Ball Machines

ball machineThere is only one good way to improve a stroke in any sport – and that is repetition, repetition, repetition. And better than any human hitting partner, a tennis ball machine is one of the best ways to get the same ball time after time.

But what is the best kind to have?

I am thinking about getting one to use over the summer up in New Hampshire and am somewhat overwhelmed by the choices (and prices). So, here are some questions for anyone who has experience owning or using one…

• Top of the list: battery operated or plug in?

• Then the next key question is the price point you need to spend. They appear to be priced from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars.

• And finally it comes down to features: capacity? Setting options? Etc.

Any input would be appreciated. For a link to the selection available through Holabird Online, please click HERE.

If you are not on my “new posting alert email list” and want to be (I promise, no other uses of your email address!), just drop me a note at George@seniortennisandfitness.com

19 thoughts on “Ball Machines

  1. Lobster Elite Grand IV with Premium Fast Charger & Android Remote-
    I have owned this particular ball machine for 3 years and have been quiet
    satisfied with it’s various shot or workout capabilities, ease of operation,
    remote control with no operational or maintenance issues to date.

    The battery operated with premium charger was my choice because some
    courts do not have convenient access to electrical plug in’s with a 50 ft electrical cord.
    If you are concerned about battery charge level, with the battery operated model you can always plug in to an electrical outlet when available to charge the battery during use of the ball machine.

    Elite Grand IV is easy to remove the ball holding tub, then lower the adjustable handles
    for placement into the back of your SUV or car. Holds 2 cases or up to about 150 balls in the ball holding tub. Very nice machine, and I did have sticker shot initially when I began researching the market for a ball machine but have been pleased with the product!

    Looking forward to Tennis Fantasies @ Newks in October!

  2. We have a Genie Ball machine at our club and it’s great. For drills and practice it is better than hitting with a partner. You can vary speed, height, spin (slice or topspin) and placement. It can also serve and lob to you. The problem is per the Tennis Express website price is a cool $6,600. So as you come down in price, I’d look for the following important features: remote control; ability to vary speed and spin; ability to change ball placement to make you run. If you have an electrical outlet convenient to your court ten I’m not sure the battery feature is all that important.

  3. Check out iPlaymate at PlaymateTennis.com, which allows you to utilize your iphone or ipad to program and run your drills on a playmate ball machine. Also check out FBT60 which is an integration of nutrition, exercise and the ball machine. The contact for Playmate ball machines and FBT60 is Stan Oley 800-352-6878, who loves to talk tennis and fitness.

  4. George, I had two Lobster machines years back coaching High School tennis and for myself and at that time they were the leading choice. They were small enough to carry around in my van and they did not need any repairs until I gave them away. Rolf

  5. Hello George,
    A few months ago, I was seriously contemplating buying a ball machine and did some research. I would check out “Silent Partner” http://www.sptennis.com/ I found them to be a good value for the money.
    I was going to pull the trigger on one, but did not, because my club decided to offer free use of a sophisticated Playmate Ball Machine, as part of the membership fee. It’s a Canadian Co., so you may want to check them out while you are up north.
    Have a great summer!
    Guy

  6. George…
    My favorite ball machine was one that could be put up on a lift so that it could serve to you and you could practice all kinds of return of serves. (Most important shot in the game). I’m sure it is fairly expensive. I know nothing about it because it was owned by my club. Good luck and have a great Summer!!

  7. Dick – someone else mentioned the need to practice return of serve. i wonder if you could put a regular ball machine on some kind of table/platform??? george

  8. I had a Tennis Tutor Plus http://www.sportstutor.com/tennis/tutor/ that I used for 15 years. I probably replaced every part on it at least once – and I’m no good at fixing anything except teeth. The guys would diagnose my problems with the machine over the phone, ship me the needed part, and then walk me through the fixing process over the phone. They’re out on the west coast, so I could still easily call them after work. They were always great to work with.

    The “Plus” only (easily) holds one basket of balls, but I found that if I wrapped a couple of connected bungie cords around the “flaps” that I could get it to hold two baskets full. This version would shoot an alternating pattern and a “random” pattern along with the basic, straight shot. You could control how often they shot out and how hard it shot the balls out. It could be set for varying degrees of topspin and underspin. With the flaps folded down, it fit easily into the back of the 300ZX I used to drive before I became a mini-van kind of guy. The weight was manageable and the operation off a battery was *wonderful*. Too many sites have no electrical outlets handy. And, until the battery would get old, the charge always lasted more than long enough. I didn’t bother with the remote control and didn’t miss it. Oh, and it would recharge easily over night.

