If you’ve been hitting against the wall for a while or maybe looking for ways to get in a few more days of practice per week when you don’t have someone to hit with, you may have considered getting a tennis ball machine to add a new dimension to your practices.
Tennis ball machines are a great way to practice repetitive shots in order to improve your consistency. Best of all, with a ball machine, you can practice by yourself at any time and set it up to feed you specific shots. Not only is a ball machine available to practice with at any time, but you can choose what type of shots to focus on whenever you want. This allows you to focus on and improve your form through repetition.
So what, if any are the downsides to a tennis ball machine? Well, for one the cost. If you’ve looked into getting a ball machine for the first time, you probably came back with some sticker shock. Another downside is it doesn’t give you the full experience of playing against an opponent where you learn how to win points.
These are legitimate downsides, but no single type of practice is going to provide a completely rounded experience. Hitting against a pro, or at the very least a good consistent hitting partner, is perhaps a better overall experience in terms of practice, but it does not allow you to focus on repetition and form to the extent that a ball machine can.
A Training Partner that is Always Available
Perhaps the biggest reason to get a tennis ball machine is that you may not have a hitting partner to practice with as often as you’d like. Even if you are able to practice with someone a couple of times a week, you may want to get a day or two of additional practice in.
With a ball machine, you know you are able to go out and practice at any time you’d like without having to worry about scheduling someone in. If your hitting partner is not available on any given day, you know you can put it in your car and head out to practice spare of the moment.
Practice What You Want, When You Want
Another benefit of a tennis ball machine is that you can focus on specific strokes you want to improve. You get to select any stroke you want and for as long as you’d like to focus on it. Need to practice your forehand? Your backhand? Volleys? Overhead shots? A ball machine can help you focus on specifics.
Best of all, you are in control of the specifics you get to focus on. At any given moment, you can decide to switch to another stroke or drill without having to ask or negotiate with someone else. You also don’t need to rely on your hitting partner’s accuracy when feeding you the ball.
Repetitive Consistent Balls
Tennis ball machines are able to deliver consistent shots, placed exactly where you program the machine to deliver. This would be difficult to replicate with a hitting partner. Even a very good player is going to miss from time to time, not to mention get bored with feeding you the same shot over and over again.
A coach or professional instructor may be willing to do this for you, but only up to a point. Advanced machines will not only allow you to place balls to your forehand or backhand or feed you lobs but will also allow you to adjust the amount of spin among other things.
You Control the Speed, Direction, Spin, and Height
A good tennis ball machine will allow you to adjust various settings to simulate a true hitting environment. If you want to practice returning topspin shots or backspin shots, you can adjust the settings to consistently feed you balls with topspin or backspin.
The better machines will also allow you to adjust the speed. You can practice simulating play against powerful hitting opponents, or you can choose to lower the speed to practice approaching the net, or playing a drop shot with backspin. The possibilities are endless.
With a good tennis ball machine, you should be able to adjust the height of the shots and also alternate between forehand or backhand shots. You should be able to set the machine to oscillate from side to side or between high shots and low shots.
Allows You to Focus on Form
One of the primary reasons for getting a tennis ball machine is the ability to focus on your form through repetitive practice. This type of practice is indispensable since it creates natural muscle memory and reflexes.
The more you practice your strokes, the better you will become. Of course, you could practice repetitive strokes with a coach or practice partner, but there is a limit to how much and how often people are willing to feed you repetitive shots.
On the other hand, with a pro or coach, you get the benefit of feedback. If your form is off, they can help you adjust. With a ball machine, you can certainly improve your form through consistent practice, but your technique needs to be good to begin with. Practicing repeatedly with bad form will only make your strokes worse.
For this reason, players who are very new to the game may want to hold off on getting a ball machine. It’s more important to develop your fundamentals correctly from the beginning with the help of a coach or professional instructor. Once you have a good base to work from, then ball machines make sense.
Downsides to Owning a Tennis Ball Machine
We have covered the many benefits of owning a tennis ball machine, now let’s look at some of the downsides. While there aren’t significant downsides to owning a machine aside from the cost, you should nonetheless take these factors into consideration.
For some people, these downsides might be negligible, but for others, they may be a deciding factor. Cost, in particular, can be a major deal-breaker for some when it comes to purchasing a new ball machine.
They are Expensive
Cost is probably the biggest downside to owning a tennis ball machine. Machines can range in price from about $500 for the most basic machines to above $5,000 for the more advanced ones.
The machines under $1,000 are not going to provide enough features to make the purchase worthwhile. They will be lacking in the features that we’ve talked about so far. The machines in the 5,000 and above range will offer these features and more, but at a deep premium.
Somewhere in the middle, starting at around $1,500 are models that can offer most, if not all of these features but at a more reasonable price. The Spinshot Player is one I would recommend in this price range. It’s packed with advanced features and the settings can be easily controlled with your mobile phone.
Keep in mind that in addition to the cost of the machine itself, you will need to purchase new tennis balls on an ongoing basis. For greater durability you can purchase pressureless tennis balls, they will last longer but tend to have a bit more of a heavy bounce than regular, pressurized tennis balls.
They Tend to Be Heavy to Transport
Weight varies from model to model, however, overall ball machines tend to be a bit heavy to lug around. The portable, battery-operated models tend to be a bit easier to transport. Many have wheels to make moving them easier.
However, many of the more advanced models that hold large amounts of balls weigh considerably more. They also tend to be larger in size, making them impractical for transporting them in your car. Some models don’t have wheels, keep this in mind as well when purchasing.
Be Prepared to Pick Up Tons of Balls
As fun as it is hitting with a ball machine, the aftermath is not as exciting. You’ll spend a good amount of time picking up the balls after hitting. One way to make this easier is to bring a basic hopper with you.
Hoppers are baskets with handles that hold tennis balls, but also have gaps in the bottom which allow you to press down on the balls to more easily pick them up. Here’s an 85 ball hopper by Tourna Ballport that you can find on Amazon.
Practice is Only as Good as Your Form
As previously mentioned, repetitive practice can only be as good as your form. If you have a good foundation to work from, a ball machine can help you continue to improve your game to develop consistency.
If on the other hand, your form is off, then repetitive practice can actually be detrimental. It will only instill bad habits and make it more difficult to fix them later. Be sure to work with a coach or professional instructor on your form before you invest in a ball machine.
Tennis ball machines definitely have their advantages and can play an important role in your development as a player, as long as it is used in combination with other practice methods. The only significant downside is the cost.
A couple of alternatives to buying new is either renting one out at your local club or tennis shop, if available, or buying used. You can sometimes find machines at good prices that have been used but are in good working condition. Just be sure to double-check that it is still in good operational condition.
One final thing to consider is that tennis ball machines tend to maintain their prices rather well. You have the option of purchasing one, using it for a period of time, and then reselling it if you no longer need it or if you are looking to upgrade to a more advanced model.
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