When I was introduced to pickleball, I met someone that had created a pickleball ball machine out of a pitching machine. It was very cool, and coming from tennis I instantly understood the value. When the Simon came out, my friend bought one immediately.
When teaching tennis, a ball machine enables you to get much closer to the player so that you can really look at their shots. Of course, when teaching pickleball you are generally able to stand closer to the player, but that doesn’t mean a ball machine (Simon or Tutor) doesn’t have value.
I like using a ball machine with a student when I want to work on the mechanics of a specific shot. A pickleball ball machine allows me to set up a specific shot so the student can hit the same ball repeatedly. If I know that the player has access to a machine, I can recommend specific drills that they can do on their own to reinforce our session. A ball machine will generally hit the ball to the same spot and at roughly the same speed over and over again, so the player can develop consistency.
Pickleball Ball Machine vs. Practice Partner
In my opinion, one of the most important aspects of drilling is consistency. However, it can be difficult to find a willing practice partner that is consistent enough to return the ball the same way each time.
Pickleball ball machines can also enable you to practice a variety of different shots:
- You can set up many machines to move you around, or stay in one spot to groove a shot;
- Work on blocking hard volleys;
- Perhaps your backhand dink.
However, even when practicing with a machine, you want to be mindful as you practice. I recommend putting targets (perhaps a towel, or chalk marks) on the court. Having specific targets in mind will help keep you focused. Also, be certain to focus not only on the outcome (i.e. hitting your target) but your breathing, technique and body mechanics.
Machine vs. Match Play
Many players are great when drilling with their machine but struggle when someone else is on the other side of the net. Since, unlike a machine, they don’t know where the ball may be hit they become tentative, tense and even will hold their breath. By the time they hit the ball, everything is out of whack and it becomes survival mode.
Ball machines are great, but I recommend you also spend some time drilling with a partner or two so you can practice reading their body language and how the ball leaves their paddle.
If a machine is something you are considering, think about what you would want to use it for. They have more portable ones or some larger ones. Ones that oscillate and some that don’t. I often see a group of people or a club buying one for everyone to share. Of course, there are some fanatics (like me) that even travel with one.