Before I became a coach, I used to think ball machines were one of the most incredible inventions ever.
What could be better than having a machine that fires balls at you? But, of course, on most modern machines, you can also adjust the speed, spin, and trajectory.
The starting price for a simple ball machine that simulates a hand-feed is around $200.
They are definitely not cheap. But are ball machines worth the money?
For most players, ball machines are not worth it. They are a hassle to carry around, requiring charging or a power cable. On top of this, you are restricted in what you can do with a ball machine. You are far better just playing with a friend.
Having said that, they do have several benefits, which I will highlight further on.
In this article, I will discuss:
- The primary benefits of ball machines
- The disadvantages that ball machines have
- Buying vs renting a ball machine
- Whether using a ball machine will improve your technique as a beginner
If you’re unsure whether a ball machine is right for you, read on! I will be answering all your questions.
Main Benefits Of Tennis Ball Machines
The most obvious benefit of a ball machine is that you are not reliant on other people. If you like to play in the middle of the night when everyone else is asleep, no problem.
The ball machine will have no objections to being taken to play at an unsociable time.
Perhaps you’ve booked a court, and the person you were meant to be playing with let you down. The ball machine is a helpful backup here.
A ball machine is suitable for practicing individual shots in a closed environment. For example, a closed drill takes place outside of a rally in tennis training.
It is in closed practice if you are working on your inside-out forehand and just hitting that same shot repeatedly.
When I was younger, I had a twist tower ball machine. While it did not beat playing with others, it was useful if I wanted to drill the same shot repeatedly.
When we as players want to train a specific shot with a hand feed, we will rarely ask a friend to come and just throw balls for us. Instead, they will likely want to play themselves.
Training with a ball machine can, in some circumstances, be more intense. For example, as the machine is on a timer, it will be harder to stop and take breaks when you want.
You will have to instead be prepared for the next ball to come.
Another plus that comes from using a ball machine is getting a consistent shot. If you are training with a partner, they will never give you a perfect ball each time.
With a ball machine it will fire the ball based on the setting of the machine.
Do Tennis Ball Machines Have Any Disadvantages?
For me, the greatest disadvantage is that it is unrealistic. By this, I mean it doesn’t simulate what you will experience in matches.
In matches, you will receive a variety of balls. Some will come at you, some will move you around, some will be flat, and some will have spin.
The ball machine will give you the same shot every single time. Thus, eliminating the variety that comes from hitting another person.
The machine feeds the ball, you hit it, and then you’re done.
It is essential to realize that the shot you hit affects the next one your opponent hits. Unfortunately, with a ball machine, you don’t get to see the effect of the shot you’ve just hit.
By not being able to rally, you are restricted in your training. If you are going to train effectively, you need to win longer rallies.
The ball machine will only help you deal with a specific ball that lands in the same area.
The machine shows no consideration for anything that happens before or after a specific shot in a rally.
Time is another element of consideration. If it is a plug-in machine, you will have to take time to connect it to a power source before you can start playing.
If you’ve only booked that court for an hour, this could begin to eat into your time on the court.
Ball machines are not the easiest thing to carry around. If you don’t have anywhere at your club to charge the machine, you will have to take it home with you.
With a full-size ball machine you will get a good workout lifting it in and out of your car.
Should I Buy A Tennis Ball Machine Or Rent From A Club?
Whether you should buy or rent a ball machine is a pretty simple decision.
Let’s say you want to use a spinshot ball machine which costs roughly $1800. I will also assume that your club charges $30 per hour to rent the same machine.
The cost of purchasing the machine is the same as 60 hours of renting it.
If you think you will use the machine for more than 60 hours, then it would be economically better to buy one.
If you’re not worried about money and convenience is more important, you might be better off just renting.
You’ll never need to charge the machine and just give it back to the club when you are done.
Renting is also a great idea if you’re unsure what machine you would like to buy. If your club has several machines available for renting, try a few out.
Once you’ve tried several of them, you will better know which machine you would like.
It’s far better doing that than shelling out $1000+ on a machine you might not even be happy with.
By renting the machine you also avoid the electricity costs that come with charging.
Will Tennis Ball Machine Improve Beginners Technique?
A ball machine is an excellent tool for improving technique if used correctly.
There is a saying that perfect practice makes perfect, not practice makes perfect. Therefore, no matter how hard you practice, you will not improve effectively if you train the wrong technique.
A beginner could buy himself a ball machine and spend hours hitting with it. However, if he is training the wrong technique, he teaches himself to hit the wrong way.
If he decides to get coaching further down the line, it will make the coach’s job much harder.
It will be tougher for the coach because they are not just trying to train a new skill but untrain a bad habit.
The best way to use a ball machine is after coaching. For example, if you have just had an hour-long session with a coach working on topspin forehand, you can then spend the second-hour training with the machine.
This then allows you to reinforce the skill you have just learned.
By using the machine straight after a lesson, the teaching point will be fresh in your mind.
There are also technical benefits to using a ball machine for more advanced players. As you already know the technique, you will practice it in a closed setting.
You will also not fear training something that is not correct.
The ball machine should be used to complement your training with others, not replace it.
While I did enjoy using my little tennis twist ball machine, it was a hassle having to charge it all the time. Ball machines are very much a personal preference.
They are definitely not something players need, but they can be beneficial if used right.
What do you think about ball machines? Are they worth the money?
If I was considering buying a ball machine today, I would rent a few to see which one I like.