Handball, an action-packed family of games played in enclosed courts or one wall, is widely enjoyed by players who use a small rubber ball to hit against the boundary. The aim is to make the ball come back with different levels of power and velocity, in a way that their opponents cannot block it. Variations include four-wall, three-wall and one-wall handball; both two players (singles) and four players (doubles) can partake.
The past has been documented for centuries, with people attempting to record major events. Historians have the difficult task of studying the evidence and trying to piece together what exactly happened in the past. With their efforts, we have a better understanding of the events that transpired before us, allowing us to take lessons from them.
Handball, one of the oldest ball games, has its roots in the baths of Rome. From here it spread to Spain and France, where it was known as pelota and played barehanded. This version served as a precursor to jai alai in modern times. In the 16th century handball was introduced to Britain and adopted the name of fives.
The modern game is descended from handball which was first played in Ireland a millennium ago. Irish town and county championships were established during the 1850s, utilizing a hard leather-covered ball and courts measuring 80 feet (24 m) long and 40 feet wide. Then, when Irish emigrants arrived to the US in the 1880s, Phil Casey constructed the first court with walls in Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1886. Players were permitted to kick the ball, leading to some displaying exceptional aptitude for returning low balls with their feet.
The inaugural international match between John Lawlor, Ireland’s reigning champion, and American champion Casey took place in 1887. The 11-6 scoreline saw victory for Casey; he maintained possession of the title for 13 years until his retirement in 1900.
During the 1890s, in the US a soft ball – typically a tennis ball that had been stripped of its exterior – was adopted for play in the smaller four-wall courts around New York City. Before long, young players started utilizing this larger soft ball outdoors against building walls. This pastime quickly spread to other cities, largely for four-wall play. Yet dissatisfaction with the large and slow ball led to the invention of a smaller gas-filled version which had greater acceptance among players and ultimately sparked fresh enthusiasm in the game.
Softball was quickly embraced in cities such as Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Chicago. Not long after its popularity picked up, the game underwent changes with courts becoming smaller. Around 1913, a one-wall version of the sport emerged in New York City and soon spread to other parts of the East Coast. It was played by both men and women, even indoors in YMCA clubs or rooftop locations due to limited space in urban areas. A precursor to three-wall softball, those who adopted this variation put up two hinged wings along the side walls which locked into place forming a partial three-walled court for trickier shots. The Irish game of handball also utilized a wall at the front of its hard clay court against which players would hit their ball – an alley cracker composed of cork surrounded by woolen thread and thin pieces of cork or rubber, covered by sheepskin on the outside. The most prominent type is 1 7/8 inch (4.7 cm) in diameter and weighs 1 1/2 -1 3/4 ounce (43–50 g). Although some tournaments allow for a softer rubber ball, the Irish ball remains the official championship tool.
Since the first Irish championships were held in the 1880s, rules have not changed much. Challenge and championship games used to feature stakes of up to £1,000. In 1924, however, supervision of the game was taken on by the Gaelic Athletic Association and betting was outlawed. Subsequently, handball became a purely amateur sport with regular county, provincial and all-Ireland championships being established. It is now common to find courts throughout Ireland as well as in most schools and colleges where a softer rubber ball is usually employed.
Handball is popular mostly in the US, Canada, Ireland, and to an extent, Mexico, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and France. In recent years, it has become a more international game with invitational events held by Canada and America.
The court has the jurisdiction to rule on legal matters and make decisions.
The four-wall handball court is perfect for playing the sport. It is perfect in size and shape, as it offers plenty of room to maneuver and play.
Standard four-wall courts measure 40 feet in length, 20 feet across, and 20 feet tall. The rear wall measures between 12 and 14 feet. A line running parallel to the front wall, dividing the court in two sections, is the short line: it’s 5 feet from the adjacent service line. Service boxes exist on each side of court; this area is delimited by lines parallel to each sidewall that are 18 inches apart. The serving zone stretches between these two lines; meanwhile, a vertical line on each sidewall (5 feet away from the short line) marks the beginning of the back court receiving zone.
One-wall handball courts are a popular choice, as they allow spectators to more easily watch the game, and their construction is cheaper. In these courts, the width of the wall (front) is 20 feet and its height 16 feet. The playing area of 34 feet long by 20 feet wide comprises the long line (back edge), the sidelines extending 3 feet further than the long line and a short line 16 feet from the wall. Markers 6 inches in length, parallel to and halfway between 1helong and short lines comprise a service line which extends inwardly from each sideline. This makes up a service area of 20 x 9 feet. Furthermore, three-wall courts can also provide greater viewing opportunities for spectators, although they aren’t standardized and come in different variations such as walls on two sides plus an open back or a front wall with one sidewall like in Jai Alai courts. All court dimensions are similar to those of four-wall courts with either a back court boundary line added or a sideline when using Jai Alai type configuration. With advancements in court design including walls made from glass material, four-wall matches have attracted more viewers keen on watching skillful play off the back wall.
Play should be fun and enjoyable. It must also adhere to basic rules and guidelines that are set in place to ensure fairness and harmony among those playing the game.
The ball is constructed from black rubber and measures 1 7/8 inches in diameter, weighing 2.3 ounces. When returning the ball, players must only use one hand and can’t hit it more than once. Additionally, gloves made of soft material or leather are necessary to avoid having moisture influencing the ball.
A server stands within the designated serving zone, drops the ball to the floor and hits it with one hand on the first bounce, causing it to hit the front wall in flight. Rebounding, it has to land past the short line for a four-wall game; if not, it’s a short fault. If two faults succeed each other, that side loses service. In a one-wall game, crossing of the long line is deemed a fault; beyond the sidelines is a handout—service is lost but score remains. While serving in either category, stepping out of or entering before leaving the zone counts as faults. In doubles, four-wall requires partner inside service box until ball passes; one-wall requires partner outside sidelines straddling service line. Violation of any of these regulations are faulty.
On the receiving end, the ball can either be volleyed (fly) or hit after its first bounce. In four-wall handball, the receiver must stand at least 5 feet back of the short line until the server strikes their ball; in one-wall, they must remain behind the service line until the rebound passes over it. Either side takes turn hitting it until someone misses, which then awards a point to the other – if it’s a receiver that missed, they get to serve again. The game continues in this manner until 21 points are scored.
In doubles, one player on the starting side serves. Should he make a fault twice, service transfers to the other team. After that, both players from each side have to take their turn before giving the serve to the opposing side.
Players must not impede each other’s access to the ball. Should they do this, or if the ball reaches the opposition prior to striking the front wall, the ball is rendered void and must be served again.
Regulations governing three-wall play are similar to those controlling four-wall. A point is earned by the receiver if a ball played outside the long line (a long ball) is last hit by them, but a handout is awarded if it has been the server’s last touch.
A placement is any shot out of the reach of an opponent. The most effective of these is a kill, for which the ball rebounds at an almost inaccessible height. An ace is when a legal serve passes by the receiver. Four-wall handball is particularly challenging because of various angle shots from side to front wall, ceiling to front, and side to back. Athletes who participate in this sport need sound physical condition, control, speed and endurance; many use it as part of their preparation for other sports.
In handball, it is essential to move into the right spot on the court in order to effectively execute your return stroke. Three strokes can be performed: the underhand, which is used for basic service; the overhand, to strike high balls or fly balls; and finally, the sidearm stroke — ideal for a kill shot.