November 13, 2013

Building A Team Handball Unit

Last spring, I took my grade 5-6 students to an interscholastic Team Handball tournament. The tournament was full of great plays, great teachable moments, and great fun.

The lead up to the event was actually perfect because the curriculum outcomes I had already planned on introducing at that time of the year could be taught through Team Handball (you can learn more about how I mapped out this year’s curriculum by checking out my Purposeful #PhysEd blog posts)

The Team Handball unit went great, and my students demonstrated a great amount of learning both throughout the unit and at the tournament. That being said, I thought I’d share my unit with you!

Team Handball Unit

Setting Up The Assessment Tools

Ok, so first things first: Let’s check out the curriculum outcomes that were the foundation of this unit:

1. Falls Back: Gets in his/her defensive zone

2. Protects The Goal: Positions himself/herself between the object (carrier) and the target

3. Protects The Goal: Blocks throws or shots

Those outcomes would not only serve as the foundation of my unit, they would also serve as my evaluation criteria.

I then created a Numbers gradebook, making sure that each evaluation criteria was broken down into additional observable aspects. There were eleven aspects in total.

Falls Back: Gets in his/her defensive zone

– Does not fall back to help on defence (0)

– Falls back to help on defence but without haste. (1)

– Falls back to help on defence with great haste. (2)

Protects The Goal: Positions himself/herself between the object (carrier) and the target

– Does not help protect the goal (0)

– Stands by 6m line passively (1)

– Helps form a defensive wall to protect the goal (2)

– Actively forms a defensive wall with teammates. Shifts the defensive wall according to the opponent’s positioning (3)

Protects The Goal: Blocks throws or shots

– Does not attempt to stop throws or shots (0)

– Occasionally will attempt to block a throw or shot (1)

– Actively attempts to block shots on his/her own (2)

– Actively attempts to block shots by working with teammates. Offers support to teammates blocking shots (3)

Doing this type of work before the unit not only helps make my assessment much easier to perform, it also helps me improve the quality of feedback I provide to my students throughout the unit. For example, if Jimmy is at level 1 in the “Falls Back” criteria, I already know what to tell him to help him get to level 2 (e.g. “You’re getting back on defence, but you’re taking your time. You need to hustle back before your opponents can set up an attack”)

Planning The Unit’s Lessons

Lesson One

Focus: Falls Back: Gets in his/her defensive zone

Game: Prairie Dog Pickoff

Prairie Dog Pickoff is a great game to lead up to handball since, if you layer it properly, it allows you to introduce a lot of the rules relating to the ball carrier in Team Handball (e.g. three seconds with the ball, three steps with the ball, dribbling the ball). It also encourages students to take risks throughout the game: they will have to leave their foamie/prairie dog alone to go try to knock over someone else’s.

To start, I only focus on attacking other students’ goals (i.e. their foamies) and on getting back to your own prairie dog after attacking to protect it from your opponent’s attacks (transitioning from offence to defence). If your foamie is knocked over, you simply find a new open space for your base (i.e. hoop and foamie) and get back into the game.

Tactical talks during this part lesson revolve around: how to protect your prairie dog, what to do after your attack, and why it is important to get back to your base as fast as possible.

Once the students demonstrated that they were comfortable with that, we would then add a new layer that had students join the player who knocked their foamie over. Students had to work together as a team to set up attacks and defend their “colonies” (their collective bases).

In this section, we started talking about how different positioning on defence could reduce the chances of your opponents’ attacks being successful.

Lesson Two

Focus: Protects the Goal: Positions himself/herself between the object (carrier) and the target

Game: 4 Corners Handball

I started this lesson off by going over what we learned in the following lesson about falling back on defence as fast as possible. We talked about Team Handball being a transition sport: how your role switches between being on offence/defence depending on which team has possession of the ball.

We then started the game, but with no goaltenders. The students were shocked. However, through tactical discussions, they eventually understood that this meant that they needed to not only fall back as soon as the lost possession, they also needed to work together position themselves in such a way that forced their opponents to take difficult shots.

Lesson Three

Focus: Protects the Goal: Blocks throws or shots

Game: Mini Handball

Mini Handball is exactly like the full form of Team Handball, except that it takes place in much smaller court. This lesson started off with the class going over rules relating to the 6m lines (i.e. how only the goaltenders – or jumping attacking who release the ball before landing – are allowed inside the 6m line)

It was only in this lesson that we introduced goaltenders into the game. Playing Mini Handball allowed for two simultaneous games to take place at the same time in my gym. This not only increased activity time, it also allowed each student to experience more opportunities to put what they had learned so far in the unit into practice.

After a few short games with goaltenders, I brought the students in and asked the goaltenders how easy their job was. Unsurprisingly, they all said that being a goaltender in Team Handball was no easy feat. Through tactical discussions, we talked about what could make their job a little easier. The class came up with solutions like falling back on defence as fast as possible (which we learned in the first lesson), working as a team to form a wall to force the opponents to take a difficult shot (which we learned in lesson two), and to work as a team to block as many shots as possible by getting their hands up and in front of their opponents (which is what we focused on during the rest of this lesson).

Lesson Four

Focus: Falls Back, Protects the Goal

Game: Team Handball

By now, the students were able to play the full version of Team Handball. I was so impressed by how well they were implementing the concepts they had learned throughout the previous classes.

Since I only have one handball court, not all students could play at once. That worked out fine though, because the students who had to wait for their turn got to use that time to fill out Google Form Self Assessment questionnaires.

I have no doubt that the learning that took place throughout this unit is what lead to our teams not only performing so well at the tournament, but having so much fun playing Team Handball.

The unit was a success and most students received fantastic grades for their work throughout it. However, I’ll be honest with you here, it didn’t only last four lessons (although I had planned for it to be four lessons). The first lesson actually took place over two sessions, and the same goes for lesson three. In my opinion, that’s perfectly fine: It’s important to make sure that your students don’t feel rushed and that each student is getting as many opportunities as they need to experience success.

I hope you found this useful and that it might help you in your future planning. If you’ve ever taught Team Handball, or if you have any questions about anything I wrote about here, feel free connect with me in the comments below.

Thanks for reading and happy teaching!

Joey Feith
Joey Feith is a physical education teacher based out of Nova Scotia and the founder of
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