Although its popularity spans the globe, the Olympic sport of team handball is just emerging in the United States and often suffers an identity crisis. Most of the world calls the game "handball," but in the U.S. there is already another game with that name. Most Americans who hear of team handball envision participants on something like a racquetball court smacking a little black ball with their hands. This vision is not correct -- without a doubt, team handball is not off the wall.
Team handball is a dynamic court game that is fun to play and exciting to watch. First-time spectators describe team handball as soccer with your hands, but they also notice elements that remind them of basketball, water polo and ice hockey. Participants and spectators alike enjoy the fast continuous play, the body contact and the goalie saves as both teams -- each of which are composed of 6 court players and a goalie -- use their natural athletic skills of running, jumping, throwing and catching.
Team handball had its origins in Europe in the late 1920s, about the same time basketball was developing in the United States, and today enjoys great popularity throughout the world. The International Handball Federation (IHF) consists of 136 member nations and 12 million registered players. A men's handball competition was included on the Olympic calendar at the Munich Games in 1972, after a 34 year absence, followed by the inclusion of women's competition in the 1976 Games in Montreal. During this past quadrennial, the U.S. Women won the Pan American Games and finished 8th in the Olympic Games in Atlanta. The U.S. men finished 4th in the Pan American Games and a very respectable 9th versus an excellent field in Atlanta.