Patent application title: Athletic training and practice system
Randall Edmiston (Dallas, TX, US)
Jon Cameron (Dallas, TX, US)
Jon Cameron (Dallas, TX, US)
IPC8 Class: AA63B6940FI
Class name: Games using tangible projectile playing field or court game; game element or accessory therefor other than projector or projectile, per se practice or training device
Publication date: 2012-02-16
Patent application number: 20120040781
An athletic training apparatus is disclosed with a low-ball deflection
panel (130) used to keep the balls (140) in play. When combined with a
ball machine (110), a dampening backdrop (100) and a collection trough
(120), the apparatus improves the quantity of practice balls (140)
available to the player.
1. An apparatus for training athletes, comprising a. a low-ball
deflection panel angled away from the athlete whereby low balls are
directed away from the athlete, and b. a dampening backdrop to stop said
low ball's projection away from the athlete, and c. a collection trough
attached near the top of said low-ball deflection panel whereby said
collection trough collects the spent balls from said dampening backdrop
and dispenses said spent balls downward, and d. a ball machine placed
above the playing field to collect said spent balls from the trough and
then projects the balls toward the athlete for the athlete to return to
the system, and e. a hole in said low-ball deflection panel that allows
the balls to be projected by said ball machine to the athlete.
2. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein said low-ball deflection panel is comprised of a rigid material.
3. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein said low-ball deflection panel is comprised of a taut flexible material.
4. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein said dampening backdrop is comprised of foam.
5. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein said dampening backdrop is comprised of netting.
6. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein said dampening backdrop is angled toward the player whereby a surface behind the backdrop is not able to interfere with the operation of the backdrop.
7. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein said ball machine is a low-profile ball machine.
CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
 A claim of priority is made in this application based on Provisional Application Ser. No. 61/372,810 filed on Aug. 11, 2010, and entitled "Tennis Training and Practice System" the disclosure of which is hereby incorporated by reference in its entirety.
 1. Field of Invention
 The present invention is an athletic training device, more specifically involving a low-ball deflection panel and an innovative ball collection system using the low-ball deflection panel.
 2. Background of the Invention
 The present invention is a low-ball deflection panel that keeps low balls in play during practice. Using the panel with the described ball collection system, a single player can focus on practicing the mechanics of their swing while the balls are collected and delivered back to the student. The basic objectives in tennis are to hit the ball over the net and within the lines. By reducing the emphasis on the first objective during training, this invention provides increased opportunity for trainee to practice their swing. The system allows the student to hit more balls in a given period of time. The "Athletic Training and Practice System" gives students the opportunity to learn successful strokes in the early stages of development not often achieved on a traditional court.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
 An invention, which meets the needs stated above, is an apparatus that assists the player in keeping the ball in play therefore creating the long-felt need to keep a continuous practice session without having to stop and collect balls.
 Hitting the ball into the net is considered the worst of three basic tennis errors. If the player hits the ball wide or long, there is still the opportunity for the ball to stay in play since the opposing player may still return the ball. When the tennis ball goes into the net, the point is over with no chance of recovery. By eliminating this potential failure during training, the frustration and the associated distraction are eliminated.
 The "Athletic Training and Practice System" was developed on the premise that there is a more effective approach to learning many aspects of tennis than on a traditionally outfitted court.
 There are inherent problems with learning tennis stroking techniques on the traditional tennis court:
 1. Focus on the Net. The effectiveness of the training is minimized on a traditional court because the student is faced with the challenge of getting the ball over the net at the same time keeping the ball within the boundaries of the court (especially the baseline). The student becomes inherently focused on the goal of getting the ball over the net which makes it more difficult for the student to properly focus on the details of developing the correct swinging motion.
 2. Loss of Focus. There are many distractions on the tennis court such as wind, the net, the lines, irregular bounces and the anxiety produced from the expectation of hitting the back to the practicing partner. The student is less able to concentrate and focus on the details of stroke production with the presence of more distractions on the tennis court. This loss of focus is key obstacle for coaches.
 3. Poor Repetitions. It is difficult for students to keep the ball in play. On a traditional tennis court, this limits the number of repetitions a student can achieve in a given period of time. Repetition is the key to muscle memory so the ability to increase the number of repetitions will improve the student's stroke.
