From the teaching pros to beginners
By Matt Levinson, Levinson Athletics
As a recreational tennis player, the benefits of using a ball machine are both obvious and mystifying to me. It stands to reason that practice does indeed make perfect, so 200 tennis balls fed to you at a consistent rate may yield, at the very least, some minor muscle memory. But in addition to the repetitive features we find in ball machines, how do we make use of it to reach the next level? Can it meet the more technical needs of an advanced player, or benefit the pro player? I did some digging to find out.
As it turns out, all players should be training on a ball machine. How each level of player trains on the machine should be quite different. For beginners, finding the strike zone and the footwork are imperative to improving their game. We need to work on the stroke production of a particular shot, as well as focus on movement to the ball. Footwork and recovery also are important. Ball machines can throw at different heights, speeds, spin, frequency, and directions in sequence and at random. Being able to practice hitting balls of different characteristics allows players to not only focus on their strokes, but on their ball recognition as well.
Advanced players tend to be more successful with their ball recognition skills; however, what often is lacking is the number of shots in their repertoire. They may have mastered the groundstroke, but how is the high or low approach shot? Can they handle that wicked slice? The advanced player should be using a ball machine to practice as many different shots as possible to increase their complement of shots.
Did you know that tennis is one of the only sports where the coach actually competes against the student in an attempt to improve the student’s game? Although it is fun for the student to play or engage in some way with a far more experienced player, it doesn’t necessarily give them the best chance at learning.
When teaching a lesson using a ball machine alongside traditional coaching, it allows a coach to lose the “fluff” of feeding and micro-managing their student’s strokes and forces them to teach while standing beside their student. The pro is now free to physically show how to hold the racquet correctly or to even record their movements to play back to them afterward. When using a machine, the coach quickly discovers that being next to their students accelerates their learning development. It allows them to coach from both sides of the net.
In further regards to the teaching pro, the ball machine can be a valuable asset. The number of powerful tools a teaching pro has not only enhances the student’s game but gives the immediate perception of professionalism. For example, would you rather hire a carpenter who shows up with a truck full of power tools, or the one who only has a hammer and hand saw?
In summary, I have found that in the lifelong game of tennis, ball machines are here to serve players from the whole spectrum of skills. From kids to seniors, newbies to the pros, and tennis clubs to freelance teachers, this is the tool for the job. If I have convinced you to at least start looking into a machine, my first recommendation would be the Playmate Tennis line. When it comes to these performance machines, you get what you pay for. Remember that and have fun!