenge of returning the ball without any back-wall rebound. The long line at the forty foot mark is considered "in" if the ball hits it when hitting the floor.
A one-wall handball court has a wall 20 feet (6.1 m) wide and 16 feet (4.9 m) high. The court floor is 20 feet (6.1 m) wide and 34 feet (10.4 m) long. When not played as part of tournament or league play, the one-wall game typically uses the bigger ball called "the Big Blue" (described in the next section "Equipment"). The main difference between one-wall handball and other versions is that the ball must always be played off the front wall. One-wall handball can be watched by more people than a four-wall game. The court is also cheaper to build, making this version of handball popular at gymnasiums and playgrounds. In New York City alone, it is estimated that there are 2052 public handball courts in the five boroughs. One player can also play this game to develop his skill, agility, speed and coordination.
A typical outfit worn during the game includes protective gloves, sneakers, athletic shorts, and goggles. Eye protection is required in tournament handball, as the ball moves at high speeds and in close range. It is rarely used in "street" handball, however, where the softer "big blue" ball is usually used.
The black or blue rubber ball, 2.3 ounces (65 g) in mass/weight and 1.875 inches (4.76 cm) in diameter (smaller, heavier, and harder than a racquetball), is hit with the gloved palm (informal games often don't include gloves).
Small ball versus big ball
A "true" handball is referred to as an "ace ball" or in earlier days, "blackball". A racquet ball used to play handball is called a "big ball" or "big blue". A small ball is hard and bounces higher. Some types of small balls are called the Red Ace (for men) and the White Ace (for women).
A big ball bounces lower and slower than a small ball, is softer, and is more hollow.
Four-wall games use the small ball almost exclusively. Three- and one-wall games use both balls. For one-wall, formal games, such as tournaments and school competitions, involve the use of the small ball only. Informal games, or "street handball," use the big ball most often. Both balls are used extensively in New York City and formal tournaments are starting to appear for big ball – NYC Big Blue, for example. In addition, there is now a very active International One Wall presence and they are using the big ball.
About the sport
Terms and techniques
- A serve in which the retriever is not only unable to return the ball, but is also unable to touch the ball. Same concept as in Tennis. In some games, any return from a serve which does not make it back to the wall is called an ace.
- A technique of hitting the ball with the palm of the strong hand so that the hand is turned inwards and across the body. The arm is swung away from the body. This technique is usually used by players who have a weak off-hand or when the ball comes towards the midline of the body and the person doesn't have time to get into position.
- A term used when the ball hit by the receiver doesn't reach the wall, but instead directly hits another player; or when the enemy player is directly in the path of the ball that the receiver is unable to see and hit it.
- Moving block
- A call from the receiver to indicate that an opposing player interfered in the receiver's ability to reach and return the ball during a rally.
- Ceiling shot
- A defensive play in a four-wall court in which a player hits the ball hard and upward, so that it first contacts the ceiling and then the front wall, usually forcing the opponent to go to the back of the court to make a return.
- A shot in which the player puts a heavy spin on the ball, causing the ball to bounce off the wall in an erratic motion. To perform a cut, the ball must be struck by a sudden twist in the hand and/or fingers. The main purpose of these shots is to throw off the opponent's rhythm of hitting the ball.
- A shot with spin that veers off to one side.
- A shot (usually side-arm or underhand) in which the player hits the ball so low that it just barely touches the wall first before hitting the ground. This shot can end a rally, although it is possible to pick up a kill. Although it helps the player win the rally immediately, it is a very risky shot for there is a chance of missing and hitting the floor. Thus, there is little room for error. A variation of the killer is the corner-kill. A corner-kill is a killer that is aimed at the extreme left or right of the wall. In one-wall, this shot has more risk than a normal kill because the player runs the risk of hitting the ball out. A corner-kill is often more difficult to pick up because players usually occupy the center of the court, making the shot harder to reach.
- Lob (overhead shot)
- In one-wall handball, an under-hand shot in which the player hits the ball to the wall in a high arc such that the ball is launched back high above the top of the wall through a parabolic path that results in the ball landing near the long line. This tactic is mainly used against short players or players who hover near the front of the court. An overhead shot is similar, but can be used with an over-hand shot, must be hit near the top of the wall, and does not go any higher, unlike the lob.
- When the ball is served over the long line.
- Pass shot(corner shot)
- A shot where the ball passes an opponent fairly low and fast near one of the side walls, out of the opponent's reach, thus winning the rally.
- Similar to that in volleyball, the spike is a shot in which the player slams the ball down from a high altitude to hit the base of the wall. Doing so forces the ball to bounce up much higher than it usually would.
- School handball is an extended version of handball played at schools across the nation. It has three ways of play: freestyle, old school, and new school.
- Handball is played in Loyola School, Jamshedpur, India. It is probably the only place in India where this game is played and tournaments held on a regular basis. It was introduced in the school as early as 1949 by Father Keogh.
- Chinese handball is a street game form of handball played against one wall, except the ball must hit the floor before hitting the wall. It is like an upside down version of American Handball.
- Wall ball is a generic name for a variety of similar street games played by children, often with tennis balls.
- Prison handball is a simplified version of handball popular in North American prisons.
- Frisian handball, in Dutch known as kaatsen.
Notable players include:
- Albert Apuzzi
- Paul Brady
- David Chapman
- Paul Haber
- Vic Hershkowitz
- Fred Lewis
- Oscar Obert
- Joe Platak
- Jake Plummer
- Jimmy Jacobs
- Joey Maccini
- Danny Zhu
- "US Handball Association - History of Handball". ushandball.org. United States Handball Association. Retrieved 2011-07-15.
- Crego, Robert (2003), Sports and games of the 18th and 19th centuries, Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN 978-0-313-31610-4
- The History of the Gaelic Athletic Association in Canada By John O'Flynn, Ainsley Baldwin Trafford Publishing, 2008 p176
- "Handball" (article), The World Book Encyclopedia - Australasia 1970, Field Enterprises Educational Corporation, Chicago Illinois, (fieldwork assistance by Field Educational Enterprises of Australasia Pty. Ltd., North Sydney, Australia, p. 370
- "US Handball Association - Growth of Handball in NY". ushandball.org. United States Handball Association. Retrieved 2012-01-28.
- "US Handball Association - National Champions". ushandball.org. United States Handball Association. Retrieved 2012-01-27.
- David, Walker (1999). Skills, Drills & Strategies for Racquetball. Scottsdale, Arizona: Holcomb Hathaway, Inc. p. 112. ISBN 1-890871-17-6. Walker.
- "US Handball Association - Four-Wall Rulebook". ushandball.org. United States Handball Association. Retrieved 2011-06-23.
- United States Handball Association (USHA)
- Southern California Handball Association
- Colorado Handball Association
- Toledo Handball Club
- World Handball Council
- Nothingbuthandball.com Promoting the Sport of Big Blue Handball
- HandballCity.com Promoting the Sport of Handball
- Social Network for the Sport of Handball
- Handball video sharing website
- Free, Online, Handball Challenge Ladder Software
- Pongsports.org Promoting the sport of Handball
- Asociacion Deportiva Handball de Costa Rica
- MDM Valbormida Italy
- Learn To Play Handball