Pok-A-Tok: The Maya Ball Game

Updated on October 24, 2011

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 Maya 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.

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

How was Pok-A-Tok played in Maya 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, was 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 - guess whose?

Ball game scene on a Maya vase
Ball game scene on a Maya vase

Maya 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 Maya culture was death!

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        nick 

        6 weeks ago

        well done sherlock

      • profile image

        Caleb 

        7 weeks ago

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

      • profile image

        Enrique patt 

        2 months ago

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

      • profile image

        josh 

        2 months ago

        dab

        man liked a boss

      • profile image

        raiden 

        2 months ago

        teagen your mom

      • profile image

        rose 

        3 months ago

        so satisfying

      • profile image

        homework 

        3 months ago

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

      • profile image

        Hehem 

        4 months ago

        How did they move the ball around the court

      • profile image

        asher 

        6 months ago

        I love

      • profile image

        wow 

        7 months ago

        hahahahaha lie

      • profile image

        HARRYSALTY 

        7 months ago

        thanks :) :) :) :) :) :) :)

      • profile image

        XxxFoRtNitExxX 

        7 months ago

        Fortnite godd

      • profile image

        FortniteCarrygod 

        7 months ago

        Thanks this helped a lot on my 1,000 word project

      • profile image

        FortniteCarrygod 

        7 months ago

        I LIKE FORTNITE

      • profile image

        Depressed 

        7 months ago

        Helped me in my question

      • profile image

        OSP 

        8 months ago

        hmmm i want to play this right now

      • profile image

        tim 

        8 months ago

        wow facinating

      • profile image

        hted 

        8 months ago

        how many players are there on each side

      • profile image

        Bla bla whatever 

        9 months ago

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

      • profile image

        die 

        9 months ago

        its good for my projekt

      • profile image

        boi 

        9 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

        ☺ 

        9 months ago

        The may didn't sacrifice it was the aztecks

      • profile image

        joshua kafumbe 

        9 months ago

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

      • profile image

        Bo 

        9 months ago

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

      • profile image

        Student 

        9 months ago

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

      • profile image

        Fantasia Neal 

        9 months ago

        How many people would.play as in numbers

      • profile image

        Dunno 

        9 months ago

        Nice to know love

      • profile image

        123456 

        10 months ago

        good

      • profile image

        10 months ago

        Absaloutly tereble do not use this website

      • profile image

        boi 

        11 months ago

        the info was good more than i found on other cites

      • profile image

        Anime Freak 

        12 months ago

        thx this will help me so much

      • profile image

        Naruto Uzamaki 

        12 months ago

        My wife said that this page was really great for info she was right.:)

      • profile image

        Hinata Uzamaki 

        12 months ago

        I Love this great info:)

      • profile image

        yat 

        12 months ago

        hi guys

      • profile image

        Sebastian 

        12 months ago

        Hello my name is sebastian and i was born in 1991

      • profile image

        lollypop12 

        12 months ago

        this is the best

      • profile image

        tails 

        12 months ago

        thanks

      • profile image

        123456 

        12 months ago

        It was good but needs more info

      • profile image

        Fel 

        12 months ago

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

      • profile image

        kl , . 

        13 months ago

        homework

      • profile image

        ht 

        13 months ago

        cool

      • profile image

        hi ppl 

        13 months ago

        coooooool nice I'm doing homework on this

      • profile image

        Hi 

        13 months ago

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

      • profile image

        Yo ppl 

        13 months ago

        Wow this so interesting thx whoever wrote this

      • profile image

        no more sad songs :( 

        13 months ago

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

      • profile image

        yr 6 

        13 months ago

        this helped in my homework

      • profile image

        God 

        13 months ago

        Cool... i guess

      • profile image

        please add 

        13 months ago

        please tell us the team names

      • profile image

        Hi 

        14 months ago

        Bye peeps

      • profile image

        Plzzzzzzz help 

        14 months ago

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

      • profile image

        Mum and dad 

        14 months ago

        This is great for my children! Thank you xxx

      • profile image

        Mum 

        14 months ago

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

      • profile image

        Kelsey 

        19 months ago

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

      • profile image

        SurlyWombat 

        22 months ago

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

      • profile image

        JJ 

        22 months 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 

        3 years ago

        is that game real anymore

      • profile image

        Andrew Vontz 

        3 years ago

        yo people

      • profile image

        Poler Bairz 

        3 years ago

        What is you touched the ball with your hands?

      • profile image

        bobby 

        4 years ago

        babys

      • profile image

        Soeren H 

        4 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 

        4 years ago

        who r u mighty one

      • profile image

        Maria 

        4 years ago

        :/ :/ :/

      • profile image

        Rachael Smiley 

        5 years ago

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

      • profile image

        Rachael 

        5 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! 

        5 years ago

        this is a stupid game!!!

      • profile image

        Kaname 

        5 years ago

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

      • profile image

        Rokiya 

        5 years ago

        i think the game pok-a-tok is a very cool game

      • profile image

        sikeeedike 

        5 years ago

        that's pretty weird

      • profile image

        ploopy 

        5 years ago

        how many people had to play?

      • profile image

        cece 

        6 years ago

        wow they are wried

      • I am DB Cooper profile image

        I am DB Cooper 

        7 years ago from Whereabouts unknown at this time

        This game looks insanely difficult. I think if I played a match of Pok-A-Tok that lasted for days I'd problem welcome a sacrifice at the end.

      • Ardie profile image

        Sondra 

        7 years ago from Neverland

        Ya know - I have caught myself thinking the Maya were all barbaric and mean but most people from history were a little more barbaric than we are today. Ok, maybe even a lot more so. Either way this was a great read.

      • Haunty profile imageAUTHOR

        Haunty 

        7 years ago from Hungary

        Gosh, how could I miss that connection? I guess they had plenty of reasons to sacrifice somebody - if at all they needed a reason. The game is too boring, sacrifice a player!

      • Ardie profile image

        Sondra 

        7 years ago from Neverland

        I agree. They could've at least made winning a little easier so the games wouldn't last as long and the sacrifices would occur more often, sheesh.

      • Haunty profile imageAUTHOR

        Haunty 

        7 years ago from Hungary

        LOL it does sound quite inhuman if you think about it that way. I wonder why they had to make it so difficult by forbidding the use of hands and feet.

      • Ardie profile image

        Sondra 

        7 years ago from Neverland

        This is NOT a game I'm interested in trying - hard balls, no hands or feet, sacrifices?! Maybe the home version you describe, but it still sounds hard. It was interesting to read though. Great job!

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