Australian handball

Original research|date=February 2008Unreferenced|date=April 2007

Australian Handball is a popular schoolyard game in Australia and New Zealand. It is a variation of Chinese Handball, with many similarities to other Chinese Handball games, but more rigidly defined rules. It is known simply as "handball", "kingpin", "downball" or "two or nine-square".It is usually played using a tennis ball or a spaldeen ball on a hard surface.

While this game is played in almost every school in Australia and New Zealand, with most upper-primary and middle school students well versed in the rules, it is not a recognized sport and is rarely played as part of a Physical Education course, or as an inter-school competition.

Unlike football or strings, this game is considered to be completely unisex. Any discrimination between girls and boys is at a personal level - the game itself is neither a girls' game nor a boys' game although boys generally dominate handball courts through aggressiveness unless exceptionally skilled girls join the boys' games.

*Side Note* Most of these shots refer to Kyle Muyckza and Paul Weaver.

Playing Area

While traditionally Australian handball can be played on any solid surface with a line dividing two or more spaces, many schools have handball courts. These usually consist of four adjacent squares, measuring approximately one-and-a-half to two meters square (5' or 6.5' square). They can be arranged as a large square or in a row.

Any walls adjacent to the squares are considered to be in play, and any balls which bounce off walls or similar objects can still be considered in play if called. Also it is very easy to play in a bat tennis court with the outside areas counted as a foul.

The ball used is usually a tennis ball, although any ball which bounces can be used - including small rubber balls, Basketballs and soccer balls. Even golf balls have been used, despite the danger. Ping pong balls and bouncy balls can provide interesting challenges for skilled players used to playing with tennis balls. The spaldeen, a very bouncy bubblegum pink ball, is also used.

The Game

As with many versions of Chinese Handball, Australian Handball is usually confined to four players only: ace/king, king/queen, queen/jack and dunce. The rules are fairly rigid, considering the game is a schoolyard pastime, and reasonably straightforward. Each player is expected to hit the ball in such a way that it bounces once in his square before bouncing in another player's square. The ball must bounce once in that player's square before he is entitled to hit it. Thus, each ball must bounce once, be struck by the player's hand, then bounce again before leaving the player's square if it is to remain in play. Some variants do not require the ball to land in a player's square before that player can hit the ball, but such an action includes slightly higher risk and can potentially save the opposing player if the ball would have fallen outside of the squares. It can however enable faster and more controlled play, allowing a player to play more difficult shots. This also allows a player to "steal" the ball from another player when it would have otherwise have landed in their square.

Any variation to this pattern is considered to be a foul and whoever was responsible for that foul is demoted to the lowest position, to the call of "out". If there are numerous players, they stand in a queue (outside the square) waiting for someone to be "out". There are no points, only positions. Thus, the highest positions are held by the players who have spent the longest time "not out".

The Calls

All fouls have to be "called" by one or more of the players in order to count. It does not matter how obvious the foul was, if no one calls it within a socially reasonable space of time the play continues with no movement of the players.

As previously mentioned, the word "foul" is rarely used. Instead, the actual name of the foul is called, followed by either "out" if the player is to move, or "play on" if the player is to remain (as would happen if there were no other players to replace them).

