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If you are considering going to the next level in your Pickleball game, there are a couple of self-practice machines that can help you sharpen your skills. The primary purpose of these machines is to feed you the ball so you can hit it back.
These kinds of practice machines are very common with most of the racquet sports that are played.
Basically, these Pickleball machines “serve” the ball to you so you can practice your return of service. They simulate the initial serve of another player.
You are able to adjust speed, angle and spin depending on what shot you want to practice with.
Whilst you can practice Pickleball alone, using a wall or similar, you are “playing” against your own level and style. You know how hard the ball is going to bounce back at you and probably the direction. This is good for building strength and reflexes but if you want to go to the next level, you might want to look at a Pickleball ball machine.
Are Pickleball machines worth it?
You may be wondering are Pickleball machines worth it? That’s a big question to answer.
They are an expensive unit and most people would consider them being a “want” rather than a “need”. It also depends on how often you play Pickleball and at what level.
Here is how I look at whether you need a Pickleball ball machine…How keen are you on getting to the next level of Pickleball?
You know with any sport, or any activity, the only way to get better is to practice. Practicing or playing against the same person all the time will give you the same result. Practicing or playing against a variety of people allows you to refine some techniques and learn new styles. You don’t know what you don’t know!
Pickleball machines are like playing against a variety of different players. Some serve hard, some soft. Sometimes you get backspin on the ball, sometimes topspin.
The different angles, elevations, speeds and spin you get from this machine is equivalent to playing a round-robin tournament.
This greatly improves your game and lets you develop strategies for when you encounter these shots from your opponents.
If it fits in your budget and you are committed to improving your game, then definitely, a Pickleball machine is worth it!
What to look for in Pickleball ball machines
Pickleball ball machines come in a variety of shapes, sizes and abilities.
Some are small, some are basic and some are built like the space shuttle!
Like anything, firstly you have to set a budget. How much can you afford to pay?
Also, you need to think about how often you will use the practice machine.
Do you play every week? Are you struggling to get to the next level in Pickleball? Do you have a coach? Is there somewhere that you can conveniently practice?
If you answered yes to these questions and are thinking…just get on with it…here are some of the things you need to look for when buying a Pickleball machine.
The hopper is the area that holds the balls. Most machines have a basket style hopper except Simon X – this is built into the complete unit.
Different machines have different size hoppers. These can range from about 100 to 160 balls.
You may think that a smaller unit is all you need and this may be the case.
However, you also need to think about this…most machines throw a ball every 5 to 10 seconds. Let’s say you get the machine that holds 100 balls throwing every 10 seconds. You will have emptied the hopper in just over 16 minutes. You’ll just be getting into the groove and have to stop to pick up all the balls to start again.
A hopper that holds 160 balls throwing a ball every 10 seconds will take almost half an hour to empty. Most players are happy with a half hour practice and can then have a drink, gather the balls and have another practice for half an hour.
So buying a Pickleball machine with a large hopper capacity is a better idea if it fits within your budget.
Weight of the machine
This is an important aspect that you really need to consider.
The Lobster machines weigh 35 – 42lbs and the Tutor Plus weighs in at 34lbs. While both have wheels you still need to be able to get them into and out of your car if you travel to your court. You will need to take into consideration the size of your car. Is it a smaller vehicle or do you have a truck? Lifting these machines by yourself may be difficult.
The Simon X practice machine weighs 65lbs. This machine is definitely the best practice machine there is and has 6 wheels for easy maneuvering but you will probably need 2 people to get it in and out of your car. It is advisable to get 2 steel ramps to wheel the unit into and out of your car.
You need to consider how strong you are and can you lift by yourself if you intend traveling to a court with these machines.
Speed and oscillation
This is an interesting concept to consider. Most of these units can throw the ball very slowly at around 10 mph up to about 65-70 mph.
The slower the ball, the closer you will need to be to the net as the fast ones can reach baseline to baseline.
Now I get that generally when you are practicing you do drills. That is the same shot over and over until it becomes embedded in your memory. Here is where the divide between a good machine and a great machine comes into play.
Having a remote control is really important so you can change things up without having to run to the machine. Making the ball a bit faster or a bit slower to really drill that shot is easy with a remote. Being able to fine tune your speed makes practice so much more challenging.
Also thinking about the oscillation. When you are playing another player, they use strategy. You generally won’t know where they are thinking of hitting the ball. Most of the practice machines turn to the direction they are going to throw to. You are able to see this and prepare for that shot.
Again, this creates a bigger divide between a good unit and a great unit.
The Simon X unit stays firm…but the inside moves so you don’t know where the ball will be thrown. This is fantastic if you are practicing your running shots.
Does the ball spin?
Do you want to practice returning spin shots? If you do, you will need to buy a machine that has this capability. Not all of them do.
Playing against a more advanced player that can topspin or backspin the ball can be frustrating if you don’t know how to answer these plays. Most players can hit the ball hard to the baseline but being able to answer a spin with a controlled shot is where the winners are. Being able to practice these shots are more important than hitting a baseline drive.
You will probably want a Pickleball machine that can help you with returning a spin shot, otherwise, you can just hit the ball against a wall.
What material is the machine made of?
Price is usually an indication of quality. In saying that, there is not a huge amount of price difference between the machines.
Most are made of plastic. This makes them lighter but leaving them in the sun can make them brittle. Getting a plastic machine into and out of your car roughly can also cause cracking.
On the other hand, Simon X which is made of military-grade aluminum and stainless steel is very durable and will last a long time.