    It doesn’t shoot the balls out as fast as the fancier machines, but it was plenty “hard” for my needs. It was fine for feeding lobs for overhead practice, too. I see that it now has a “Player Mode”, but mine didn’t. Something about patterns. . . I did a lot of research before deciding on that one and was happy with it for a very long time.

    The club recently started allowing us to use the machines they have there after hours (if we were good about putting them away when finished). I would have used theirs from the beginning, but that option wasn’t available, and a lot of my practice has been under the lights after the shop was closed. My little machine had just about bitten the dust, so I went with the club option late last year. Of course, somebody failed to put it up, so now they’ve gone back to the old rules for everyone, and I’ll have to re-evaluate my options. I’d buy that version, again, if I decide to go that route.

    My big complaint about ball machines is that you just really can’t simulate serves with them – without having something tall to put the machine on – and that gets really expensive. Good luck!

    Kevin

  9. George–After 35 plus years of using ball machines–playmate is by far the best but is probably the most expensive. Stan Oley is worth talking to. Over the years I purchased reconditioned machines for my members and had great luck–especially with playmates. Call me if you want to chat–440-596-8748.

  10. George,
    I had to buy a ball machine 3 years ago, for Club use. I thought the “Playmate” line was best, but expensive. You see them at intensive use situations like tennis resorts. For our use, light to moderate, I found Tennis Tower Club to be the best value. We have electricity near the courts and don’t need mobility so did not opt for the expensive battery or remote. I did not see this model in the selection you featured.
    Bud Rice

    Bud – Thanks. See you Thursday.

  11. Two things that I notice on my ball machine (a SAM – I forget the exact model). It weighs about 50 lbs which gets to be a hassle as it’s pretty heavy to get in and out of my Prius. If you have an injury (as a back or hamstring), it can be difficult. Second, where I have to go across grass to get to the courts, some larger wheels would be very nice, as in my previous lobster. The small wheels on the Sam are hard to manuever across grass.

    I’m going to sell my Sam ball machine that has a remote, oscillates and all that good stuff. It’s just too heavy. Going to look into a plug-in ball machine and see if it’s that much lighter. Then just stick to courts that have convenient electricity.

    Mike – thanks for the reverse perspective. George

  12. I purchased a Silent Partner SMART (http://sptennis.com/ballmachines.asp#Smart) at the end of 2013, so I can’t comment on the reliability, but I can comment on the functionality. The battery is rated for 8 hours of play and so far it is easily living up to that claim so I would definitely choose a heavy duty battery over a corded unit. Mandatory control settings are speed, feed rate and spin. This unit has a lot of bells and whistles but the ones I find mandatory are: remote control; multiple sweep position setting (this unit has 5 horizontal positions and 10 sweep settings); memory (stores a limited number of control settings for quick set up). Random oscillation and vertical oscillation are also very useful. The other features are ‘extras’ that I probably won’t make extensive use of.
    Silent Partner offers a very good value for the price.

    Bill – Thanks for the good insight to key features. George

  13. Hi George,

    I’ve used a Playmate machine for about 10 years and love it and it has held up well without maintenance issues. I use it at the same court where I have easy access to an outlet, so I cannot speak about battery operated or transportation issues (this one is probably too cumbersome to transport in your car). I think it’s critical to have a machine that can let you vary speed, spin, height, direction, and frequency, and it’s also nice to be able to have it deliver more than one type of ball (e.g., it can send a topspin followed by a slice and can deliver them to different parts of the court, all with the same bucket of balls, without having to change settings). It’s also nice to have a random function, so you can choose for the balls not to come at you in the same order (like in a match). The machine I have will do all this except it cannot deliver lobs very well, and it cannot do serves. A remote control is also nice. Basket size is also a factor. Mine holds about 250 balls, and you can go through that pretty quickly. Playmate also sells a device with a basket low to the ground that you wheel around the court to pick up the balls afterwards, and it’s well worth it for efficiency (but may not be practical if you have to transport it). By the way, I do not believe a machine is better than a hitting partner, as the latter gives you a more realistic way to practice, but of course it’s big advantage is it’s ready when you are. Also, ease of setup may be important. I found that when I had to use an extension cord to set up, the machine was used less than when an outlet was right next to the court (perhaps I’m lazy, but ease of setup may influence how much use you get out of it). Feel free to call me if you want to delve into this further.

    Phil

    Phil – Same great factors to consider! thanks, george.

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