The most common fouls are:
*Double or Double Bounce or simply Dubs- When the ball bounces twice in a player's square either before or after he has hit it. This player is at fault.
*Full or Lob - When the ball is hit directly into a receiver's square before first bouncing in the square of the person who hit it.
*Out of Bounds or Out on the Full (often shortened to "Out") - When the ball is struck so that it doesn't land in any square or lands in his own square and then does not land in any receiver's square. The player who hit the ball is at fault.
*Liner - when the ball lands on a line between squares rather than within the square proper. This foul is often rendered a "play on". Some forms of the game result in the ball being bounced off of the line by the player who called it or the current King. The ball is played on by the owner of whatever square it lands in. Some variations deem the line to be part of the receiver's square and he must play on as though the ball landed in his square. Depending on the width of the line the frequency of this situation varies. Generally if the act of a lines occurring, the point will be restarted with King serving.
*Double Tap or Double Touch - When a player fumbles the ball, and touches it more than once with any part of his body or clothing including his hat. That player is at fault.
*Double hand - When the player uses both hands to hit the ball. This is often not considered a foul.
*Body Shot or Sharky - When a player strikes the ball at another player, and the ball hits his body, if the receiver has failed to hit the ball with their hand. Usually played after a Cheap Shot, when the receiver it is close to the line.
*Played or Carry - Usually called as "Played my [Double/full/etc.] " or " [Double/full/etc.] carry". When a player hits the ball after another player performed a foul, the player who hits it second is "out" rather than the player who made the original foul. For example, one player "Fulls" the ball and another player hits it, not noticing the original full and this is called by the player who originally fulled the ball, sending the second player out. This can even occur after a player has already played a foul, sending a third player in the chain out. Often limits are placed on how many times the ball can be hit this way and still result in a foul. Some variants permit the third player to cause the whole situation to be "Forgotten" and the game continues as though the original foul never occurred. There is much discussion and controversy over this rule, and many purists of the game refuse to recognize the validity of this foul and will often refer back to the original foul.
*Grabs "Hold ball", "Cup", or "Clinch" - When someone who is hitting the ball 'grabs' the ball with their hand. This is most obviously seen when the ball is in a player's hand for an extended amount of time. Sometimes debate arises over whether a player "Grabbed" a ball or simply followed through with it for an unusually long period. Some variations consider a ball entangled in a player's clothes to be "Grabbed" which may result in such a player being "out" or him serving to play-on.
*Squash - During "Death Rolls" a player who stops the ball by placing downwards pressure on the ball fouls. A "Squash" during ordinary "Rolls" is permitted.
*Dead Ball - A ball which slows until it stops still on the ground in a player's square after he has hit it (and so is not permitted to touch it again) is considered a "Dead Ball". The player in whose square this occurs is out. However, if the player has not yet touched the ball when it stops still then the ball is not "Dead". In this case, a player may call "Death Rolls" or simply pick up and serve the ball.
*Roll - In some variations. When a player causes a ball to roll instead of bounce. The player is at fault however in some variations it can be picked up and played by the King or the square that the ball rolled into.
*Interference or Into's - Should the ball bounce off an obstacle (such as a wall, or a passer-by), there are two possible calls: "rebound" or "interference". Rebounds are usually played-on, while after "interference" the point is replayed, with "King" or the player who called it beginning another serve. This is not a foul as no penalty exists for it. Purists of the game argue that if there is an interference it is simply the harsh reality of the game and the point will resume as normal; however they do agree that in the interest of reducing disputes, that replaying the point is "acceptable" depending on the level and intensity of the game.


In the most popular form of the game, any player in a position higher than dungeon is out, but ace goes to dunce if they are defeated, and all other players below the player called "out" move up one place. In some versions of the game, each player only moves down one place when they are "out". The position of dunce is the most vulnerable in the terms of the game. If more than four players wish to play, the other players (called reservers) wait until dunce fouls and then come in to replace the position of dunce. They can then play up from that position, while the previous dunce goes to the end of the reserve queue to wait another turn.

Start of game is signaled when one of the other players calls "service", at which point the ace must serve the ball to that player. If more than one player calls "service" at the same time, the ace may serve to whomever he wishes. The ace always serves at the start of play. Other versions of the game allow ace to serve to whomever he wishes at any time while others require the ace always to serve to the dunce. If the ace is defeated, he will go to dunce, and whoever moved up to ace must serve to the defeated ace.

Should interference occur, whoever was the last person to hit the ball serves to the intended recipient. The ball can be served to any square, provided the server has the skill to direct the ball so that it bounces once in each square before the other player hits it. Thus, the ace can serve to the queen or the dunce, bypassing the king if he desires. However, it does not matter if the ball lands in a square other than the server intended - wherever it first bounces, that player is regarded as the receiver and must play the ball.

The game can be played with only two or three players, or with more than four if there is enough room. If there are only two players, the ace is the only position named. If there are only three players, the positions are ace, king and dunce are used. If more than four people play, it is unusual for the forth position to be called dunce and is usually termed jack. Each position after jack is numbered, so that the game would run ace, king, queen, jack, one, two, three, etc. Other variations use ordinal numbers to denote what level of dunce each player stands in, for example jack, first dunce, second dunce, third dunce, etc.

When there are more people than squares, a "reserve line" is often formed. This means that when additional players await joining the game, they queue until the lowest dunce fouls. The "first reserve" then takes his position and the dunce who fouled goes to the end of the "reserve line".

