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The Official USHA Handball Rules, 2012
the official published USHA Four-Wall handball rules. Any changes
in these rules will be maintained by the USHA and are made available here.
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.
Part 1, Rule 1.1: Interpretation No. 1:
“Cutthroat” is not an official tournament game. It is a game devised for use in practice with three players. There are a number of ways to play cutthroat, and the rules for singles should apply to the player playing without a partner, just as the rules for doubles should apply to two players playing as a team.
Rule 1.2 Description. Handball is a competitive game in which either hand or either fist may be used to hit 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 by the serving side when it serves an ace (a serve which is untouched by the receiver’s hand) or wins a rally (except as provided by Rule 3.4.D.4.b, Late start.) When the serving side loses one rally in singles or two rallies in doubles, it loses the serve (except as provided by Rule 4.2.A, Server.) 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 tiebreaker is played to 11 points. (See Rule 4.1.A)
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 the back wall having a 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. Only USHA official balls shall be used in all USHA events.
B. Current Specifications. USHA balls:
1) Material. The material should be rubber or synthetic material.
2) Color. Color is optional.
3) Size. 1 and 7/8-inch diameter, with a variation of 1/32-inch, plus or minus.
4) Weight. The ball shall be 61 grams, with a variation of 3 grams, plus or minus. White label balls can weigh less.
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.
6) Selection. A ball should be approved 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.
C. Other specifications A lighter and/or larger ball may be used for any division provided it is USHA approved and is specified on the entry blank.
Rule 2.3 Gloves.
A. General. Gloves must be worn to keep the ball dry.
B. Style. The usual hitting surfaces of the glove must be light in color and made of a soft material or leather. The fingers may not be webbed, connected or removed. Any gloves which provide an unfair advantage are not allowed, and must be replaced at the referee’s direction.
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, such creates an unfair advantage.
Part 2, Rule 2.3.C: Interpretation No. 2:
A player should be allowed to protect a bone bruise on the hand. If some kind of thin bandaging material is not sufficient, the player should be allowed to use a coin or some other type of hard material, so long as the referee does not believe it creates an unfair advantage, in which case the material would be disallowed. Any such protection must be worn under the glove and must be approved by the referee before play begins.
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 cause a distraction 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 graphics. Lettering or graphics in poor taste are 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 unaltered lensed eye protection designed for court sports, with specifications that meet or exceed either ASTM, ANSI or Snell standards.
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.
Part 2, Rule 2.5.B: Interpretation No. 3
If the referee is doing a proper job, there should never be a technical called for failure to wear eye protection properly. If the referee sees that a player is about to serve and is not wearing eye protection, the referee should immediately stop the game and inform the player who is about to create the violation. The referee should not let a player play without eye protection in place. If the player refuses to abide by this rule, the match shall be forfeited. Sometimes, however, the referee may not notice the eye protection infraction until after a rally has begun. If this occurs, the referee should stop play immediately and call a technical against the player in violation. The referee should also inform the player that a second violation will result in the match being defaulted.
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 line judges.
A. Responsibilities. The tournament director is responsible for overseeing the entire tournament. The tournament director, or his/her delegated representative, shall be present at all times.
B. Rules briefing. The current official USHA rules as posted on the USHA web site will apply and be made available. Any modifications made by the tournament director must be approved by the USHA and stated on the entry form, and/or 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 Officials. Any official may be removed from a match upon the agreement of both singles players or both doubles teams providing there is agreement by the chief of referees or the tournament director. In the event that an official’s removal is requested by one player or team and not agreed to by the other, the chief of referees or the tournament director may accept or reject the request. It is recommended that the match be observed before determining what, if any, action is to be taken. If the request for change is not upheld, the player or team making the request shall be charged with a timeout. If the player or team is out of timeouts, a technical shall be assessed. This is not applicable in the case where both singles players or both doubles teams are in agreement in the request for change.
Rule 3.4 Referee.
A. Pre-match duties. The principal official for every match shall be the referee. The referee’s authority regarding a match begins once the players are called to the court. 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 and 4.7.A.1).
5) Inspect gloves, uniforms and eye protection. Remind players to have an adequate supply of extra gloves and shirts, and access to headbands. 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 and 3.8).
B. Decisions. The referee shall make all decisions with regard to the rules and the referee has the authority to change his/her 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/her 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, a technical shall be charged against the player.
D. Forfeitures. A match may be forfeited by the referee when:
1) Flagrant unsportsmanlike conduct. Any player refuses to abide by the referee’s decision or engages in flagrant unsportsmanlike 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. Late start penalty points are not cumulative, and the match forfeiture provision shall be applicable only if the full 10-minute delay is consecutive. 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 the tournament schedule is 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, that player’s 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.
5) Player forfeiture. A match must be played in its entirety with both players/teams on the court (See Rule 3.4.D.4.b). Partial forfeits, such as any player forfeiting the second game and progressing directly to a tiebreaker, are not allowed. A forfeit of any part of a match shall result in the forfeit of the entire match.
A. Player Code. The USHA rules of handball place a presumptive code of integrity and honesty on each player. It is expected that players will always self-enforce violations not detectable by a referee. Such instances would include, but are not limited to, double bounces, wrist balls, and to fairly represent injuries in the application of Rule 4.10.C.
Rule 3.6 Line judges.
A. Line Judges. If possible, two line judges will be used in all matches, positioned at the most advantageous viewpoints. A line judge’s opinion is based on his/her agreement or disagreement with the referee’s call. If a line judge is uncertain, he/she should abstain from expressing an opinion.
B. Duties and responsibilities. Line judges 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 line judges 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/her view was blocked, is arm extended with an open hand and palm down. Line judges shall 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/her ruling. If only one line judge disagrees with the referee’s call, the referee may let the call stand, reverse the call or call for a replay.
