Tips for Practicing With the Tennis Ball Machine

One of the great things about the sport of tennis is that hard work is usually rewarded with improvement in skill. Practice is an integral part of the game, but finding hitting partners isn’t always possible. Conflicting schedules, constrained court availability and other factors can sometimes make it challenging to get your practice in. Having access to a tennis ball machine can be a great option. So, when your hitting partner is ball machine, use the following tips to maximize your practice time.

The ball machine is great for practicing various aspects of the game. Need to work on your cross court groundstrokes? Need to practice topspin? Need to practice volleys? Any and all are possible with the ball machine as a partner. Ball machines can also be used for more advanced practice areas like footwork, recovery, offense and defense.

Coach Ramon with the tennis ball machine
Coach Ramon with the tennis ball machine

Practice with purpose and focus

It is helpful to have a plan in mind. Take advantage of the repetitive cycles. Repetition helps reinforce good technique and it is the way to develop good muscle memory. The ball machine will give you the same shot over and over. Pick one aspect to work on. With the tennis ball machine as a partner, you can hit cross court forehands over and over (and over and over). 

Include active movement in your session

Some machines include advanced features like oscillation that send balls in different directions. With this capability, the machine can feed patterns such as forehand, backhand, etc. The key to optimize your practice session is to include active movement so that you’re moving to the ball to hit a shot. Avoid static repetitive shots unless you are working on very specific techniques. Using the cross court forehand example: Set up the ball machine to feed to the forehand side. Set yourself up away from the ball path so that you have to move to the ball to hit the shot, and include after shot recovery in your routine.

Work hard and avoid the pitfalls of a partner who never misses

The aspects that make the tennis ball machine a great hitting partner for most club players hold equal potential to create a poor practice experience.

In a nutshell, avoid full-pace settings and avoid hitting at full pace. Instead, practice half or three quarters pace so you can hit using relaxed and smooth swings.

Try to avoid repeating bad habits. This is best accomplished with the assistance of a teaching professional.

Also, in most cases, avoid using the ball machine to practice reaction timing. So much of developing reaction skills is keying in to a partner’s body movement, including preparation, swing, contact, etc. The ball machine offers none of these visual cues, so best to avoid reaction work.

And the final point to remember is that the tennis ball machine almost never misses, so it is futile to attempt to beat it. After all, the only way to ensure the ball isn’t coming back again is to hit a successful shot from the last ball in the machine!

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