Coach Writing...

How we met our – calm & reliable – hitting partner (part 2)

30.06.2017
Our electric team member & working horse

Just to be clear: this machine saved Oleksandra’s tennis career – at least, on current level. If we do not have it, Sashka wouldn’t definitely reach that level where she is now (National Junior Champion & world Top-500 junior player).

Nobody knows for sure (except me 🙂) whether she will ever enter pro tour & when she will manage to do this, but without this purchase she would probably finish with competitive tennis this spring.

This is our honest review of Lobster Grand 5 Elite LE tennis ball machine & its usage in training process of a competitive junior female player. While we got a discount from local Lobster dealer, we are NOT obliged to post any promotional articles about the machine. That’s why we will notice some “cons” as well as many well-deserved “pros” of Lobster Grand 5 Elite LE.

IGNORE NON-BELIEVERS, BUT BE REALISTIC

Actually, most of local pro coaches we have talked about the machine purchase, were quite skeptical on it. Now I can understand why so: they are simply… afraid of competition :)!

For sure, a tennis ball machine can not FULLY replace a good coach. It is just a mechanical device which can deliver ball(s) to certain points of the court with certain parameters (speed, spin, frequency etc.). It is not able to show, talk, motivate or convince.

At the same time, even if a coach is a best motivational speaker, his/her player won’t succeed without thousands of shots made during practices… All these countless forehands, backhands, crosses etc. And this is what exactly this machine can be excellent in!

So we do not try to replace a coach (or A KNOWLEDGE, in wider sense) fully, but rather automate a part of it.

SO WHAT EXACTLY THIS MACHINE CAN DO?

1. Deliver a ball by ball to a certain point of the court with several pre-set parameters.

A set of parameters for manual shot programming

A set of parameters for manual shot programming

This is the most simple feature, but it is a) the best this machine can do; b) the most useful in the practice process. Well, your player already knows how to hit a short cross – in theory. Now it is time to do this 10,000 times before the next tournament – and nobody can assist better than Lobster Grand 5 Elite!

Here you can see pre-sets to a program for individual shots: speed (can be changed with 5 mph steps), elevation, spin (+ means top spin, – is slice), angle (to put balls left or right from the court central line), feed (time interval between each next shot).

For instance, this program will generate a quite fast shot with some top spin, to 70-90 cm zone before baseline. It is like a main shot ITF Junior girls trade between before making an agressive attempt shot.

At the same time, feed 04 sec is a little bit slower than the real gaming speed on competitive junior level. So your player can do tens of balls in learning mode instead of getting tired after 5-6 balls.

2. Deliver balls, one by one, into different zones of the court.

This is convinient in case if you want your player to practice a distinct shot in 2 modes: e.g. forehand volley & backhand volley. So you install the machine in the center of the court, and it delivers balls with same speed, spin and elevation, but in “left-right-left-right” mode!

A small lifehack from our team: we usually change not only programmable parameteres, but location of the machine on a court as well. Sometimes it is much easier simply to move a machine 1 meter deeper or closer than change settings.

3. Deliver balls randomly to a distinct zone of the court.

Let’s say, you want your player to work on “aggressive stability”. Her/his goal is to learn how to make a pressure on the opponent using safe zones of the opponent’s side.

Random Sweep function of the tennis ball machine

Random Sweep function of the tennis ball machine

This program will deliver balls to a zone which is appr. 1 m farer the service line (closer to your player baseline), so your player has them short enough to make a pressure on (imagined) opponent. But balls “left-right” location will be each time different and non-predictable, so your player should make a good footwork to be on time near a ball!

There are several random patterns supported by this machine: horizontal, vertical, total random etc.

4. Deliver balls according to customized (by you) or pre-installed (by Lobster software engineers) programs.

You can program up to 6 shots consecutively to practice some game patterns. First you select a landing zone (see picture left, from 1 to 18), then specify speed, spin & feed. Then you connect first shot with second one, third one etc. Then you can save the whole program and use it whenever you want.

This is a very powerful tool. Actually, programmability was one of the main reasons for us to buy this (more expensive) model.

