Team-handball is an Olympic sport ball game that is characterized by fast pace defensive and offensive action during the game with the objective of the game to score goals. To score goals, the offensive players (6 players and one goalie) attempt to establish an optimal position for the throwing player by fast movements over short distances performing powerful changes in direction (with and without the ball), one-on-one action against defensive players and passing the ball using different offensive tactics.
To describe team-handball play, especially to determine factors that influence performance is difficult because team-handball play is complex and multi-factorial. Team-handball players have to coordinate their movements well for running, jumping, pushing, change of direction and team-handball specific movements of passing, catching, throwing, checking and blocking. Intensities during the game always change between standing and walking, jogging and moderate running, sprinting and fast forward, sideward, and backward movements (Michalsik et al., 2012; Povoas et al., 2012), therefore, a specific high level of endurance is important to keep up a high level of play during the entire game (2x30min). However, team-handball is strongly influenced by the tactical concepts, social factors as well as cognitive aspects. Finally, as in other team sports nutrition, illness and injuries as well as external influences of materials and environmental conditions could influence the performance in team-handball (Figure 1).
Determining the factors that influence performance in team-handball based on scientific studies should contribute to the increase in quality of training for coaches and practitioners as well as to develop specific measuring methods and tests from scientific studies. Different tactical components in team-handball offense and defense are well described in team-handball specific journals and well documented by the European (EHF) and International Handball Federation (IHF). The homepages of the EHF and IHF have published detailed statistics for every final round for the last 10-15 years of World, Olympic and European Championships as well as the EHF Champions League. In this context it have to be known that the game analyses of the IHF and EHF is not peer-reviewed and therefore these data should not be used for scientific studies. Since nutrition for team-handball is very similar to other team sports and injuries in team-handball are well documented, we limited this review to the influence of coordination, strength, endurance, constitution, social factors and cognition to the performance in team-handball.
The aim of this review was threefold: (1) summarize the most important findings of different scientific studies, (2) define the determinants of team-handball performance based on these studies, and (3) provide perspectives for practical implication.
Literature search methodology
We searched the following computer databases: PubMed, Web of Knowledge, SPORT Discus, Google Scholar, and Hercules. The search terms used to identify the studies were handball (some studies used handball instead of team-handball) in combination with test, training, throw and/or shot, jump, sprint, coordination, agility, strength, power, endurance, change of direction, shuttle run, cognition, mental skills, personality, social factors and/or group coherence. The word searches were specifically adjusted to each database for free text words and categorized free terms. In the first step, language was limited to English. At the beginning of the season 2001/2002, a change in the rules (fast throw on) in team-handball altered the characteristics and fundamentally changed the game. Therefore, this search was limited to January 2002 through December 2013. Additionally, we manually searched the references of published studies.
If we were not able to find a minimum of five studies in each category, we extended the search to older investigations (prior to 2002), studies in other team sport games or studies published in the German language. This was especially true for cognition and social factors. In this context, we used specific electronic databases of the institute of sport science i.e. BISp, SPOLIT and SPONET.
Studies detected in initial searches were screened using the following inclusion criteria: (1) using elite or experienced team-handball players as subjects, (2) analyzing performance that were similar to competition, (3) full length texts had to be available, (4) if similar tests or analyses were used in several studies we used only those studies that were close to the first two inclusion criteria, and (5) total numbers of studies per sub-category were limited to seven studies.
Coordination and agility
Van den Tillaar and Ettema (2003; 2006) analyzed the velocity-accuracy trade off in team-handball throwing and found that training experience was not related to the velocity-accuracy trade off. However, experienced teamhandball players are trained to throw very accurately at a relatively high ball velocity (85% of the maximal ball velocity) and ball velocity is reduced when throwing with the opposition of a goalkeeper and/or defensive player (Gutierrez Davila et al., 2006; Rivilla-Garcia et al., 2011). It has been shown that in different team-handball throwing techniques, ball velocity is strongly influenced by maximal pelvis, trunk and shoulder internal rotation angular velocity (Van den Tillaar and Ettema, 2004a; 2007; 2009; Wagner et al., 2010a; 2010b; 2011; Wagner and Muller, 2008). Measuring the proximal-to-distal sequencing in team-handball throwing, it was found that the maximal joint angular velocities occurred in a specific order (Figure 2A) starting with pelvis rotation, followed by trunk rotation, trunk flexion, elbow extension, shoulder internal rotation, forearm pronation and shoulder flexion (Van den Tillaar and Ettema, 2004a; 2009; Wagner et al., 2010a; 2012). In less experienced players, trunk rotation and flexion occurred earlier compared to elite players resulting in a decrease in ball velocity (Wagner et al., 2012). Comparing different throwing techniques it was found that the highest ball velocity (Figure 2D) was attained in the standing throw with run-up due to a better acceleration of the pelvis and trunk over the on the floor braced leg (Wagner et al., 2011). We concluded that throwing performance is determined by a high ball velocity that is influenced by upper body strength and power as well as an optimal movement coordination that is determined by a handball specific proximal-to-distal sequencing and an increase in maximal upper body rotation angular velocities.
Throwing in team-handball has to be always considered under tactical considerations. Although, the standing throw with run-up is the throwing technique with the highest ball velocity (ball velocity is the main performance variable in team-handball) the jump throw is the most often applied throwing technique (75%, Figure 2B) in team-handball (Wagner et al., 2008). The advantage of this throwing technique is that it enables a better throwing position (wing players and pivots, fast break, brake through), throwing over the rival block (backcourt players) and more time for decision making (throwing or passing, throwing direction, watching the goalkeeper). Another tactical consideration in team-handball throwing is that most throws (50% in the Olympic team-handball tournament in Bejing 2012) were placed in the lower corners of the goal (Figure 2C). Throwing to the lower corners of the goal enables a higher ball velocity and accuracy (longer arm acceleration and ball control) and a higher success rate. For the goalkeeper, it is more difficult to make saves with the legs compared to throwing to the upper corners of the goal.
Jump height is important for the jump throw in team-handball to reach a high vertical position to throw over the block of the rival defensive players when throwing from backcourt position or to have more time for throwing (an increase in flight time) to mimic or to react to the movements of the goalkeeper. On defense, jump height is important to block the rival offensive player when throwing. Jump heights in team-handball were often measured during a counter movement jump; however, no significant differences were found between elite and amateur male (Gorostiaga et al., 2005) and female (Granados et al., 2007) players. Michalsik et al. (2011b) measured the jump height during a counter movement jump (43.9 [+ or -] 6.0 cm) and a jump and reach test including a run-up (71.4 [+ or -] 7.8 cm) in Danish elite team-handball players and found to be significantly increased in the jump with runup. That the type of jump could influence throwing performance was shown by Pori et al. (2005). Upper body kinematics and ball velocity in the jump throw were different when throwing with take-off from one (leg from or opposite from the throwing arm) or two legs, while throwing with take-off from one leg opposite to the throwing arm enables the highest ball velocity (Wagner et al., 2011).
It is well known from practice and training that sprints are often used to increase performance in team ball sport games. Sprinting performance is easily measurable by different sprint tests utilizing standard time measuring equipment. Young et al. (2001) analyzed the specificity of sprint and agility training methods and found a significant increase in performance after a six week training session in experienced team sport athletes. The more interesting finding of this study was that the sprint training group (20-40 m sprints) increased their performance in the straight sprinting test (30 m) but less in the agility tests (direction changes) and vice versa. Young et al. (2001) suggested that straight sprint and agility training methods are specific and produce only limited transfer from one to the other. Testing straight sprinting performance in team-handball...