Also, the pitching arm, which is the most important part of the machine, needs to be durable. Most machines only come with a 1-2 year warranty on this part, except Simon X which has a lifetime warranty. If this part breaks down, the machine is not going to work.
The following article discusses and explores some of our top picks when it comes to pickleball practice machines.
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There are a few different Pickleball machines in the market but nothing that beats Lobster when it comes to value.
The Pickle by Lobster is a pickleball practice machine that outsells most of its competitors in the market. The machine oscillates and can easily push out the balls at speeds up to 60 mph.
You can choose from top and backspin mode which allows you to sharpen your skills and play as if you are playing against your opponent.
The hopper in the machine can hold up to 135 pickleball at a time, which allows you to practice for a long time before you have to refill.
There is a random oscillation design and function to keep you on your toes. You will see the machine move to the direction that it will be throwing the ball, This does take the surprise out of the shot but is still a good option to have.
This means that you get to work and perfect your footwork as well as practice the different kinds of shots.
The Lobster machine weighs only 35 pounds which makes it quite a portable option for you to carry wherever you go. There are 2 wheels on the rear of the machine with a long handle for easy maneuvering around the court.
A really versatile and great value option practice machine that is easy to use.
Although quite an expensive option, the Pickleball Tutor Plus is a worthy investment. It is designed, sold and marketed by Sports Tutor and is one of the most popular pickleball ball machines.
Besides the spin functions in the machine, this particular one comes with a range of oscillating options to increase the variety of drills you can do. The digital settings display is easy to use and you can get an additional wireless remote.
The additional three remote settings in the machine allow you to make quick adjustments, be it in terms of speed or the kind of throw that happens with the ball. It is really handy to have a remote.
As for the capacity, the hopper in the machine can hold up to 110 balls at a time, which lets you to practice for a longer period without any hassle. Also, the machine has a very compact design, which makes it portable and easier to store in your house. There are 2 small wheels at the back of the unit so you can tilt it and wheel it along using the handles on the unit.
A really good, sturdy machine with optional extras.
Although the self-serving machine is ideally for tennis balls, it doesn’t mean it won’t fit your pickleball practice regime. This is one of the most common picks that players make if they are on a strict budget.
This is a wired and wireless machine so it can either work on a battery or when it is wired to the power outlet. The multitracking design of this machine can hold up to 20-25 pickleball, which isn’t much but then again, you are paying a fraction of the price.
The throwing distance of this ball thrower is adjustable, which means that you can set and adjust the settings as per your needs. They are four different options that you can choose from. The frequency of each ball is 4 seconds, which is quite a good average too.
The portable and lightweight design of this ball dispenser further makes it a suitable option for beginner pickleball players who are on the move to sharpen their skills and work better.
Whilst the balls don’t throw very far, it can help with getting used to returning a different style of service.
My thoughts are that you may be better putting this money into a cheaper Lobster or Tutor model so you get the full range of throws and spins available.
The last on the list is hands down one of the most expensive pickleball machines in the market but you get what you pay for. This machine is worth every penny!
One of the best features of this pickleball machine is the military-grade construction. The combination of stainless steel with heavy-duty aluminum construction makes this an option that you won’t regret paying a higher price for.
The top speed of this pickleball machine runs at 70 mph, which is just about the standard rate at which your opponents will hit the ball to you. The low speed in the machine is set at 5 mph, which allows you to master your dink, spins and hits.
Coming to the spin functions and settings, you get to play around with topspin and underspin. The capacity of the hopper is 120 balls, which is a pretty decent option and allows you to practice for a long time before having to refill the hopper.
A unique feature of this pickleball machine is the Stealth Oscillation. Other Pickleball machines turn when they oscillate so you know which way the ball is going to travel. The Simon X Pickleball machine oscillates inside the machine. You don’t know the direction the ball will travel. This is like playing a real opponent. This feature alone will greatly improve your reflexes and return of service strategy.
The machine is built like a tank and weighs 65lbs. It’s portable and has 6 wheels that glide easily along any smooth surface. You will probably need help or ramps to get it into and out of your car.
It comes with a rechargeable battery that lasts up to 12 hours or you can plug it into an outlet and play all day and all night.
You also get a lifetime warranty on the two pitch/throw wheels. Yes…lifetime warranty!
This is a very robust, quality unit that is a gold class pick if it fits your budget.
Picking up the balls
Using a Pickleball machine for the first time is really exciting.
You load the balls, set the controls, read the instructions, go back to setting the controls properly and then THOOK…a ball gets thrown. You return the shot and then the next ball comes at you.
THOOK…POP….THOOK…POP…and so it goes on until the hopper is empty and you are surrounded by over 100 balls.
Dang! Now you have to pick them up.
Now that you have read all about the Pickleball machines, please take a moment to consider the Pickleball picker upper – the Kollectaball Ball Collector.
There is only about $10 difference between being able to collect 40 balls and 60 balls so my recommendation would be to spend the extra $10!!
This is a life saver at the end of a big drill session regardless of whether you are using a machine or against another player.
Easily collects balls and is even fun doing so. Noone ever says picking the balls up by hand is fun!
If you are considering buying a pickleball machine to get you to the next level, these are some of the best picks that you can look into.
Lobster, Tutor and Simon X are good quality machines and offer a host of unique settings that can sharpen your skills as a pickleball player. They may seem expensive but they are worth every penny if you want to play the game like a pro.
…don’t forget the ball picker upper!