The Future of the Ball Game

Now that the past has been explored, it is important to look at what has become of the ballgame in present Latin America. The ballgame has overcomes many challenges. It has specifically survived through the Aztec, Olmec, and Mayan civilizations and through the Spanish conquests.  When the Spanish conquered the Aztecs, Cortex was impressed by the game and brought players back in 1528 to perform for the royal court. However, the Spanish banned the game and would not allow the Aztecs to play the game because of the spiritual connection. Despite these circumstances, the game still survived in smaller areas of these ancientcivilizations. While the game was not completely extinct, it lost much of the connection with cosmology and ritual that it had before.

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In current Latin America, people try to preserve thegame because it is part of their roots and their identity. In towns near areas like Mazatlan in Mexico, people still play the game. The game has been unable to gain much popularity because of the economic status of many of the players and their inability to acquire natural rubber. This resource is required in order for the ball to have the same properties as it did in the past.  It has been difficult to preserve the game because it does not have many followers. However, many tourist sites in places like the Yucatan invite players as tourist attractions which helped to spread awareness about the game even though it is argued that this does not truly display the true nature of the sport. While the sport has survived through some of the most severe circumstances, it currently faces the biggest challenge that it has ever had to overcome. Preserving the ballgame is a difficult task. However, it is important to preserve the game so that people can continue to connect their identities to the ancient civilizations and so that others can learn more about the lifestyles of the Aztecs, Maya and Olmec civilizations.

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Various Mesoamerican Ball Court Locations

Since we have discussed some of the overarching differences between the different types of ballgames, their layouts and the significance of the ball game, we wanted to focus on specific examples of different sites that appear to have used the ballgame in their society.

To begin with, Pre-Columbian ball courts were not fully developed into what the ball game became in later civilizations[1]. The ball courts were often used as religious shrines or for cosmological observation.  The architecture of the ball courts showed significant orientations that related to the calendar and cosmology.

The ball court Chichen Itza, a sacred central site of the Maya civilization, was called the “Great Ball Court”.[2] It was 272 feet long and 199 feet wide with open walls. The hoop was 23 feet above the ground, making it an extremely difficult feat to put the heavy rubber fall into the hoop. The hoop was not only that tall but hands and feet were not allowed, they had to throw themselves on the ground and used their hips to hit the ball. The size of the court, about the size of a football field, and the height of the hoop, made this activity extremely challenges and difficult.[3] Specifically, at this ball court, the acoustics are very impressive. Still to date a whisper at one end of the court can be heard in the center, and a clap from the center can produce 9 echos around the walls.[4] This feature shows a high level of sophistication and architectural understanding.


[5] Chichen Itza Pyramid


[6] Chichen Itza Ball Court Aerial

The ball court in Copan, another Mayan site is different from the ball court of Chichen Itza. It shows the variation between the ball courts of different sites. This court does not have the rings that a Mayan ball court usually contains. Instead it have 6 macaw heads which are used as the goals instead of the hoops.

Civilizations such as the one in Monte Alban, also employed the use of the ball game. The ball court in Monte Alban, like the Mayan ball courts, is shaped like an I. However, like in Copan, this ball court does not have any rings. The sides also differ from those in the Great Ball Court of Chichen Itza because they are sloped. [7] The absence of rings and the change in he structure of the court must have changed how the game was played dramatically from what we commonly see in Mayan sites. Like in other sites, the players often faced some form of sacrifice though it is controversial whether it was the winner or the losers who were put to death. In Monte Alban we also see that the ballgame was used to legitimize the rulers by associating the players with super natural forces[8].


[9] Monte Alban

Throughout Mesoamerica we see many different kinds of ball games played and employed in different aspects of society. The differences in structures of the walls and the hoops, must have lead to differences in rules and changed the difficulty of the game. It is difficult to say if more difficult layouts of the ball courts made the ball game more prestigious and elite in those societies, or if it had no correlation with this idea at all.[10] However, despite the significance of the variation, variation existed throughout Mesoamerica even though the presence of a ball court remained a fundamental aspect of the sites of many civilizations.


Blomster, Jeffrey. “Early Evidence of the Ballgame in Oaxaca, Mexico.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. National Academy of Sciences, 6 Apr. 2012. Web. 16 Apr. 2013. <;.

“Chichen Itza.” Mexico. Magic Planet Productions, n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2013.<>.

“Chichen Itza – Architecture.” Mystic Places: Chichen Itza. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2013.<>

Finney, Dee. “MAYAN GAMES.” MAYAN GAMES. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2013.<>.

