Ball Courts, Ball Games Illustration

Maya Empire for Kids
Ball Courts

The Maya played the earliest team sport in the world - a ball game, a game using a rubber ball and two opposing teams on a ball court. Ball courts were usually placed at the base of a temple because all games were held to honor the Maya gods. Festivals were held every twenty (20) days. Every festival had a ball game scheduled. Everyone who possibly could came to the ball games.

The courts had a hoop at one end. The game played was very rough. It was a mix of modern soccer, basketball, and kick ball. Players could not touch the ball. They could not use their hands, feet, or head. They had to use their hips, arms, and shoulders. They did wear protective clothing. The object of the game was to put a rubber ball through the hoop.

When teams from various Maya cities, or various parts of the same city, were playing each other, the winning team got to keep the jewelry of the losing team.

The games were played for fun, during festivals, during special events like the installing of a new king, or to replace a war.

If two Maya city-states were at war with each other, rather than fight with armies, they might play a ball game. The winning team won for their city-state. The losing team captain was killed unless his city or he personally or his teammates pitched in to supply precious jade or obsidion or other special goods. That is what usually happened. The war was over.

If they fought with armies, there would probably be captives. Usually, captives from these battles were made into slaves. Occasionally, a game might be played with captives. When that happened, one team was composed of Maya players and the other team was composed of captives. If the captives won, they were allowed to go free. But they never won. Prior to the game, the captives were beaten, poorly fed, and poorly clothed. After the captive team lost, they were sacrificed. But this was very rare. The captives would have had to have done something pretty awful for this to occur.

No one wanted to see anyone die - beat up, bruised, broken bones, fine, but they wanted their ball players to mend so they could play again. A really good ball player was a celebrity.

Maya - Ball Game Rules

Scroll down to the Ball Courts of the ancient Maya world (interactive)

Maya Ball Games

The nobles in the Maya empire all claimed they were descendants of the Hero Twins. This gave them the right to rule. The ancient story of the hero twins tells the tale of two brothers, a bunch of ball games, the tricky gods, and a happy ending!

Mayas for Kids