Put your ball machine to work generating more income for you, and helping your players reach their potential.
Ball machines are great for your business. They can help out in lessons and clinics by keeping your players moving and hitting shots. They provide consistent practice so customers can “groove” their strokes. And they can be great revenue-generators all by themselves — just by letting your members book time with the ball machine for their own practice sessions. Of course, you can probably find many other ways to use a ball machine to help your business, too.
To best help your players, though, you want to make sure they practice with a ball machine in a way that mimics what an actual opponent will do. So here are a few “do’s and don’ts” that you might want to tell your players when they face down this electronic foe.
5 Things to Consider When Using a Ball Machine
- Place the ball machine off-center, where the opponent might be when making a shot.
- Have the ball machine direct shots where the opponent might hit based upon their position on the court or particular tendencies of a known opponent.
- If using the oscillation feature, have it direct the ball within the options available if it were playing from that position in a rally.
- After each shot, the player should recover to a new position on the court based upon where they hit their return of the ball, then they should recover quickly based upon where the next ball is coming from the ball machine.
- Direct each ball back toward an intended target, using direction, depth and spin.
5 Things to NOT Do When Using a Ball Machine
- Do not place the ball machine only on the baseline in the center of the court.
- Do not have the ball machine oscillate only from deuce court to ad court.
- Do not use the ball machine to practice only ground strokes.
- Do not stand still after each shot.
- Do not return random shots of the incoming ball.
Planning a Practice With a Ball Machine
Depending on your ball machine use policies, your players may have many options to consider when they plan to use a ball machine to help them practice. Here are some things they may want to consider to help improve the quality and effectiveness of their practice.
- First, make sure they know all the safety precautions — and that they never look into the ball output. Ball machines can cause injury if improperly used.
- Make sure they know how to adjust the ball machine and how to vary deliveries of the ball.
- Players should approach their ball machine sessions with a plan, knowing what shots they want to work on, what level of activity they want, how long they want to hit, etc.
- Often, two friends using the ball machine at the same time can be an effective way to practice. For instance, one player can hit ground strokes off the ball machine, while the other takes that ball and volleys it. Or the first player can volley off the ball machine, and the second player can hit a lob off that volley. Or players can alternate hitting after a certain number of shots or a pattern has been completed.
- Two players also help when it comes time to pick up the balls when the machine is empty. That may include taking turns putting balls in the machine while the other player is hitting, then rotating turns.
- Suggest to players that when they stop to pick up the balls, they practice serving all the balls that did not make it over the net.
- Suggest that players write down any ball machine drills they create, or suggest drills that would be good for your players.
Tips for Making Practice Practical
- Select real singles targets using the four squares on the opposite side of the net: Square 1 is the deuce service court, square 2 is the space behind the deuce service court, square 3 is the space behind the ad service court and square 4 is the ad service court. This will help players with the direction and depth of their intended target and make their practice more practical.
- Even though the ball machine is set to send the ball to players as a ground stroke, they should practice moving forward after the initial shot to play a half-volley, and then moving in farther to play a volley or two.
- As they play shots moving in toward the net, have them select targets for direction and depth that they would actually use if their opponent were on the baseline where the ball machine is located and they were attempting to capture the net.
- Once they get to the net, make sure they recover back quickly and retreat toward the baseline as though they were put on total defense.
- Players should vary the speed of their shots, using at least three different levels: slow with lots of spin, rally speed, and as hard as possible — without missing.
- Vary the spin of theirs shots, using varying degrees of topspin and underspin.
- Vary the frequency of the shots delivered by the ball machine, allowing both little time between shots or too much time, just like an opponent would in a match.
- Vary the spin of the shots delivered by the ball machine, so players learn how to receive different shots that may be difficult in matches.
- Limit the number of shots players make without pausing. Hitting 300 balls in a row just because that is how many the ball machine holds is neither effective nor efficient practice. After about 40 or 50 balls, players should turn off the machine and reset some feature of the balls they are receiving.
- Change targets often. Players should practice enough returns to specific targets until they feel comfortable with that target, then they should move on to a new target.
Tips for Practicing for Doubles
Ball machines can easily be used to give your doubles players a workout. Here are some tips they should consider to best simulate match-play situations.
- Place the ball machine in the deuce court near the singles sideline.
- Have the ball machine direct shots to the deuce-court alley.
- When oscillating, have the ball machine direct balls to the deuce-court alley and then toward the center service mark in the deuce court. This will simulate being pulled wide to return a shot, then having to move back to the center for the next shot.
- After each shot, the player should recover to a new position on the court, keeping their feet in motion, like in a real match.
- Players should hit each shot back toward an intended target, aiming with direction and depth.
- If two players are using the ball machine, they can practice poaching on every other shot that comes out of the machine.
- Select real doubles targets. For instance, deep crosscourt to square 2, short underspin or heavy short angle shots to square 1, down the line toward the net player’s alley or lobbing high and deep to square 3 over the opposing net player’s head.
See all articles by Ken DeHart
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