Just Add Balls - How to Use the Lobster Ball Machine

When discussing the start of the Feliciana Tennis Community with tennis players in the area, one of the top requests have been "Let's get a ball machine!"  Guess what? We already have one!  Below are instructions on where to find it and how to use it.

1. Locating the ball machine - If you have ever been to the Sports Park tennis courts and seen this little plastic storage container, it is located in here.  We had balls in here at one point, but they seemed so attractive to some folks that they broke the lock off of the door and took them (and fortunately left the ball machine).  While it may look like it container is locked, all you need to do is pull the doors open to get in.

2. Removing the ball machine - Hopefully the last person that used the machine plugged it into the charger.  You should see a red and black cord tethering the ball machine to the receptacle.  Carefully pull from the plug (not the wire) connected at the machine to disconnect.  You should then be able to maneuver the machine out of the container.

3. Preparing the machine for use - The ball machine is stored with the feed hopper upside down on the top of the machine.  Take the grey hopper off and flip it over.  It has two holes that line up the hopper to plastic posts on the top of the machine.  Slide the hopper on top and fill the machine with balls.

  4. Lining up the machine  - Set up the ball machine at the baseline, and line it up towards your intended target as shown here. I typically hit a hopper of balls for each stroke in the following routine: forehand down the line, backhand cross court, backhand down the line, forehand cross court, then some volleys for the last set. 

4. Lining up the machine - Set up the ball machine at the baseline, and line it up towards your intended target as shown here. I typically hit a hopper of balls for each stroke in the following routine: forehand down the line, backhand cross court, backhand down the line, forehand cross court, then some volleys for the last set. 

5. Configuring the feed - This will take some trial and error to get the feed the way that you want, but here are the steps to fine tune it:

a. Power On - Turn on the machine with the "Power" switch on the top left of the control panel.  It will take 15-20 seconds to start feeding balls.

b.  Feed - I suggest setting this between 10-12 seconds unless volleying.  Once it is set less than 10 seconds, it starts to act like a submachine gun. :)  If it is too close to the 12/Off mark, it will not launch the balls at the normal velocity and they will fall into the net.

c. Speed/Spin/Elevation - This is where the trial and error is required.  Start by setting a speed that you feel comfortable with.  Then adjust the spin.  I suggest anywhere from flat to topspin for groundstrokes.  The underspin seems to only work well if you are hitting volleys.  Once you have your speed and spin where you want it, you then adjust the elevation up or down to get the desired depth of shot.

d. Vertical/Horizontal - These switches turn on/off a feature that automatically varies the direction and height of the feed.  I do not suggest using these as I have not had much success with consistency, and it is difficult to get the machine reset to the default position after they are turned off. 

6. After the hopper is empty - Turn the feed knob to the "Off" mark before refilling the hopper.  This conserves the battery and the time to restart after you fill it rather than turning the power off switch.

7. When you are done - Flip over the hopper, wheel the machine back to the storage container, and please plug the charger back in so that it is fully charged for the next person.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment below and I will try to answer them in a timely manner.  You can also ask a question on the FTC Facebook page and probably get some help there too.  As far as balls are concerned, I typically just keep balls from play and they are good enough for the ball machine for about 6-12 months.  You can buy a hopper on Amazon to store about 75 balls for less than $20, and it also makes it easier to pick the balls up...just press the hopper down on a ball and it squeezes in.

~Brian Rome