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Some weeks ago I was at an athletic club when I noticed a man using the ball machine. He looked like a true tennis player with matching Nike clothing, a huge tennis bag, and the newest model Babolat racquets. I noticed a collection of balls below the net on his side of the court. It made me wonder what exactly he was working on. The ball machine fired and the player raised his racquet. With one mighty swing the ball exploded off of his racquet and right into the bottom of the net with the rest of the balls. He made one out of his 15 shots with each ball hitting the net in exactly the same place.

The ball machine is a great tool that can greatly improve a player’s game if used the right way. While this example is a bit extreme, there are many players that aren’t getting the most out of their ball machine usage simply because they don’t know how to maximize their time. Here are five ways to make sure you’re getting the most out of your ball machine time.

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1. Practice good form

In most cases practice makes perfect. But if you’re practicing something the wrong way, it can have the opposite effect. Hitting with the ball machine while using incorrect form can actually hurt your game in the long run more than help it. And practicing a stroke with poor form will make it more difficult to correct later on. So when hitting repetitively it’s important to know the best way to perform each stroke you’re practicing prior to using the ball machine.

Recommendation: Take a private lesson or get in contact with a coach to go over your form and make adjustments that can improve your game before a lengthy ball machine session. Not a fan of lessons or coaching? There are plenty of youtube videos and online articles explaining proper form that you can reference.

2. Incorporate movement

If you’ve ever seen a high level tennis match, you know how important movement is to the game. Many times, ball machine users focus too much on contacting the ball and not enough on the steps needed to set up the shot. Unlike the ball machine that hits the ball to the same height and depth each time, opponents will rarely ever give you two shots in exactly the same place. Therefore, footwork is just as important as the stroke and contact.

Recommendation: Give yourself an obstacle to run around before getting set for each shot, or place an object at the center of the baseline to go back to before each repetition. A hopper, cone, or dot will work well. Focus on your set up in terms of footwork by making sure you are split stepping before contacting the ball.

3. Use targets

Spice up your ball machine time by putting out some targets to aim for. It’s easy to get lazy when hitting tennis balls without a chance of any of them getting returned. To give yourself more of a challenge, set up something to aim for and get psyched when you hit one.

Recommendation: Use cones, dots, or hoppers as targets on the court. Some good spots are near the deep corners and near the doubles alley for short angles.

4. Team up with your coach

If you’re looking for drills or specific movements to practice while using the ball machine, look no further than your favorite tennis pro. They can help with both form and strategy in terms of drills or shot progressions. They can also help hold you accountable and come up with a lesson plan for future practice sessions.

Recommendation: Meet with your coach and go over your current strengths and weaknesses. Make a plan that focuses on movement, strategy, and form. Set up a time to go over how your ball machine session went or discuss before your next lesson.

5. Set goals

To keep things exciting and challenging, set goals for yourself. They can be short or long term, and can be vague or detailed. You know what works best for you so set goals that will keep you motivated. Once you achieve those goals, move on to more difficult challenges to keep pushing yourself.

Recommendation: Start out with relatively simple goals during your session. For example: making 15 balls in a row in a target zone without missing. Have broader in-match goals such as utilizing your inside out forehand more often. Use these goals as checkpoints for your game and continue to push yourself.

When used correctly, the ball machine can be an effective tool in helping a player work on weaknesses and reach their full potential. Utilizing all five of these tips will lead to a very productive session on the ball machine. Schedule your session now or contact a tennis pro for more information.