Probably the oldest team sport to be played by Humans was that of the Ball Game by the Mayans. The first team sport began roughly about 3500 years ago.
The “Ball Game” was played on fields larger than todays football fields. On each side of the field was a 26 foot high wall that slightly slanted outwards. On the wall was a round stone ring. The object of the game was to get a 20 inch large rubber ball to pass through the stone hoop without using your hands. The game would be over once the ball went through the hoop or landed on the ground. The fields that were used had no one particular size. However, the fields were all very large. They would range between 500 feet long and 250 feet wide. Some fields would be smaller or larger.
The ball that they used was made out of rubber from a rubber tree. Some of the balls would use a human skull at the center. Rubber strips would then be laced around the skull. Because the skull was hollow, it made for a lighter ball. Some balls would weigh up to 8 pounds. Balls would be made in all sizes. However, most were partial to 20 inch size balls.
The uniform was fancy but also had to be sensible. It had to protect the player but also allow for quick movement. The game was fast and the ball heavy enough to break bones.
The players would dress up in uniforms similar to what warriors or hunters would wear. They even wore fancy headdresses. Many players would wear fancy jewelry to their games. Chieftains, Leaders and Elders of the Mayans would be in attendance. Gambling would even take place on the game and who would live or die. That’s right losers here were put to death to appease their gods. The Mayans believed that sacrifices had to be made for agriculture, rain, sunshine etc. Not only were the players but the fans of the losing teams as well would be sacrificed. The Mayan Ball Game was more than just a sport. It was also considered a ritual. It would use war captives to play the game against tribesmen. The games might have even been substituted for war.
It is not known if women were allowed to play or not. However, small statue figurines have been found that showed that women might have been involved in team play or at least participated at some level.
The game was a crowd pleaser because it focused on religious rituals and was a part of every day life. Many fans thought this the game was necessary just for existence.
Whenever, there was a break in the action, much like a halftime, musical instruments would be played and various rituals would take place for the crowd.
The winners of the games were celebrities. They would receive gifts and a feast to celebrate their victory. This was a game of all or none, and life and death. Ballplayers were considered to be a very valuable. Therefore when they were sacrificed to the Gods, their sacrifice was considered to be that of extreme importance.
There were some games when sacrifices weren’t made. Some recordings in the form of paintings have been discovered that show the game being played for fun as well as religious sacrifices.
Many feel that this first team sport was a lead up to todays game of soccer. Hands were forbidden to be used. The ball would be passed by use of the feet. It is unknown how many would play the game at one time. However, it is assumed that it was a rather large number of players.
This is one game that you definitely wanted to win. It gave a true meaning to the term “win or die.”