Pickleball Machine: Good or Bad Idea for Practicing Your Pickleball Games
With the game becoming more popular over the last few decades, its gone from a backyard recreational sport to a widely played sport with developed rules, designated courts, and specially made equipment.
Along with that, training equipment was also developed. This includes the pickleball machine—an automatic machine that serves balls for you during practice.
You’ll find some essential information on the machines that can help you determine whether or not they’re worth using when practicing your pickleball skills.
The Pickleball Machine
Similar to a pitching machine for baseball, the pickleball machine serves up balls to you so you can practice hitting serves on your own or with the help of a coach. There are usually different settings that adjust for speed or power. Currently, the two most popular brands of machines are Simon and Tutor pickleball machines. The average cost can be anywhere from around USD 700 to over USD 1,000 making the machines a bit of an investment.
Simon pickleball machines feature wheels that make it easy to move around a court and to transport it. The updated model has a 4-ball slot carousel instead of a 2-ball carousel for a quicker return along with a feed rate that can go as low as 1.5 balls a second. There is also an available remote that you can buy in addition to the machine. The newer machines rarely jam due to a new design that cuts down on the open spaces in the machine where balls would sometimes get stuck.
Additionally, Simon pickleball machines have internal motors that are fastened in place so they can’t shift and alter the delivery of the serves. This also helps facilitate smoother deliveries and a quieter machine. There are also two ramps on the machine. One ramp delivers lobs for overhead shots while the second ramp delivers higher ball lofts ideal for practicing your dinks.
Simon’s rival in the industry is the Pickleball Tutor machine. According to their website, Tutor machines allow you to practice overheads, dinks, lobs, backhands, groundstrokes, the third hit, and cross steps—everything you need for a well-rounded pickleball game.
Tutor’s machines have a battery powered option that can allow for around three hours of practice using only the machine’s battery. There is also variable ball feed rates like the Simon machines ranging from 1.5 seconds to 10 seconds. Additionally, it features an oscillating function, speed control, and adjustable height for controlling the angle of the balls served. The main difference seems to be that Tutor’s machine doesn’t have wheels as the Simon pickleball machine does.
Practicing with a Machine vs. a Partner
While pickleball machines are useful, there is an ongoing debate about whether practicing with one is better than practicing with a partner either in match play or a coaching situation. This, of course, ends up being a personal preference but there are certain things that you need to consider when choosing between a machine and a partner for practicing your pickleball game.
The main thing to consider here is consistency. When using a machine you control the speed and the angle of the ball. This allows you to practice specific shots (lobs, dinks, etc.). Sure, you can ask your partner to serve up specific shots, but the consistency won’t be nearly the same. You’ll also have to find a partner who would be willing to serve up the same shot time and again to help you (this would probably be easier if you had a coach training you instead of a partner simply looking to help you out).
By using a pickleball machine, you can practice all different types of shots over and over again until you’re satisfied. You can place the machine at different spots on the court and still get the same speed and angle you’re looking for during practice. Your partner can try to deliver consistent shots, but their delivery can be altered by fatigue and human error.
That being said, match play with a partner has its advantages over taking shots from a machine. You might be able to return shots without a problem when facing a pickleball machine, but in an actual game, you might not fare as well. If you’re looking to improve the way you play in a real match, you might do better practicing through actual match play with a partner.
When you do this, you’ll get used to anticipating shots from an opponent. This will make you less hesitant on the court because you’ll gain more experience and will start to learn how to read your opponents so you can be better prepared for all of their shots.
Pickleball machines are great if you’re looking only to work on your mechanics or how to return specific shots that are causing you a problem in match play. However, you shouldn’t pick the machine over practicing with a partner in match play as it’s the better way to get more experience playing the actual game.
As a Teaching Tool
You can also use pickleball machines as a teaching tool if you’re a coach. The machines allow you to better examine your students because you can stand closer to them as they return the shots from the machine instead of observing them from across the court.
Using the machine to deliver the shots will allow you to set up consistent shots for your student, too. For example, if you know your student needs to work on their lobs, you can set the machine to deliver those over and over.
As you can see, pickleball machines do have their advantages for practicing your pickleball game. They can help you improve your mechanics and help you work on specific shots, but they can’t give you the gameplay experience that match play with a partner can provide. That being said, if you can afford a machine of your own or have access to one, they are a great tool to add to your partner practice to help you play the game at a higher level.