Playing the game

As with any sport, the rules of korfball are updated from time-to-time, but these are the basic rules on which korfball is based.

The field of play

When played indoors, korfball should be played on a 40m x 20m rectangular pitch, although in England the pitch size can vary from between venues, due to the sizes of sports halls and is generally roughly the size of a standard netball court. When played outdoors, the pitch should be 60m x 30m.

The pitch is divided into two halves (one for “attack” and one for “defence”), with a goalpost being located near the backline of each half. A “penalty spot” is located 2.5m in front of each post.

Match length

The length of a match can vary depending on whether it is a single league game or one of many at a day tournament, but in any case matches must not last longer than 2 x 30 minutes (with up to a fifteen minute interval).

Equipment

As mentioned above, a goalpost is located near the backline of each half. These goalposts each support a cylindrical “korf” (literally the Dutch for “basket”) and the korf is positioned slightly higher than the baskets used in basketball and netball. The korf is generally made of either plastic or wicker. There is no backboard.

The ball used during games is a similar size to a football, although it is slightly heavier.

Teams

Each team has eight players, comprising four men and four women.  Two men and two women from each team occupy each of the halves in “divisions.”

Each division either attacks or defends, depending on their starting role. Each team has a captain responsible for communicating with the referee. After every two goals, the players switch zones and change roles: defenders become attackers and vice versa.

At half time, there is a change of ends.  Each team can make two substitutions per game.

By way of example, imagine that the pitch is split into two halves (1) and (2). Initially, Team A may have four players “attacking” in half 1 and four defending in half 2, with Team B similarly having four players “defending” in half 1 and four “attacking” in half 2. When two goals are scored (at any side), Team A’s attackers will switch halves and become defenders (moving to half 2) and its defenders will become attackers (moving to half 1).

Playing the game and scoring

Korfball consists almost entirely of passing the by hand from person to person. Dribbling (bouncing) the ball is not permitted. Once a player catches the ball, they cannot run with it, however they are allowed to rotate on the spot, using one leg (which must not move) as a “pivot,” much like in basketball once a player has “lost their dribble.”

Passing and movement form the basis of the game, with attackers using a combination of tactics and changes of speed/direction to lose the defenders in order to create a shooting chance and score a goal. This is not as easy as it sounds, because an attacker is not allowed to shoot if their defending player is nearer to the post than the attacker and within arm’s length of them (see “Defending Shots” below).

A goal is scored when the ball passes completely through the korf. Any player in the attacking division may score. The team that scores the most goals wins the match. When one team’s attacking division scores, the other team’s attacking division restarts the game.

Marking the opposition

Korfball is a non-contact sport. When marking/defending, players from each division will generally pair up with a player of a similar standard, height etc. from the other team’s division. Players may only mark a player of the same sex. Like in netball, a player may shadow and mark their opponent closely provided that they do not (a) make contact with them; and (b) hinder them excessively (see “Fouls” below).

Shooting and defending shots

To be able to shoot, an attacker must break free from their defending, typically by (a) losing their defender and shooting over them (a “distance shot”); or (b) running past their defender, catching a pass from a team-mate and then shooting on the run (a “running-in shot” – similar to a basketball “lay-up”). Players can improvise and can shoot however they choose.

Defending shots in korfball is slightly different than defending shots in netball and basketball. In addition to actually “blocking” the ball when facing the attacker (from the front only), a shot will only be “defended” when the following three conditions are satisfied:

  • the defender is facing the attacker and can touch their torso without leaning forward (“within arm’s length”); and
  • the defender must try to block the ball; and
  • the defender must be nearer to the post than the attacker.

An attacker cannot shoot if they are “defended,” even if it appears that the defender would not be able to block the ball if the attacker chose to shoot (i.e. due to height difference). A shot taken while an attacker is “defended” results in a free pass to the defending team.

Defending an attacker of the opposite sex who would otherwise be free gives away a penalty to the attacking team (see “Penalties” below). Also, making contact with the attacker whilst they are attempting an running-in shot will result in a penalty. If the defender is between the attacker and the basket when the attacker begins his running-in shot, if the defender stands his/her ground, the shot will be defended.

Fouls

Whilst this list is not exhaustive, broadly speaking, during the game it is prohibited to:

  • touch the ball with leg or foot;
  • hit the ball with the fist;
  • take hold of the ball whilst in a fallen position;
  • run with the ball;
  • partake in “solo play” (i.e. passing to one’s self);
  • hand the ball to another play of your team;
  • delay the game unnecessarily;
  • knock the ball out of an opponent’s hand;
  • make (deliberate) physical contact with an opponent;
  • hinder an opponent in possession of the ball excessively;
  • hinder an opponent of the opposite sex in throwing the ball;
  • hinder someone who is already being hindered by another opponent (i.e. double team);
  • play in attack when defending and vice versa;
  • shoot from a defender position (see above);
  • influence a shot my moving the post;
  • take hold of the post when running, jumping or in order to move away quickly;
  • violate the conditions laid down for a free pass or penalty;
  • shoot, as a defender, from the defending half;
  • shooting after “cutting” past another attacker (i.e. running so close to a fellow attacker that the defender collides with or is likely to collide with the attacker, thereby giving up his defending position); and
  • shoot when one plays without a personal opponent (in situations where one team is a man down).

Penalties

Penalties are awarded when a foul results in the loss of a scoring chance (or for repeated infringements which improperly hinder the attack). The “penalty spot” is located 2.5m in front of each post. A player taking a penalty shot can shoot however they choose, however many players prefer the “underarm” technique.

The person taking the penalty cannot touch the ground between the penalty spot and the post, before the ball has left their hands.

Until the ball has left the hands of the shooter, the other players must observe a distance of 2.5m in all directions from the shooter, following which they can position themselves in order to collect a rebound (if applicable).

Free passes

A free pass occurs after a foul, generally where a foul is committed that does not result in the loss of a scoring chance. The free pass is taken from the spot where the infringement is committed. Players must stand 2.5m from the player taking the free pass and the pass must be taken within four seconds of the referee’s whistle. Whilst a goal may not be scored directly from a free pass, there are techniques to create a scoring opportunity when taking free passes from the penalty spot.

If an opposing player moves before the ball is passed, the process will restart. Repeated infringements may result in a penalty to the attacking team. If the pass is not taken within four seconds, a free pass will be awarded to the other side.

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