Okay So You’ve Got a Ball Machine, Now What?
After the novelty wears off of having a partner to hit with whenever
you want, never gives up and never gives excuses, you’ll be looking for ideas of
how to actually use your ball machine to improve your game. That’s what this article is about.
If you’ve ever read Andre Agassi’s
autobiography you may recall his references to the Red Dragon. That’s what he
called the ball machine his father forced him to practice with every day. Ball machines have come along way since then
and are now an indispensible tool for honing your skill at just about every
stroke in the game. But you still have
to know how to use it to get the best results.
Take the Lobster for
instance; here is a machine that is programmable for shots of varying length, width
and speed. You can of course just hit
endless forehands and backhands to improve your depth and precision but that
doesn’t simulate what happens in a game when the shots come at you with little predictability.
So in this case a machine that varies
the shots would be a great training asset especially if you have no idea what’s
5 Ways to Use Your Ball Machine Most Effectively
- Make a list of your weakest shots, not much point in just practicing
what you’re already good at. Once you’ve
got your list, practice hitting that particular stroke with 100 shots at a time.
Then go onto your next weakest stroke and also hit 100 shots. Repeat with each stroke on your list until
you’ve hit at minimum 200 shots each. This should take no longer than 1 hour
performed 3 days a week. Be sure you’re
not practicing a bad habit; your technique should already be sound.
- On non-stroke improvement days
you want to work on your conditioning. Use
the machine to vary the shots from short to long and from side-to-side. This is all about footwork and getting to the
ball quickly. Do this in 5-minute
intervals for 5 sets with a 1-minute rest in between sets. This type of conditioning, performed at least
twice a week, will help you get to balls quicker and be ready to make those great
shots you have been practicing.
Move the machine around the court to vary the angle the ball is coming at
you from and the angle you’re returning it to. For instance, place the
machine on the far baseline at the corner of the court and practice returning
shots directly back at that angle (25 shots to your forehand side). After that practice returning your shots
directly down your forehand-side sideline (25 shots). Next alternate your returns from sideline to
cross- court (times 25). This way you’re
varying the height of the net you’re hitting over (it’s lower in the middle)
and you have to adjust the positioning of your body to change the direction of
the ball you’re hitting. Repeat all
drills on your backhand side.
- If your machine is capable of programming in a sequence of shots that
simulate a game-type rally then it’s time to really ramp up your training. In a
typical rally you would serve then return the return of serve, wait for a
shorter shot then come in and hit your approach shot. Of course sometimes depending on the strength
of your serve, that alone could be your approach shot. This would mean hitting a serve and coming
right into the net behind it to hit a winning volley. If you have a “Lobster Ball” machine these scenarios
are completely programmable.
- This last drill is for the advanced players. Set the machine on random oscillation from
various points on the court. This will
force you to be always thinking about your footwork and timing. Now practice specific shot combinations using
the spin feature on the machine. Now
you’re simulating topspin or backspin on shots you then have to return. For example, hit a couple of ground strokes
then an approach shot followed by a couple of volleys. Practice this sequence and throw in some lobs
with the ball machine placed at various points around the court. You’ve got service lines, baselines, center
service lines and sidelines to work with.
Always be on the lookout for
new ways to enjoy your tennis ball machine by simulating shot sequences you see
professionals play in tournaments.