Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Best Practices with the Ball Machine

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Contributor

Have you heard of the phrase, “practice makes perfect?” How about, “perfect practice makes perfect?” If you're getting on court and hacking up some sloppy shots just because its a practice (guilty✋), then you're not making the practice perfect. Perfect practice is playing and executing shots as you would in a match setting. But I get it, some days when you're having a particularly bad day with say your backhand, it's difficult to work on it in the middle of a group lesson or drill. So instead, grab the perfect practice partner that will work tirelessly with you while happily putting up with all the junk you might hit—the ball machine! With the upcoming USTA season, we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to aid in your quest in perfecting your practice by creating a list for ‘Best Practices with the Ball Machine.'

Best Practices with the Ball Machine

  • Make a plan before you get onto the court. Don’t just come out to hit and see what happens. Think about what you need to perfect; forehand, backhand, slice, top-spin, approach shot, overhead, volley, footwork—the ball machine will do it all.
  •  Don’t do too much in one setting. For instance, make a list of your weakest shots and focus on 1 or 2 that are giving you the most trouble. Then practice and repeat, repeat, repeat! Practice until you can confidently hit the shot over a few times in a row. Muscle memory has higher success in retention when you’re able to focus on one shot at a time.
  • Improve your timing. Once you’re able to hit the perfect shot comfortably, change up the pace. In a real match setting you might have someone popping floaters over or an opponent serving bullets. Adjust the speed on the ball machine to improve your rhythm and racquet preparation. Start slow-medium-fast, or fast-medium-slow and repeat.
  • Have targets and/or consistency goals. Practicing targets can involve actual cones to aim for, or start simply by aiming for 5 shots in a row down the line, then do 5 in a row cross-court. For practicing consistency, make a goal of getting the ball in 10 times in a row then raise it up.  
  • Work with a pro. Request to incorporate the ball machine in your next lesson. A pro can much better analyze and tweak problem shots when they can watch you hit from a different angle.
  • Bring a buddy. One exercise that will keep your feet moving while hitting shots is practicing a little ‘ping pong’. For example, set up the shot for backhands only and rotate each shot between you and your buddy. You might be huffing and puffing but you’ll thank this heart-pumping practice in the next long match rally.
  •  Leave time for serves. It’s not uncommon to see our members leave the last 10 minutes of their session or tag on another ½ hour just to practice serves. Think about it, when exactly do you practice serves? When it comes to a strong game, every shot matters. Remember perfect practice makes perfect.
If the ball machine seems intimidating, ask a Towpath staff member to show you how to use it and what you want to work on. Once you get going, you'll be a practice expert in no time!

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