 4. Advanced Skill Training. Particularly, when learning the technique of "topspin" repetition is greatly impaired because the student tends to hit the ball into the net a high percentage of the time while learning. This issue is problematic because students judge themselves by how often they hit the ball over the net and in court. For this reason, "topspin" is not often taught to students during early training. To prevent this frustration, tennis instructors prefer to teach a flat to slight upward swing to get the ball over the net. This creates a number of undesirable results. To keep the ball in the court, instructors tend to teach students to shorten their swing which produces a "poking" type motion. Swinging with power while using a flat stroke, often results in hitting the ball beyond the baseline. Also, hitting with a flat racquet face makes a player susceptible to miss-hits that force the racquet face open. If the ball is hit off-center in the upper section of the racquet face, a torquing force is put on the racquet that forces the face to open at the point at where the student is applying force to the ball. As the racquet face torques open and force is applied in a forward motion, the ball is prone to sail upward. Striking the ball with an unexpected open racquet face typically results in hitting the ball long and conditions a player to swing with less force for fear of hitting the ball out of the court. So the training resulting from keep the ball out of the net requires an additional series of training courses to avoid the errors of hitting with a flat racket and later properly teaching "topspin." Clearly these efforts to avoid hitting into the net during training produce poor stroking technique and increase the length of time required to properly train a student. Yet this "topspin" technique is key to playing advanced tennis. By delaying the introduction of the "topspin" technique, the instructor invariably reduces the effectiveness of the training sessions.
 The accompanying drawings, which are incorporated in and constitute a part of this specification, illustrate embodiments of the present invention and together with the description, serve to explain the principles of this invention. In the figures;
 FIG. 1A.--Drawing showing the elements of the present invention and demonstrating the apparatus' affect on the ball during tennis practice.
 FIG. 1B.--Drawing depicting the apparatus being used in a batting cage or pavilion.
 FIG. 2.--Drawing of a collapsible version of the low-ball deflection panel used with a ball collection system.
REFERENCE NUMERALS IN DRAWINGS
 100 Dampening Backdrop, Backdrop  110 Tennis Ball Machine, Low-profile Tennis Ball Machine, Ball Machine  120 Gravity-Fed Collection Trough, Collection Trough, Trough  130 Low-Ball Deflection Panel with Launch Opening, Low-Ball Deflection Panel, Low-Ball Panel  140 Ball  150 Hole  160 Cage, Batting Cage, Enclosure, Pavilion
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
 Referring to the drawings, in which like numerals represent like elements,
 Referring now to FIG. 1A, a preferred embodiment of the present invention is constructed of a low-ball deflector panel with a launch opening 130 adjacent to a gravity-fed collection trough 120 attached to the top edge of the low-ball deflection panel with launch opening 130. The collection trough 120 is additionally adjacent to the dampening backdrop 100 and centered over a ball machine 110.
 A collection trough 120 with an angled low-ball deflection panel 130 is the most unique part of this invention. In a preferred embodiment, the collection trough 120 is roughly 10 inches deep and extends the width of the low-ball deflector panel 130 and is positioned 10 inches above the ball machine 110. The floor of the collection trough 120 is angled downward from the outer edges of the collection trough 120 frame and slopes to the center of the collection trough 120.
 In the center of the collection trough 120 floor is a cut out that allows balls 140 to drop into the ball machine 110 hopper. In a preferred embodiment, the cutout also includes a rubber flange that extends below the floor of the collection trough 120 to fill the space between the top of the ball machine 110 hopper and the floor of the collection trough 120. The flange accurately direct spent balls 140 from the collection trough 120 to the ball machine 110 hopper and keeps them from falling into the space under the trough 120. Spent balls 140 dampened by the dampening backdrop 100 drop into the collection trough 120 and roll down the collection trough 120 floor to the center of the unit and drop into the ball machine 110 hopper.
 In the preferred embodiment of the present invention, the low-ball deflection panel 130 extends the full width of the collection trough 120 and extends downward from the top front edge of the collection trough 120 to the floor at an approximately 40 degree angle. Balls 140 hitting below the top of the collection 120 strike the low-ball deflection panel 130 and careen off the low-ball panel 130 striking the dampening backdrop 100. At the point that the ball 140 strikes the dampening backdrop 100, the forward and upward momentum of the ball 140 is arrested, and the ball 140 drops down to the collection trough 120. There is an oval hole 150 cut in the deflection panel that allows balls 140 projected from the ball machine 110 to pass through the deflection panel into the hitting zone. It should be appreciated that without this low-ball deflection panel 130, balls 140 landing below the height of the ball machine 110 and trough 120 would have to be manually collected and placed in the trough 120.
 The low-ball deflection panel with launch opening 130 is particularly novel and its function is not found on any prior art. Prior art illustrates a flat section angled away from the player at various angles and for various purposes. In the market, the most common is a "rebound" system requiring the player to launch a ball 140 into a rebounder causing the rebounder to immediately return the ball into the direction from which it was launched. The player continues to repeat the action either with the same ball 140, or with a new ball 140. This rebound system is common in sports like tennis and soccer and has a large number of manufacturers such as Ultimagoal. These inventions failed to recognize the need to "deflect" the ball away from the player and into a ball collection system.
