History of Ancient Mayans

Sports and physical activities

History of Ancient Mayans

The Mayan culture was extremely vibrant in all of its aspects. Although some aspects of the culture, like human sacrifice, are perhaps morbid for today’s perceptions. Other than excelling at architecture, art, culture, mathematics, astronomy- Mayans were great at entertaining themselves. They practiced various sports where all the people with different social statuses would become equal and have fun.

Mayan civilization tribe playing a game with balls.


The most well-known game that the Mayans practiced is the Mayan Ball Game. The ball game dates back to 1,400 BC and had many variations over time and in different regions. This means the rules also varied, but the general idea was more or less the same. The original form of the game consisted of striking the ball with the hips. In other forms of the game, it was allowed to strike the ball with elbows, knees, rackets, bats, etc.
The balls were made from solid rubber and they weighed about 4kg. The ball games were often held in the midst of grand events and often they involved rituals of human sacrifice. The ball game was played in two teams between two and six players. The rule of the game was to strike the ball with the hips so it won’t fall to the ground. Whichever team drops the ball loses a point. For these purposes, the Mayans have built many ball game courts. The bigger the city, the larger the ball court. On both sides, there were seatings for people to observe the game. 

Mayan game ball court.


Tlachtli, or also known as Ulama, Tlacho, pitz, pok-a-tok, is another game that Mayans played using a ball. The courts in which they played this game were L-shaped, and there were rings or hoops on the walls in which the players shot the grapefruit-sized rubber ball with the help of their hips, thighs, and chest. Naturally, there were several variations of the game and some of them didn’t include hoops but the goal of the game was to keep the ball in the air as long as possible.

Mayan ring for ball game in court.

An interesting fact about the balls for both of these games is that Mayans were the first in the world to use rubber. The material originated from the Hevea tree.


Although not essentially a sport, Mayans as well as Aztecs were using “running couriers” also called messengers for many different purposes. The runners were mainly used for fast communication and it is estimated that a chain of messengers could cover 300 to 400 km per day. The runners were positioned on approximately every 6 km. They would also bring rare goods from great distances to satisfy their rulers.

A Mayan man running.

Mayans were an extraordinary civilization. In addition to the physical sports, they played board games such as Patolli which involved moving six game pieces on a board of squares, and Bul which was a dice game that included mathematical calculations. In all of the sports and games, Mayans practiced heavy betting and cheering. 

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