“Historic Centre of Oaxaca and Archaeological Site of Monte Albán.” Word Heritage Center. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2013. <;.

“Monte Alban.” Sacred Destinations. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2013. <;.


[1] Finney

[2] Chichen Itza

[3] Chichen Itza – Architecture

[4] Chichen Itza

[5] Chichen Itza

[6] Chichen Itza – Architecture

[7] Monte Albán

[8] Monte Albán

[9] Monte Albán

[10] Blomster

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Mayan and Aztec Ball Game


To the Mayan civilization, the ball game, Pokatok, as they called it, was a very important aspect of their society. Some argue that the game was limited in those who could participate due to the significance of the game to the society. One of the ways in which the Mayans utilized the ball game was for political negotiations. Often, those from different areas would use the ball game as a tool to discuss certain demands or to settle conflicts based on the outcome of the game.[1] The political implications of the game were often accompanied by more religious views of the universe as well. As a result, often sacrifices occurred after the game was over.  However, besides the religious aspect of the sacrifices themselves the entire ball game had a spiritual connotation for the Maya that made the game a fundamental aspect of their society.[2] It is though that specifically, the ball game comes from the Mayan creation myth about the “Hero Twins” called the Popol Vuh.[3]  According to their myth, two sons of the Maize Gods, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, had been very noisy while playing the ball game and thus upset the Lord of Death called Lords of Xibalba, or the underworld. The Lords of Xibalba call upon the Hero Twins to play a game of the ball game to settle the dispute. The game results in the Hunahpu and Xbalanque dying however it is believed that they rose to the heavens and became the Sun and the Moon. Their rebirth sets the stage for the creation of the Maya from maize. The ball game is a reenactment of the creation myth but it also reenacts the Mayan idea of the cosmos.[4] The ball is a metaphor for the rising and falling of the Sun and Moon through the sky with respect to the earth. The ball game plays an important role in keeping the world in cosmological order and the sacrifices played a role in appeasing the gods so that their good fortune would continue. [5]







The Aztec’s were a religious people that saw religion in many things, including the ball game, called ullamaliztli. The main reason they used this ball game was for religious purposes. The Aztec’s believed that the game represented the “cosmic battle between day and night, light and darkness, order and chaos, life and death”[7] After the end of the game, the losing team was sacrificed, which was thought to keep the sun moving across the sky as it was believed that the only way this would continue to happen was with blood sacrifice.[8] The Sun was thought to be a god named Huitzilopochtli who was the sun that went across the sky. In order to keep him moving across the sky “they had to continually feed his insatiable appetite for the hearts of human sacrifices. There has been debate among scholars as to whether the winning or losing team was sacrificed, since being sacrificed was seen as an honor to the Aztecs. Ullamaliztli was also used for political purposes. Different cities would bring their teams and compete against each other. Sometimes this would cause conflict and war but also was used to settle disagreement or differences.[9]  Not every time ullamaliztli was played were people sacrificed. Many Aztecs used this game as strength training and conditioning.[10] The most skilled at the game were honored and respected for their abilities. Most Aztec cities contained a ball court alongside a temple, which shows how this was so crucial to their society and religion.








“Pokatok: The Mayan Ballgame.” Pokatok: The Mayan Ballgame. AncientWorlds LLC, 5 Mar. 2006. Web. 17 Mar. 2013. <;.

“Maya: Ballgame.” Maya: William P. Palmer III Collection. Maine Center for the Arts, n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2013. <;.

Loadman, John. “Bouncing Balls.” The Mesoamerican Ball Game. Revertex, n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2013. <;.

“Huitzilopochtli.” N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2013. <;.

“Ball Game Trans.” World History Curriculum. Alan Shawn Feinstein Middle School, n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2013.

Cóttrill, Jaime. “Aztec Ball Game.” Aztec Ball Game. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2013. <;.

“Warriors: The Science of the Aztec Ballgame.” The Aztec World. The Field Museum, 2008. Web. 19 Mar. 2013. <;.

“Ballcourt Goal in Xochicalco, Morelos, Mexico.” The Aztec World. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2013. <;




[1] “Pokatok: The Mayan Ballgame.” 

[2] “Maya: Ballgame.” 

[3] “Pokatok: The Mayan Ballgame.” 

[4] “Maya: Ballgame.” 

[5] Loadman

[6]“Ball Game Trans.” 

[7] “Warriors: The Science of the Aztec Ballgame.”

[8] Cóttrill

[9] Cóttrill 

[10] Loadman

[11] “Ballcourt Goal in Xochicalco, Morelos, Mexico.” 

