It’s exciting to finally use a new ball machine.
You’ve carefully considered options, read reviews, and finally went and bought yourself a ball machine.
And then it comes down to using it.
You can follow the manual to get an idea for how to use the machine, but that doesn’t mean you’ll know how to get the most out of the ball machine.
If you want your investment to be as impactful as possible, read on to find the six keys to maximizing the value out of your ball machine.
1. Use the remote
Using a tennis ball machine is all about control. Control the court. Control the shots. Control the mess.
When you use a ball machine without a remote, you lose all of those things.
You lose control of the court as the ball machine has the power, not you.
You lose control of the shots as the ball machine will just keep firing until it runs out of balls, not until you decide.
You lose control of the mess. If you want to stop the machine after 10 or 12 shots (which is an important number you’ll soon see), you have to run over there and flip it off, as the ball machine litters the court with balls.
Using a remote, or a partner, reinforces all the control the machine offered in the first place.
2. 10 to 12 Shots
A lot of people will over practice once they get a ball machine. If you take 50 shots, 40 of them are going to be completely out of control. Your form will be off. Your timing will be poor. And your habits will be bad. And that’s what you’ll learn – bad habits.
Instead, you should practice as close to as a match as possible. By taking time in between shots, not going too high in number, and changing the pattern of the shots, you’ll be able to practice something very close to a real match.
When you go through those patterns, commit to it. Don’t stop if you make a mistake. Mental strength is another muscle you have to work.
3. Give it a rest
Resting is really important.
Not just for your body, but for developing the right habits.
Say you’re practicing a 4-ball pattern. Normally you’d take those 4 shots and repeat. But you’re missing out on a really important skill.
Instead, take the first 3 shots like normal. But treat the 4th shot as the put away and score the point. Then go through your post-point ritual and set up again for the next four shots.
This is developing a rhythm and ritual that will make you comfortable and in control on the court, even when the pressure gets high.
4. Move for the shot
When a lot of people practice tennis with their ball machine, they end up treating the ball like a dog.
They stand in one place and wait for the ball to come to them.
This is a big problem because this is never how it is on the court during a match!
You can train a dog to come to you. You cannot train a ball. You have to treat the ball machine not just like a person. But a person trying to beat you.
Between each shot, set yourself up and attack that shot again, as you’d do in a match. Never take a shot off.
5. Time the machine to the ball you’re hitting
Getting the timing of ball frequency right on your ball machine is vital.
A lot of people find one timing and just try sticking with it, but that’s not optimal at all.
You should change the ball frequency on your machine often. Every time you change your shot, change the timing.
Each shot takes a different amount of time. When you leave the ball frequency at one speed, sometimes you’ll have no time to recover. Other times you’ll have way too much. And both of those cause bad habits that will follow you into your next match.
You want a brief, but appropriate amount of time between each shot. You want to be able to complete your recovery, while still being challenging. This will create really good habits that will prove their worth on the court.
6. Realistic Targets
If you were to ask players hitting on ball machines where they are aiming, most of them would only be able to muster a non-specific answer. Because they weren’t aiming.
It is critical to aim on every drill. Not only does it hone your physical skills, but also your mental. Using your insight and experience to not just put the ball in the perfect place, but to know where that perfect place is.
Realistic targets give the player clarity and confidence during the drill, much more than aiming at a towel or ball can.
This confidence impacts the practice greatly.
Set up realistic targets at a few spots and cycle through them. Another bonus with targets is that you can get them in multiple sizes, so as the user gets better and better, the targets can get smaller and smaller.
These six keys to using a tennis ball machine will help you or your students really get the most out of the machine. Ball machines are incredibly useful tools, but you have to use it right to unlock all the potential just waiting for you.
If you are still trying to find a ball machine that’s right for you, check out the OnCourt OffCourt personalized ball machine finder right here.
Kalindi Dinoffer is trained in multiple aspects of mindfulness in life and in sports, sharing on her blog MindfulKalindi.com. She is also certified to teach yoga, fitness, reiki, and MFR. Kalindi also serves as VP marketing at OnCourtOffCourt.com, a leading supplier of tennis, pickleball, fitness and yoga training aids and equipment and has been published in Tennis industry Magazine and Pickleball Magazine, and has conducted workshops at conferences around the world. In her spare time, Kalindi plays tennis, pickleball and table tennis and enjoys outdoor activities such as hiking and biking and cross country skiing in the winter.