Pok-A-Tok: The Mayan Ball Game

Updated on October 19, 2019
Haunty profile image

Haunty is a history buff and enjoys reading and writing about ancient history from around the world.

Maya Pok-A-Tok ballcourt with the ring in Chichén Itzá
Maya Pok-A-Tok ballcourt with the ring in Chichén Itzá

What Is Pok-A-Tok?

Pok-A-Tok is a fast-paced ball game played by the Maya of Central America. It is their most famous game, which is thought to have been invented around 2000 BCE. Pok-A-Tok was played in teams of one or two players in every major Mayan city. If there were two players in a team, they assisted each other.

The objective of the game was to get a ball through a narrow stone hoop placed on the court wall, often as high up as 20 feet from the ground. Players were not allowed to use their hands or feet—only their head, shoulders, elbows, wrists, and hips.

Ball game scene on a Mayan vase
Ball game scene on a Mayan vase

How Was Pok-A-Tok played in Mayan times?

For the Maya, Pok-A-Tok was more than just a challenging game. It symbolized the struggle of life over death, and war and hunting. Pok-A-Tok was often played by prisoners of war, and the members of the losing team were offered as sacrificed to the gods.

Pok-A-Tok games would go on without interruption for long periods of time, often for days. Scoring was so difficult that when a player managed to finally get the ball through the ring located high up on the wall, the game usually ended.

This is not to say that the Maya didn't play the game just for fun. They did. Players would wear protective padding around their waists, and on one shin and forearm. Otherwise the hard, solid-rubber ball could have severely injured or even killed them. The balls were made from rubber from cau-uchu trees, and depictions of Pok-A-Tok show that the ball was as big as a basketball is today.

The padding, called yokes, was made of cotton stuffed into wooden frames. One of these yokes was found in a tomb at Tikal. However, even in games played for fun, the members of the losing team, or at least the captain, were killed in sacrifice to the gods. Who would want to actually play Pok-A-Tok for fun given those odds?

The ruins of Chichén Itzá in Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula has the biggest Pok-A-Tok court of all Mesoamerica. It is 545 feet long and 225 feet wide. The Great Ballcourt of Chichén Itzá has its walls covered with carved depictions of sacrifices made to the gods at the game’s end. Near the court, there is a stone platform decorated with hundreds of carved skulls.

Mayan Ballgame Video

Harvesting from a cau-uchu rubber tree.
Harvesting from a cau-uchu rubber tree.

Cau-uchu Trees and Rubber Harvest

Mesoamerican people used rubber by 1600 BCE. It was grown in the rainforest of the lowlands and then transferred by merchants to surrounding areas.

Making balls wasn't the only purpose of rubber. It was also used to attach stones to wooden handles, to seal bags that carried water, to water-proof clothing, and to make drumsticks for wooden drums. The Maya even coated their feet with layers of rubber to make shoes. Shaman-priests used rubber to treat lip and ear wounds.

During harvest, the Maya made diagonal cuts in the bark of cau-uchu trees to start the flow of latex down a central vertical channel and into their containers. The rubber was mixed with the juice of the morning glory vine to make it tough, strong, and very elastic—perfect for bouncing. It hardened within minutes, but before that would happen, the Maya shaped the rubber into different sizes of balls.

How to Make Your Own Rubber Ball

Do this in a ventilated area! You will need a jar of rubber cement and a brush.

  1. Spread a thin layer of rubber cement on a flat surface. Let it dry for a few minutes.
  2. Start pushing your fingers around on the tacky rubber cement. It will peel off and gradually stick together. Roll it around into a ball.
  3. Spread another layer of rubber cement on your work surface. After a few minutes, roll your ball around on the new layer. It will peel up and stick to your ball.
  4. Keep rolling it around, and all the rubber cement will gradually form into a bigger ball.
  5. Repeat this process as many times as you like, building up your rubber ball.

No hands.
No hands.

How to Play Pok-A-Tok at Home?

You can do this alone or in teams. You will need two pieces of paper, a pen, tape, a ball.