Often when more than four squares are used and a reserve line is used, a certain amount of squares will get straight out instead of going to dunce, [This is called "knockouts".] For example, if there were six squares, then five square "knockouts" mean that if anyone apart from ace is out, then they will go straight to the reserve line, bypassing the dunce position.

Many variations of the game give special consideration to an ace who fouls and refer to his new position as "old ace" rather than "dunce". An old ace must receive the first serve of the new ace. Various regional differences allow for the old ace to receive the serve in his desired style having described or demonstrated this style to the new ace while others require the old ace and the new ace to call as soon as the foul has been made to determine whether the old ace receives the style of serve he would prefer. The old ace must either call the style he desires of simply "decent" and then indicate his preference once the new ace is ready to serve. The new ace usually calls "no indecent" to indicate that the old ace may not protest the serve he receives. An old ace entitled to a decent serve who does not receive one may call "indecent" and the new ace must reserve if the majority of players agree with this call. An "indecent" serve is treated as an "out serve" for fouling purposes.


Generally due to the open nature of handball, there are certain techniques which are very popular throughout many schools. Common techniques of handball are:


Normal Serve

Low velocity, just tossing it in your court and letting it bounce.

Drop serve

Low velocity serve which usually is a "friendly" serve to give the player an opportunity to slog another player out.

pin Serve

As the ball is released, the server flicks their wrists, etc to put spin. Power is usually needed for this to be successful. If performed correctly, it is equivalent to returning a snakey.

High serve

Literally smashing the ball into the floor so the ball bounces high. Used to take advantage of short players, uncoordinated players or glare from sun.

Long Serve

Ace may sometimes serve the ball before returning to his own square having fetched a ball which went out of bounds. If Ace is not in his own square when he serves the ball it is referred to as either a "Long Serve" or an "Out of Square Serve". Official rules state that the server must have both feet in his or her square, although some rebel tournaments waive this rule.

Rebound Serve

This style of serving is only valid is games where rebounds are permitted. It involves Ace bouncing the ball in his own square then off an object (usually a wall) before it lands in the receiver's square. Alternatively, Ace may aim the ball at the wall then have it hit his own square and then the receivers however this sort of serve often results in an "Indecent" serve or a very easy serve to hit if performed by a less skilled player.

Quick Serve

A serve of questionable legality where Ace simply hits the ball which has been passed back to him by the person who was last called out instead of holding the ball to serve it. Most variations which permit this kind of serve require the Ace to announce his use of it just before he serves.

Chinese Serve

A serve where the ball is held near the shoulder of the serving hand and then released at normal speed as the arm is extended to be vertically in line with the body. Some variants require the receiver of this type of serve to catch the ball and then serve normally himself.

Knee High Slow Serve

A slow friendly serve given at the height of the receiver's knee from whence he may easily aim at his target. This is the most commonly requested style of serve for an "Old Ace".

Trick serve

This is not a style of serving but rather a general term for a serve given to a player other than the playing the server's body position seemed to be indicating he would serve to. For example, Ace may face King and then twist his wrist as he serves so that the unwitting Dunce becomes the receiver.

Out Serve/First serve(NZ)

This is a partial-foul where the initial serve of Ace either does not bounce in his own square or does not bounce in any receiver's square. An Ace who serves three consecutive "Out Serves" is considered to have fouled and is called "out". In variations where a receiver may hit the ball before it bounces he is entitled to hit it even on this initial serve and may thereby prevent an "Out Serve". Variations permit different number of out serves — from zero to unlimited. In New Zealand, Ace is allowed two tries to serve correctly. He calls "first serve" if his first attempt was not legal and has one more opportunity.

Indecent Serve/Proper serve

This is a partial-foul where the initial serve of Ace is considered too difficult for the receiver to reasonably be expected to hit. Usually a consensus of players determines whether or not a serve was "Decent" or "Indecent" however sometimes rules such as a requirement for the serve to be above knee height are applied. Most variations allow Ace two consecutive "Indecent" serves before he is fouled out however some allow none or only one. In New Zealand, the receiver calls "proper serve" if he wishes to invoke this rule. Generally "Indecent" and "Out Serves" are counted separately however some variations add such consecutive serves together.