BUT: here is also the biggest problem of this machine – in our view. Unfortunately, you can not input ELEVATION on “programming” mode. So if you select “zone 8, speed 55 mph” you have no idea, with what angle a ball will be sent out! It can be a lob, or a flat shot!

It is not a critical thing, as you will gain some experience in the machine programming fast, so you will definitely understand what speed to a zone gives you this trajectory or another one.

But again, as for me, it would be more convinient to let users program 6 consecutive shots in “manual” mode, then allow to “glue” these shots into a program.

As for pre-installed programs… we do not use them, so no comments on it :).

USABILITY

This machine is portable & easy transportable. It has 2 big wheels, so you can move it between courts, tennis halls etc. With foldable handle you can pull or push it. Its weight is around 20-25 kg – for one adult male it is no problem to load it into the car without help.

Battery charging time is 6-8 hours. With this you can play 2-3 hours of net machine working time. So even if you have 2 practices X 2 hours each day, you will never have empty battery during the practice (include rests, water breaks, ball collection etc.).

This machine has optional remote control device… and I strongly recommend to buy it with the machine. This is not only about a distance to machine’s body (though it is important if you play alone, or stand near your student). The main reason is a time reaction on commands from “body” control and remote control. If you press “play” on remote control, the machine will feed a ball almost immediately. If you use a body input, it will have appr. 10 seconds delay before the feed.

And one more thing: this machine is a little bit noisy. Not too much, so if you play on any kind of open court, you won’t hear it from your side of court. But if you buy it to use indoor, better get some advice/acceptance from court administration etc.

PRO’s and CON’s

Well, let’s list some main strengths of Lobster Grand 5 Elite – below:

1. Very stable & “disciplined” – deliver balls reliably & predictably to a certain point(s) of court.

2. Has a lot of parameters for individual shots (speed, elevation, spin, angle, feed), and a good variability inside those parameters (for instance, there are 7 grades of spin available).

3. Has several modes of variating ball placements to certain zones, both consecutive & random.

4. Has pre-installed programs & programmability option (and it is very easy to program, no skills required).

5. Does not “shave” balls too much – nothing to worry about.

6. Easy moveable & transportable.

7. Long battery life & simple charging.

8. Remote control.

9. Will save you a lot of money!

And, to be honest, some con’s (or rather weaknesses which can be improved within next Lobster tennis ball machine models):

A. No Elevation option in Programming mode.
B. The handle is a little bit weak.
C. Some level of noise.
D. Long delays if used with “body” control – you NEED to use remote.

At all, we highly recommend this machine to any coach or parent working with competitive junior player. You will have a dedicated & loyal hitting partner, without lasiness, unexpected flu or depression. You can take it with you to a tournament or vacation – no daily salary, no extra hotel & meal costs!

It won’t FULLY replace a coach… but it can do this in part. And you decide what part it is going to be.

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  • Alex

    “For sure, a tennis ball machine can not FULLY replace a good coach. ”
    Of course it cannot. And it is important to understand that starting from a certain level – and I hope Sashka is already there – the place for the coach is not across the net from the player (that’s where the hitting partner should be), but next to the player – this way the coach can contribute a lot more. And the job of the tennis ball machine is to replace the hitting partner. Which to a certain extent it can do. I’m not trying to say it’s useless – on the contrary it is the most useful little piece of kit. Especially useful if you can’t get a good hitting partner. And even having a good hitting partner the ball machine would be a great supplement.

    • sashkatennis.com

      “the place for the coach is not across the net from the player (that’s
      where the hitting partner should be), but next to the player – this way
      the coach can contribute a lot more.” Exactly… but it is good in theory, but a rare thing in a real life. I know a lot of really good junior girls in this part of Europe – including Junior Grand Slams players – but really a few of them can allow a permanent & dedicated hitting partner as an addition to a dedicated coach. This is simply too expensive for an average ITF Juniors player.

      If there is a good tennis club/team around a player, it can be simulated by using a playing boy as a hitting partner, or inviting a coach/hitting partner from the same club who has a free time, from time to time. But almost nobody allows to use 2 “coaching humans” all the time.