  1. Draw a circle about 5 inches in diameter onto each piece of paper. If you are playing by yourself, you will only need one piece of paper.
  2. Tape or tack a piece of paper on opposite walls slightly above your head to start. The higher the target, the more challenging the game will be.
  3. Divide into two equal teams and choose your targets. Working as a team, try to hit the center of the circle on your team’s target with the rubber ball without using your hands. The other team will try to take the ball away from you to hit their target, but they also cannot use their hands.
  4. The first team to hit the target wins a point. When both teams have scored a point on their target, move the target higher. Or make the game more challenging by only using your feet, legs, and head. Imagine trying to play Pok-A-Tok like the Maya did, with a heavy rubber ball and a 30-foot-high ring—and remember the penalty for losing in ancient Mayan culture was death!

© 2011 Haunty

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    • profile image

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      2 weeks ago

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      4 weeks ago

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      4 weeks ago

      good vid

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      Freshavacado 

      5 weeks ago

      One time someone threw deodorant at me.

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      Me 

      6 weeks ago

      Thanks this really helped me btw how did you find out about all those facts.

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      Peppa 

      6 weeks ago

      this was helpful

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      person 

      6 weeks ago

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      wow this helped a lot!!!!!

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      Twistedleah 

      2 months ago

      Booooo no help for my history test

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      2 months ago

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      2 months ago

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      Hi I’m life

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      5 months ago

      great

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      6 months ago

      I once slapped a dog and threw a ball at it

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      6 months ago

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      7 months ago

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      7 months ago

      fortnite old

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      LeGoat 

      8 months ago

      thanks for the A

    • profile image

      Le cat 

      9 months ago

      Didn’t the rubber balls have skulls in them to make it slightly hollow and bounce easier

    • profile image

      rehan 

      9 months ago

      im dum

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      lily main 

      9 months ago

      i loved reading your lovely website

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      9 months ago

      This was nice

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      10 months ago

      me too

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      10 months ago

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      10 months ago

      this is really amazing

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      11 months ago

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      11 months ago

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      nick 

      12 months ago

      well done sherlock

    • profile image

      Caleb 

      12 months ago

      how many times a day did they play this game of pok a tok

    • profile image

      Enrique patt 

      13 months ago

      Here in belize we have a pok a tok team mexico also has check it on youtube

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      13 months ago

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      13 months ago

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      14 months ago

      so satisfying

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      homework 

      14 months ago

      it was good to do for homework and it helped me to understand how it actually works

    • profile image

      Hehem 

      15 months ago

      How did they move the ball around the court

    • profile image

      asher 

      18 months ago

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      18 months ago

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      18 months ago

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      18 months ago

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      18 months ago

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      18 months ago

      I LIKE FORTNITE

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      18 months ago

      Helped me in my question

    • profile image

      OSP 

      19 months ago

      hmmm i want to play this right now

    • profile image

      tim 

      19 months ago

      wow facinating

    • profile image

      hted 

      19 months ago

      how many players are there on each side

    • profile image

      Bla bla whatever 

      20 months ago

      To Fel, it was indeed the losers that where sacrificed get ur facts right matr

    • profile image

      die 

      20 months ago

      its good for my projekt

    • profile image

      boi 

      20 months ago

      b-b-b-boii, this has so much damn info it's ridiculous. what homework do you have that it needs more info than this? This is a high-key dope article that has so much info. BOI

    • profile image

      ☺ 

      20 months ago

      The may didn't sacrifice it was the aztecks

    • profile image

      joshua kafumbe 

      20 months ago

      this is one of the most amazing and facinating games i've seen!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • profile image

      Bo 

      20 months ago

      Great!!!Very useful for my legacy project!!! :)

    • profile image

      Student 

      20 months ago

      Good but I was wondering what happens if you whisper at the other end

    • profile image

      Fantasia Neal 

      21 months ago

      How many people would.play as in numbers

    • profile image

      Dunno 

      21 months ago

      Nice to know love

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      21 months ago

      good

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      21 months ago

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      22 months ago

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      23 months ago

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      23 months ago

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      23 months ago

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      23 months ago

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      23 months ago

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      lollypop12 

      23 months ago

      this is the best

    • profile image

      tails 

      23 months ago

      thanks

    • profile image

      123456 

      23 months ago

      It was good but needs more info

    • profile image

      Fel 

      23 months ago

      It is not the losers that are sacrificed but the winners.