Rule 3.7 Appeals.
A. Appealable calls. Any player may appeal a short or other service fault. Any player may also appeal receiving line violations. If the server appeals a short or other service fault, and the appeal is upheld, the server is awarded the serve over. If the server had one short, the call would cancel the previous fault call, and the server would be awarded two serves, because he/she 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. If, on the first serve, the server appeals a non-call of a short or other service fault, and the appeal is upheld, the server is awarded a second serve. 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 line judges’ opinions. If both line judges disagree with the referee’s call or non-call, the call is reversed or replayed. After the rally has ended, either player may also appeal faults, restraining line violations, and skip serves not called. If the appeal is upheld, the player 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 line judges. The referee may also appeal to the line judges if he/she is uncertain of his/her own call, and may then maintain, reverse or nullify the call in question. A replay shall be called if the referee believes it is necessary in the interest of fairness.
Rule 3.8 Scorer. 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, points, and total points scored each inning by each server.
Rule 3.9 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 serves 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. The 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 (Legal Serve). 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. The ball must be hit by the server’s hand or fist so that it contacts the front wall first and on the rebound contacts the floor behind the short line, either with or without touching one of the side walls. Refer to Rule 4.3.C & D.
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/her serving position, the referee shall announce the score and the server must serve (hit 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 the server reasonable time to get to his/her serving position. The referee shall then announce “second serve” if the serve was a fault, or “first/second serve, one screen” if a screen, after which the server must serve within 10 seconds.
Part 4, Rule 4.1.E: Interpretation No. 4
After the rally is over, the referee should immediately call “point” or “sideout.” The receiver then has 10 seconds to assume his/her ready position, but the server should only have “reasonable time” to get set. The server should not be allowed to stall by slowly retrieving the ball. As soon as the receiver is “ready” and the server has had reasonable time to retrieve the ball, the referee should call the score, at which time the server has 10 seconds in which to hit the ball. If the receiver is in his/her ready position and the referee believes that the server is taking too much time retrieving the ball and assuming the serving position, the referee should call the score. The server will then have 10 seconds in which to serve. If the receiver is not in his/her ready position after 10 seconds have elapsed from the time the referee calls “point” or “sideout,” the referee should call the score and the server may serve immediately or may take up to 10 seconds, whether or not the receiver is ready.
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/her 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/her 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 defective 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 before the serve has become a legal serve, an approved ball must be put into play and the serve shall be replayed. (See Rule 4.6.J)
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. 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.
Part 4, Rule 4.3.B.(1): Interpretation No. 5
The receiver standing in the center of the rear court, two to four feet from the back wall, should have a clear view of the served ball as it rebounds from the front wall when it is approximately five feet in front of the service zone. This is a difficult call because there will be instances in which the receiver will be screened, but the ball has been hit so high that it is going to result in a back-wall setup and the receiver will have time to get into a good position to attempt his/her shot. The screen serve, like any other hinder, is based on interference affecting the play. In the case just mentioned, there is initial interference, but the receiver still has time to get into good position so that the momentary screen will not affect the play. In such a case, the referee should not make the call too quickly, but should watch the reaction of the receiver. If the referee feels that the receiver hesitates getting into position, a screen should be called. If, however, the receiver moves quickly and obviously is going to have time to get into good position for a back-wall shot, the screen should not be called.
The receiver should be given the benefit of any doubt so long as his/her receiving position is in the center of the court. However, if the receiver positions himself/herself to one side of center or anticipates the serve is going to be hit to one side and moves in that direction too quickly, and the serve is hit to the opposite side, a screen should not be called. It is also important that the referee attempt to position himself/herself in the middle of the balcony whenever possible so that he/she will have the same angle of view as the receiver. The best answer to this dilemma is: When in doubt, call a screen.
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‘s foot touches the floor outside the service zone before the served ball passes through the plane of the back edge of 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/her back to the nearer side wall from the time the serve is begun until the ball passes through the plane of the back edge of 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 hit the ball that results in a total miss, or in the ball touching any part of the server’s body other than the hitting 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 is not standing erect with his/her back to the nearer side wall. This includes a serve that is intentionally caught. When the partner is hit by the serve when he/she is not in the legal position, the out serve penalty supersedes the partner’s foot fault.
Part 4, Rule 4.3.D.(3): Interpretation No. 6
Even though the foot fault occurs before the out serve, the out serve penalty takes precedence and shall be enforced. Another example: A server foot faults when contacting the ball and the ball does not hit the front wall first. Again, the out serve penalty should be enforced. For this reason, a referee should wait until after the ball is served to call a foot fault. In doubles, the server should not be called out if his/her partner intentionally catches the ball in self defense. However, if the server’s partner catches a served ball that otherwise would not have hit him/her, an out is the proper call.
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 since the out of order serving commenced 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.
Part 4, Rule 4.3.C.(6): Interpretation No. 7
If the referee is doing a proper job, there should be no out-of-order serves. The referee should keep the players informed as to which player is the server. If the referee sees that a player is about to serve out of order, the referee should immediately stop the player from serving and inform the team as to which player should be the server. If, however, a player does serve out of order, the “out-of-order” rule shall apply.
7) Service delay. The server fails to hit 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 hit 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, or any other legal return, the receiver may hit the ball anytime after it passes completely through the plane of the back edge of the short line and no part of his/her body may extend on or over the plane of the back edge of the short line until after contacting the ball. In doubles, this also applies to the receiver’s partner. A violation results in a point for the server. After contacting the ball, the receiver and his/her partner may step on or over the short line without penalty.
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