Two of the best game improvement tools you should use on a regular basis are the backboard and the ball machine. Most world-class pros have used both of these resources in their careers and both are tremendous tools for your conditioning, footwork, consistency and form.
Unfortunately, both of these resources are mostly underutilized. The key to using these tools is to have a plan of attack to integrate them into your training. To work on form on the backboard, execute a few perfect shadow swing shots. This will be your goal benchmark. Use your phone camera to video your progress for a visual reference. Now start the ball properly with the perfect swing and hit ten forehands in a row. Since it can be difficult to judge the return pace and trajectory from the backboard pick a target well above the net mark and let the ball bounce twice before hitting. This will give you time and space to get in position. As you improve your consistency and footwork work your way into one bounce. Now, isolate the backhand, then forehands to backhands. You now have a plan. For footwork, be aware of your recovery and movement. Move and make contact at the same point each time and avoid having the ball play you. For a real cardio and consistency test set a goal of 25, 50 and 100 in a row.
With proper practice it will be impossible not to improve. You will move better, last longer, miss less and swing in a repeatable fashion. Hit serves and overheads for variety and construct points that involve half–volleys and volleys. If you want to impress your friends with the ultimate glamour shot, the “tweener,” the backboard is your training ground. Stand six feet away from the wall and overhead the ball into the ground to short hop into the wall bouncing over your head. Run the ball down with your racket back, align the balls between your legs and let the ball drop to ankle height. Run slightly past the ball and make contact with a short follow through. The last instruction is key!
The ball machine is the big brother to the backboard with the all same benefits with the added dimension of speed, direction and endurance. Depending on the model of the machine the options are endless to design various shot sequences and variety to work on all aspects of your game. You may control the speed and isolate a shot for stroke production or play in random mode to simulate a real point. The intensity and conditioning may be heightened even more with the addition of The PickupWall, a device that returns balls back to the machine for continuous play so there is virtually constant play and less ball retrieval.
While these two great resources will serve you well, I would caution those players who mistakenly use them as a rehab tool after an injury. Besides perhaps a very slow one directional ball machine feed, the backboard and ball machine may be too quick for players returning from an injury to adjust. A rehab lesson with the tennis pro would be a better choice.
If you have a backboard or ball machine where you play, use them and use them correctly. They are both premier game improving tools.
Mike Puc has been the Director of Tennis at Gleneagles Country Club in Delray Beach, Fla. since 1998. A winner of 15 national titles and an ATP world ranking, Mike directs 25 teams with 350 players in nine leagues, while offering the most extensive Calendar of Events in South Florida that includes tournaments, lectures and social round-robins.