Since the game has been played widely over many different Australian schools, different and unique types of injuries are sustained. The following highlights them all.

Hand Injuries

These are usually sustained whilst a user is under heavy slogging. The most common type of injury from slogging, is nail-scraping, if the user and other players are participating on a concrete surface. It is usually painful, and in some rare circumstances, bleeding occurs.

If played in the mornings when the weather is cool, or playing during or after rain has occurred, the tips of fingers may become numb and slogging is generally much harder due to hands being cold. As a result of this, if a user engages in a slog-fight with another user, in which the ball is constantly 'slogged' back and forth between the users, the back of the hand's veins may succumb to extreme pain or a slight 'clogged' feeling in the veins. This type of pain usually lasts for around 1-2 weeks, depending on how badly the event occurred.

Other Injuries

Other injuries include minor damage sustained to the back due to bending over to complete slogs. Also, if another person slogs extremely fast towards you, and you are unable to play it back, the ball could potentially rip into your ribs (if you are crouched down to slog it back) or it could hit your legs/feet. However, these are rare circumstances and no or very minor pain is obtained in the process.

Unique techniques

There are other unique techniques but they are usually impractical.


Normal/Generic Return

Involving hitting the ball to the other player, with moderate power at an average height (torso height) usually with the palm facing down.

Snakey/Slogging/Skimming/Travis Snakey

This involves proper timing; waiting for the ball to be almost touching the floor, then hitting it, and propelling it at a low height usually with the palm facing up. Generally well performed snakeys are low, the lower and faster the better. Lower slogs are very hard to return due to the amount of speed they have. When playing with more than four squares (such as a nine square game), a player may snakey over several squares and this may or may not increase the height of the slog depending on the snakeyer's ability.

In some games, there may reach a point where two people have engaged in a serious rally. If this continues for an excessive amount of time, either of the two players could receive hand injuries.

Roll Slog

In the event that the rules of the game allow rolls, roll slogs are the difficult variation of slogging, involving hitting the ball hard, parallel to the surface of the ground so that the ball rolls along it. Roll slogs are nearly impossible to return because the opposing player must return the same thing to keep the game going, this results in the ball spinning off the court or even stopping.

Rolls/Death Rolls

Some variants of the game deem a rolling ball to be unplayable and require a player receiving a rolling ball (called "rolls") to "squash" the ball and then serve. Other variants deem a player who does not squash the ball or continue playing rolls to be out if the ball leaves his square. Some variants only deem the player out if another player has called "death rolls" whilst playing a rolling ball. In this case, a rolling ball may not be squashed and must continue to roll until it leaves the playing court or passes through a square without the player in that square touching the ball. A player must continue to play death rolls whenever the ball passes into his square until someone is out. It is a foul to cause death rolls to bounce.


A squash is made on a rolling ball by pressing down lightly on the ball and then serving. A squash made on a bouncing ball is considered a foul.


Usually done to normal hits, the player smashes the ball and the ball bounces high, around 3 to 5 metres 0 - 16') high. Generally used to take advantage of shorter players, uncoordinated players or glare from the sun. However this gives the receiver an advantage should he wait for the ball to bounce then return to his desired height where he may slog it back. This is rarely used as a finishing move.

"Cheap"/Side Shot/Corner

Usually involves hitting the ball at a slow velocity at the right or left front edge of the court so the ball leaves the court as early as possible. It is very hard to counter because these are done usually to the opposite side of which the player is standing on. They are often played after a player poorly returned a slog and may still be off balance. Occasionally the opponent may jump or dive for the ball and due to the generic rough surfaces that Australian and New Zealand schools usually have (mostly asphalt although pavers and concrete are also used), injuries are common in this event. Many 'Body Shots' follow cheap in desperation.


Involves slicing or top spinning the ball, a more complicated move, it is very useful in a rally, by suddenly changing the rhythm. Slicing the ball will either turn it into a slow drops shot, or with enough power, becomes a powerful shot that when it comes into contact with the hard surface backspin occurs.

Under legs

This shot is played when a player hits the ball through his parted legs so as to impress observers with his skill or confuse the receiver regarding the position of the ball should he not be able to see it for a short time.


