A standard match duration consists of two periods of 30 minutes each during which each team may call one time-out. In Special Olympics play, two extension periods of 5 minutes are played, and if they also end in a draw, another two 5 minute periods have to be played. If each of these ends in a tie after the extra time the winner is determined by an individual shootout from the 7-meter line, where each team is given five shots. The rules of the shootout are similar to soccer shootouts, where, if a winner is not found within the first ten shots, the players return to the shooting, until one team has missed and the other scored. The game is quite fast and includes body contact as the defenders try to stop the attackers from approaching the goal. Only frontal contact by the defenders is allowed; when a defender stops an attacker with his or her arms instead of his or her torso, the play is stopped and restarted from the spot of the infraction or on the nine meter line, with the attacking team in possession.


Special Olympics Team Handball is team handball where all competitors have a physical or mental disability. Special Olympics team handball is one of the most popular of all the Special Olympics sports. It is played on a court slightly larger than the size of a basketball court and is often described as water polo on land. Special Olympics athletes demonstrate agility, flexibility, quickness, body control and strength. Goals are much more common in handball than in most other sports; usually, both teams score at least 20 goals each, and it is not uncommon to have a match end with both team scoring in the 30s. This was not true in the earliest days, when the scores were more akin to that of ice hockey, but as offensive play (in particular in terms of counterattacks after a failed attack from the other team) has improved, more and more goals have been scored after each match.


Introduced in 1991 to the Special Olympics World Summer Games, team handball is played by 29,008 Special Olympic athletes around the world. In 2003, 145 athletes representing 14 programs competed in the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Dublin, Ireland.