Several ancient ritualised arts are Keralite in origin. These include kalaripayattu — kalari ("place", "threshing floor", or "battlefield") and payattu ("exercise" or "practice"). Among the world's oldest martial arts, oral tradition attributes kalaripayattu' s emergence to Parasurama. Other ritual arts include theyyam and poorakkali .
Football is the most popular sport in the state, some notable football stars from Kerala include I. M. Vijayan, V. P. Sathyan, and Jo Paul Ancheri. Cricket, which is the most-followed sport in the rest of India and South Asia, is less popular in Kerala . Other popular sports include Badminton, Volleyball, and Labadie. Kerala has a rich history of producing world class athletes, including P. T. Usha, T. C. Yohannan, Suresh Babu, Shiny Wilson, K. M. Beenamol, M. D. Valsamma and Anju Bobby George.
Volleyball, another popular sport, is often played on makeshift courts on sandy beaches along the coast. Jimmy George, born in Peravoor, Kannur, was a notable Indian volleyball player, regarded in his prime as among the world's ten best players.
It is from the 1990s that cricket started growing in popularity. The 21st century saw two Kerala Ranji Trophy players gain test selection. Sreesanth, born in Kothamangalam, has represented India since 2005, and is the most successful cricketer from Kerala .. Among less successful Keralite cricketers is Tinu Yohannan, son of Olympic long jumper T. C. Yohannan.
Dozens of large stadiums, including Kochi's Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and Thiruvananthapuram's Chandrashekaran Nair Stadium, attest to the mass appeal of such sports among Keralites.