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The Importance of the Rubber Ball

Before we talk about the significance of the “ball-game” in many of the civilizations of Mesoamerica, we want to address different important aspects that went into the logistics of the game. One of the most important pieces of the game is the ball. While, in modern times, we consider the availability of balls for different sports and activities to be a given fact, the acquisition of a ball was extremely important. The ball that was used for the “ball-game” in Mesoamerica was in fact made of rubber.  The use of rubber was important in the Olmec, Aztec and Maya civilizations of Mesoamerica.

Rubber was created by taking latex from rubber tress (that were in abundance in Mesoamerica) and adding juice from morning glory vines. The advanced engineering skills these civilizations used to make different types of rubber are very impressive. Rubber was important not only for making this ball but also for other things such as making rubber sandals.To create different types of rubber they changed the amounts of latex and juice that they added to their mixture. According to Rachel Kaufman of National Geographic News, “A 50-50 blend of morning glory juice and latex created rubber with maximum bounciness, while a 75-25 mix of latex and morning glory made the most durable material.”[1]

Rubber was a large part of the lives of these civilizations.  Often, we tend to think of ancient civilizations are primitive and as our developments in modern time being the most sophisticated and advanced. However, rubber serves as an example of the incredibly advanced developments these civilizations had. Specifically in the Aztec civilization, their manipulation of rubber showed their intensely scientific minds and their engineering capabilities. It is important to remember that while our modern civilizations are very advanced as well, there is a great deal that we can learn from the developments in technology made in ancient times.

The type of court used to play the “ball-game” depended on the zone where it was being played. For example, in the lowlands Mayan area the ball courts had open ends which were thought to keep entry to the courts limited for ritual purposes. The courts had vertical walls with stone rings in the center.

The highland Maya zones were shaped like an “I” and had slanted walls. They also had stone heads on each wall. The size and structure of the courts suggests a relationship to the significance of the ritual and the authority of the ruler of that site. Generally speaking however, the ball game was played with the rubber ball in an attempt to get the ball in the hoop, wherever the hoops were placed on the courts. The location of the hoops changed depending on the court, as well as the incline of the walls. Since they could not use their hands, those who were playing used protectors on their knees and hips in order to be able to hit the ball. More specific rules, however, were particular to the site of the ball game and were subject to change. Despite any differences in the layout of the game and specific rules, overall, the game had to be played using ones body to try to put the ball in the hoop.

[1]  Rachel Kaufman, ” Aztec, Maya were Rubber-Making Masters?” National Geographic News, June 28, 2010.


Kaufman, Rachel. ” Aztec, Maya were Rubber-Making Masters?” National Geographic News, June 28, 2010.

Zaccagnini, Jessica, “Maya Ritual and Myth: Human Sacrifice in the Context of the Ballgame and the Relationship to the Popol Vuh” (2003). Honors Theses. Paper 336.



Kaufman, Rachel. ” Aztec, Maya were Rubber-Making Masters?” National Geographic News, June 28, 2010.

Ball Court

One example of a ball court with walls that are not very steep

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Introduction to the Ball Game

Welcome to our blog about the Mesoamerican ball game. Here we will explore the meaning of the ball game in different ancient civilizations of Mesoamerica and the role the ball game played for these civilizations.

Here is an introduction to our topic:

The “ ball game” originated before the time of the Olmec civilization. It
was central to the life of early Mesoamerican populations. The game was used in
many ways including as a means to resolving political conflicts and for ritual
purposes. This is an important topic of Mesoamerica to study because this ritual
emerges as part of a large amount of the Mesoamerican culture beginning with the
earliest civilizations through some of the later more developed societies. This ritual
was not only a form of entertainment but it clearly played a fundamental role in the
lives of the Mesoamerican people. It will be interesting to explore how the
civilizations used this common ritual and different ways and to meet the needs of
their own society. Perhaps, any differences that are discovered in the ball games of
different civilizations can shed light upon the differences between the civilizations
themselves. Topics such as community relations, belief systems, and social
hierarchy, may come up as key differences in each civilization and ultimately play a
role in shaping how the ball game is viewed and used throughout daily life.
The ball game not only had implications on the communities’ actions but
also played a roll in the creation myths of civilizations such as the Mayas. Learning
about the ball game is important because in some cases it goes hand in hand with
the belief system of the ancient civilizations and an understanding of the cultures
themselves. Overall, the ball game was a ritual in Mesoamerican civilizations that
serves as a window into the social structures of these populations and their belief
systems as well.



Aztec History, Aztec Ball Game, (January 27, 2013).

Authentic Maya, Maya Ball Game, (January 27, 2013).

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