Taking competition completely out of the equation, tennis ball machines effectively eliminate the stress and pressure of winning the rally or hitting the ball back to a partner to help players focus on building a better game. There is increased improvement by feel for the ball through precise repetition and proficiency in placement and consistency to build skill, consistency and solid technique. Set up on the opposing court and acts as a server, the tennis ball machine is perhaps one of the best ways to practice running to a shot, hitting, recovering, and repeating the whole process to achieve muscle memory. This is the result of movements that are repeated over time for a specific task, eventually allowing that task to be performed without conscious effort. Not all practice is created equal, so here are a few tips to help serve up a better game through sound practice.
For the novice player, basic skill building drills are useful for developing rhythm and becoming comfortable on the court. Setting a steady and predictable pace on the machine will help achieve this. For the more advanced player, however, too much predictability in practice can actually be counterproductive. Setting the machine to fire toward the right side target or left side target, as example, can force a run forward from different areas of court to hit the ball, helping to build skill to hit balls while running. Even though the player is aware of where the ball is headed, actually getting there, executing the shot and recovering is something that can become automatic. By keeping track of different and common situations arising in match play, tennis ball machines take the guess work out of the game and a player focus on getting to the precise position to hit those shots. Exhaustion is often the most difficult obstacle to overcome for players, so speed and spin can gradually be increased to help build cardiovascular endurance. Often a common misconception and misguided habit, best practice is not necessarily achieved by setting the balls to head directly toward a player and a fast rate of speed. While firing off those balls may look and sound great, varying approach from all parts of the court prepares a player for actual matches and opponents. This approach, however, does afford a player the ability to practice alternating between forehand and backhand hitting. Setting up the machine to simulate shots that are particularly troublesome also helps to personalize a better practice session. Devising a drill strategy to effectively incorporate both concepts will help build a better training session.
Speed, endurance and footwork are also important elements of a tennis match. Because a player isn’t aware of where the ball will be coming next, the random oscillation feature on some tennis ball machines will help improve reaction time, allowing a player to reach the ball in time and make the right decision for a return shot. With balls alternating from forehand, backhand, and up the middle and landing deep or closer to the net, the oscillation feature helps for improving a broad range of skills like playing shots deep and cross-court, or alternating between cross-court and down the line. Setting the machine to deliver a mix of topspin, flat and backspin balls or applying the oscillation setting to work on overhead drills are also useful techniques.
Overall, tennis ball machines provide a great workout for conditioning and sharpening technique and consistency in play. From the first-time beginner to a seasoned court player, a wide range of options, features, settings, and complexities can be found in machines to match nearly any need. Balls can be served as slow as 15 mph to upwards of 90 mph. Some machines boast the oscillation feature mentioned above, while others allow for more simple height and interval adjustments. But truly effective practice is tailored to a player’s unique style and needs. Breaking down the mechanics of the game to build a comprehensive approach to practice and training will also make playing more fun, perhaps one of the best parts of play. The elements of the game are controlled to provide balanced challenge, to fit a basic learning curve or pro-work on achieving a game worthy of Wimbledon.
This article was written by John Simpson an editor of pitchingmachinepro.com