A very rare sight on the handball court where a player hits the ball behind his back. Such shots often produce fouls with the ball either landing out before landing in another player's square or missing the court entirely. However this shot may also be used by a skilled player to confuse a receiver or impress observers. Sometimes this shot is played out of desperations and may or may not result in success.

Jump Shot

A shot where a player jumps and hits the ball whilst he has no feet on the ground. How high the player jumps is not relevant and this may include shots where a player jumps outside of his own square to reach a shot he is entitled to take.


This is an act of desperation made to reach a ball on the opposite side of a player's square before he fouls. A player pounces towards the ground while stretching for the ball. Such an act often ends with a player lying on the ground or attempting to regain his balance.

Dropshot or Tap

Same as tennis, tapping the ball so it double bounces before the player gets to it. This is less useful in variants of the game played by younger players where more than once bounce in a receiver's square is permitted. Some regions deem this a "Slow Shot".

Hitting the ball harder gives more spin in whole, forearm returns are most common whilst backhands are impractical but serve as a backup or for purely superficial reasons such as impressing observation.

The Steal

This involves hitting the ball from another players square into your own and into an opponentswithout the ball landing in the first players square.

The Blow

The blow involves blowing the ball after the player in question touches it whilst rollingand it is still in the players square.It is blown into another persons square usually resulting in immediate outing of the playerby the opponent in question.


This method requires one to hit the ball into the other players square without it hitting their own. If the player returns the ball it is known as "Played my full". However, if the opposing player notices the full, and catches the ball, you are out.

The Fake/Ghosting/Leave

this is not actually a shot, but in a game with the "continuous" rule in play, a player may make the action of hitting the ball but completely miss so that in goes to the player behind them. This can cause late reaction and may make the other player not hit it or full.


In some schools people can return the ball by kicking it, and it may hit the players square. In other variations, touching the ball with any part of the body except the hands is a foul.


Now becoming popular in schools is the use of ones head in which the player hitting the ball will use their head instead of their hands, similar to a kick this move is supposed to be a full and it is easy to duck into another players square and hit it into a corner so they have difficulty hitting it back. This is called heading the ball and is quite similar to kicks in that you may also juggle it using your head but you may not normally switch between heads and kicks when juggling.


There are many tricks can be done in handball like the 'under the leg shot' which can confuse players where the ball will go. The 'in between the leg shot' is hard to master, and is when the player hits the ball from in between their legs. Another trick that is done is to slightly touch the ball and the player lowers their hand to suddenly decrease the power and turn the shot into a drop shot.Another trick is when the player waves their fingers at the ball when it is bounced for lines. This is called spirit fingers.

Duel Announcements

Some variations of Australian Handball allow for a player to call a duel with the receiver of the ball he hit. The duel then continues between these two players until one of them fouls with all other squares being regarded as though they were out.

Some common duel announcements include:

*Challenge (Also known as "Rally") - this type of duel is voluntary and either player involved in a Challenge may announce or "call" the word "Break" to indicate his desire to withdraw from the Challenge and then hit the ball to any player.
*Challenge No Break (Also known as "Rally No Break") - this is a Challenge which no one can break and may be the same as a Death in some variations of the game. Some variants allow the player who called the Challenge to break it whilst others allow only Ace to break it.
*Challenge to Death (Also known as "Rally to Death") - this duel is like a Challenge except that only the person who called it may announce "Break". Some variants also allow Ace to call "Break" if he is the target of the Death whilst others allow King to call "Break" at any time even if he is not involved in the Death. Other variants do not permit anyone to break a Death including the player who called it.
*Death No Break - this duel is the same as a death but no players can ever break it. This is a very bad way of playing the game.
*King's Revenge - this type of duel is usually limited to the player in "Dunce" although some variations allow any player to call "Revenge". The key difference in a Revenge is that should the player in the lower square win the duel, he swaps squares with the defeated player. Strictly this form of duel can only be called towards the last player to defeat the player who makes the Revenge call however a few variations allow any receiver to be chosen. Some variations of the game limit the use of this call to an "Ex-kings" and may limit the receiver of the call to the new "King". A Revenge call can never be broken by anyone although some variations allow it to be broken by Ace if the receiver was not the last player to defeat the player making the call.
*Around the World - this is not a duel but rather it requires all players to hit the ball in either a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction until a player fouls. The direction is determined by the person who makes the call and he of course must hit the ball in the desired direction. If a player making this called does not hit the ball in either direction (eg if he hits it diagonally) then he has fouled. Some variations of the game allow certain players to call "Reverse" to reverse the direction of the "Around the World" and/or "Skip" to pass over a certain player. The "Break" call may also be used in "Around the World" by certain players to end the "Around the World" at which point the ball may be hit to any player. Who is allowed to make each of these calls is usually determined by the position of the player with players in higher squares being granted more useful calls. (This would be decided before a game or by mutual agreement during a game.) This call is usually made by a player attempting to avoid facing a certain other player.



