The Mayans were great sportsmen and build huge ballcourts to play their games. The Great Ballcourt of Chichén Itzá is 545 feet long and 225 feet wide overall. It has no vault, no discontinuity between the walls and is totally open to the sky.
Ancient Mayan Ballgames
The goal of this game was to hit the ball into a stone hoop. The ball could not be picked up however. It had to be bounced off of leather shields that were attached to the players, arms, legs, and chest.
The Mayan ballgame had important religious relevance as well. In some Mayan areads, the winners were sacraficed, while in others the losers were sacrificed. According to their beliefs, human sacrifice was vital for the prosperity of everything they did.
Ancient Mayan Game Rules and Sacrifice
It is believed that the rules prohibited actually touching the ball with the hand or having the ball hit the ground. The buttocks, thighs and upper torso were used to control the ball. A thick heavy deflector called a 'yoke' was often worn around the waist of a player to help direct the ball.
One of the occasions of human sacrifice was the ball game. It is not known how often sacrifice of the loser ended the game, but the game itself was often deadly. When the Spanish came to Mesoamerica they witnessed serious injuries from the sport.
The size of the ball varied between softball and beach ball size. It weighed 8 pounds, at about the size of a watermelon. Rubber strips were wound around a smaller object to form a large hollow ball. Because it was hollow, it bounced better and higher than a solid ball.
The winners of the game were treated as heroes and given a great feast. The penalty for losing a game was sometimes unusually harsh: death. The leader of the team who lost the game was sometimes killed.
Even though in some parts as Chichen-itza, it was done in a recreational way and considered a ritual. One of the captains of the two participating groups could eventually die at the end of those tournaments. Now controversy is was it just the team leaders who were sacrificed or his teammates also.
Long before soccer (and smallpox) took pre-Columbian America by storm, the official sport of Ancient Mexico was an odd game that the Mayans called pitz. Since there is no word in the English language that can do justice to its brutality, we simply call it "The Mesoamerican Ballgame".
Mesoamerican Ballgame was a lot like volleyball, except the ball involved was nine pounds of solid rubber. And there were beheadings.
The court, Halaw (Glyph) had the shape of an "I" or double "T", its size varies but the average was 30 Mt. long and 8 mt. wide, and the goal was obtained by hitting the Marker with the ball. It also had 3 carved stones in the surface, to reenact the Creation Myth.