    • profile image

      kl , . 

      24 months ago

      homework

    • profile image

      ht 

      24 months ago

      cool

    • profile image

      hi ppl 

      2 years ago

      coooooool nice I'm doing homework on this

    • profile image

      Hi 

      2 years ago

      What would happen if you touched the ball with your hand?

    • profile image

      Yo ppl 

      2 years ago

      Wow this so interesting thx whoever wrote this

    • profile image

      no more sad songs :( 

      2 years ago

      this is great but more information!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • profile image

      yr 6 

      2 years ago

      this helped in my homework

    • profile image

      God 

      2 years ago

      Cool... i guess

    • profile image

      please add 

      2 years ago

      please tell us the team names

    • profile image

      Hi 

      2 years ago

      Bye peeps

    • profile image

      Plzzzzzzz help 

      2 years ago

      I'm am lost don't let me sink in the comments!

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      Mum and dad 

      2 years ago

      This is great for my children! Thank you xxx

    • profile image

      Mum 

      2 years ago

      Hi!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • profile image

      Kelsey 

      2 years ago

      I'm not sure what it is I was supposed to be doing my homework for it

    • profile image

      SurlyWombat 

      2 years ago

      The game still exists now Ron.So, think twice before you play it.

    • profile image

      JJ 

      2 years ago

      I'm doing a research paper on it and i love it

    • profile image

      David Maak 

      2 years ago

      who is the author of this article?

    • profile image

      hi 

      2 years ago

      cooooool

    • profile image

      :} 

      2 years ago

      I used to play this game when I was in primary i used to be the captin and was very proud of it at the time but not now!!!!!!!! I loved it and beat all the boys it was a super fun game to play with my friends

      did not realise that the Mayans used to sacrifice the captain probaly wouldn't of let people vote for me if I new !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :}

    • profile image

      ron 

      4 years ago

      is that game real anymore

    • profile image

      Andrew Vontz 

      4 years ago

      yo people

    • profile image

      Poler Bairz 

      4 years ago

      What is you touched the ball with your hands?

    • profile image

      bobby 

      4 years ago

      babys

    • profile image

      Soeren H 

      5 years ago

      Hallo everybody

      I actually know how the Maya and the Aztecs played the game in all detail. But I wont tell u everything here, because its the wrong furum for such a anauncement.

      But I'll give u some clue. First of all. U don't hit the ball with any bodyparts. That wood hurd to much. U need "hitstones". The Aztecs used three kind of hitstone on the field. A kneestone for the frontplayer. The rest used both one so caled shulderstone and a belt stone fastent around the wast. A belt with one or more stones. The sholderstoen where actually fatsen to the "overarm" in the middle between the shoulder and the albou.

      So that's the way u should play it. U need at least two players to play the basic version of the game. The goul is to hit the ball as many times as possible. Each player can only hit the ball one time at the time. Meaning the two players have to play to each other like "pingPong". But the ball must not hit the ground or any other things. U simply play to each other one hit each and then cound how many times u can hit the ball without losing it to the ground. That's it folks. The most simple version. Next u need two team with at least two players each. But then the ruleset gets more complicated: I'll let it ower to u all folks out the for now. Maby u can figure it out your self.

      By by and have fun with the real Pokolpok game.

      Kindly the timetraveller Soeren H

    • profile image

      jeremy highton 

      5 years ago

      who r u mighty one

    • profile image

      Maria 

      5 years ago

      :/ :/ :/

    • profile image

      Rachael Smiley 

      6 years ago

      I am doingt a protcet about this game. Happy to do this.

    • profile image

      Rachael 

      6 years ago

      This is a good web sight to look at real stuff from the MAYANs I learned a lot about there cutler and how to play this game. I love this wed sight.

    • profile image

      robert! 

      6 years ago

      this is a stupid game!!!

    • profile image

      Kaname 

      6 years ago

      I would end as a sacrifice. I would aim for the ball, miss and break a hip.

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