Sharky is played against a wall. There is no limit of players. It is basically the same as Australian handball. Sharky is also known as 'Wall Handball', 'Handball on the Wall', 'Handball against the Wall' or simply 'wallball'.

Slack shot

A slack shot is used by a skilled player that is either upset and wants to get a player out quick or a grudge against a person because in a game of handball a lot can happen but with the shot slack when the ball is a power shot to the dise or a slite hit can finish off a player quickly.


Some variations allow "body-ball", [This name is not commonly used.] where the ball can be hit with the head, feet, chest etc.Fact|date=January 2008 If body-ball is used, the ball must not touch the square depending on the type of body-ball. [For example, using feet to kick, making it into a roll.] Double touching is not allowed in body-ball. Body-ball allows for faster paced gameplay.

Team square

In some high schools in Australia & New Zealand it is common to play a type of handball called team square which uses the whole bat tennis court. The back areas are included and all lines are negated except the line in the middle separating the two sides. It is mostly played with two players on each side and the players are teamed up. So it is like a 2 on 2 type of down-ball. This variation means more space to slog and play cheap (hitting into corners).


A simplistic variant, designed to increase the speed of the game by omitting pointless, play-stopping rules. Notable omissions include the 'Lines' rule, such that a ball that lands on the line is in play. Other 'home rules' such as 'Interference', 'Service Out of Square', demanding service, 'Tea Party', and 'Around the World' are not used, and any suggestion that they be incorporated is generally met with disparaging comments. If the ball lands in a player's square, the player may strike the ball so that it bounces from within a set area around his/her square into another players square. In the event that players disagree over the outcome of a round, the conflict is arbitrated by majority vote (and, in extreme cases, by wrestling).

While the rules are fairly relaxed, play should still proceed according to basic standards of etiquette. For example, while it is legal to serve to an unoccupied square or distracted player, this practice is discouraged. Further, onlookers are permitted to attempt to distract the players verbally and physically, though any contact with the ball or the player constitutes illegal action (and the offending onlooker may be excluded from further play). If the round can not be 'played on', play should instead be resumed from the beginning of the interrupted round.

Handball on the Wall

The game commonly called Handball on the Wall requires players to form an order and then take turns hitting the ball in that order. A player who hits when it is not his turn is placed at the bottom of the order (last) and the person at the top of the order then reserves. This also applies for any player who breaks any of the usual rules of handball (ie any player who fouls).

Wall Ball

Wall Ball is similar to Handball on the Wall however it immediately dismisses anyone who fouls from the game until a winner is determined. The only person who is not subject to immediate dismissal is the Ace (ie the person who serves). If Ace fouls he simply takes the place of the last player and whoever played after the Ace becomes the new Ace.


If anyone makes any mistakes or they 'stuff it' they must go on the wall unless someone plays it.If someone is on the wall and the ball hits them, they are out.If a person on the wall catches the ball the go off the wall and the last person who hit the ball goes on the wall.The ball must bounce before it hits the wall.If the ball bounces twice after hitting the wall, the closest player goes on the wall.When there are 2 people left they both get off the wall and play a rally called ' to man death' In this if one player makes a mistake he doesn't go on the wall, he is immediately out.The other player is the winner.


Teams are two people versus two people, sometimes referred to as "doubles". Some variations allow for doubles (or even triples) teams to play in a singles game.

Playing with more than two people per team can cause arguments.

It is exactly the same as handball.

Each team can only touch the ball once, so if both players on a team touch the ball it still counts as double touch.


Another popular version of Australian Handball called "Reverse handball" has been developed involving the use of external objects.


External links

" [ Excitement Machine Magazine] " (1 ed.), Excitement Machine, January 2007, p. 28-29

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