 The second class of these flat sheets is a "ramp" which can be found is many prior art references including U.S. Pat. No. 4,288,074 and U.S. Pat. No. 2,280,376. The ramp acts a bridge between the floor of the playing surface and a collection trough. This design is specifically fashioned to collect rolling balls 140. In this fashion, slow moving balls 140, or balls 140 traveling along the floor of the playing surface can travel up the ramp and load into a collection area. This is particularly useful for collecting balls that are scattered on the court. The players can avoid leaning over and thrusting the balls toward the ramp with a sports implement. These inventions failed to recognize the need to "deflect" the balls toward the backdrop 100 for high-velocity balls 140 traveling above the ground.
 The tennis ball machine 110 is manufactured by a third party but can be modified to fit the needs of the present invention. The preferred embodiment is the use of a low-profile tennis ball machine 110 that allows for the appropriate height of 36' for the low-ball deflection panel 130. Modifications include the addition of an on/off warning light that signals the presence of ball 140 projectiles fired form the ball machine 110 as a safety measure. Another modification includes a rubber flange that extends from the top of the ball machine 110 perimeter to the bottom of the collection trough 120. The flange is attached to the top three inches of the ball machine 110 and extends to the bottom of the collection trough 120. This modification contains and directs balls 140 to the ball machine 110 hopper after exiting the collection trough 120.
 In a preferred embodiment, a low-profile ball machine 110 sits on a ball machine positioning system just inside the backdrop 100 centered between the sides of the trough 120. The ball machine positioning system allows the ball machine 110 to be moved in small increments from front-to-back and right-to-left. By attaching a log handle to the positioning system and extending the handle thru the front and bottom of the low-ball deflection panel 130, the ball machine 110 can be pivoted from side to side making the hitting zone customizable. This capability to move the ball machine 110 allows the user to establish hitting zones in different locations to simulate various tennis playing situations.
 The dampening backdrop 100 acts as a momentum reduction surface for balls 140 hit by the player from the hitting zone and effectively eliminates any rebound effect that allows the ball 140 to drop straight down into the collection trough 120. The dampening backdrop 100 could be made of a lightweight, loosely woven plastic fabric windbreaker fabric purchased off-the-shelf) foam, or commercial netting.
 Whenever the word "tennis" is used in this document, it should be read to also mean other types of sports such baseball, rugby, soccer and so on.
 FIG. 1B depicts the use of the apparatus inside a batting cage 160 or pavilion 160 environment.
 The enclosure 160 can be created by building a pavilion-style structure with legs and gable style roof members made of metal, wood, or composite material. The pavilion 160 can be enclosed with sports netting or enclosed with rigid wire panels to promote balls 140 that happen to hit the walls or ceiling after being struck by the player to careen off the rigid wire more readily and aggressively promoting flight to the dampening backdrop 110 thus increasing the number of balls 140 that are re-deposited into the collection trough 120 and directed back to the ball machine 110 for re-delivery to the hitting zone. The enclosure 160 can also be made entirely of sports netting supported by cables to create a hitting alley on an outdoor/indoor court or, on any indoor or outdoor space where cables can be secured and suspended between two points. The enclosure 160 can also be constructed as an inflatable unit.
 In a preferred embodiment the enclosure 160 is composed of three vertical surfaces. Each surface conforms to the profile of the enclosure 160 and extends from the ceiling or roof gable down to the playing surface and the entire width of the enclosure 160. The netting or walls of the enclosure 160 are fastened to the edges of the collection trough 120 with cable ties or a piece of wood ox composite trim. The trim acts to close the gap between the collection trough 120 and the enclosure 160 walls, eliminating a situation where balls 140 fall over the edges of the collection trough 120 on both sides and the rear of the trough 120.
 As possible embodiment, the collection trough 120 can be made out of PVC or composite material or constructed as an inflatable unit.
 Finally, turning to FIG. 2, the diagram depicts a commercial unit installed on a tennis court. As known to those skilled in the art, practice areas are often constructed against the fencing of a tennis court. These practice areas consist of a rigid material, such as wood, painted with a simulated net line. The objective of the student is to collect a series of balls 140 and strike them against the rigid material above the simulated net line. During the practice the spent balls 140 are scattered across the court and then are later retrieved by the player. This ubiquitous design failed to recognize the long-felt need to collect the balls 140 automatically and provide the player a rhythmic consistent stream of balls 140. This prior art did not allow for the incorporation of a tennis ball machine 110 or a system to collect the balls 140 for distribution to the tennis machine 110.
 In commercial construct of FIG. 2, the low-ball deflection panel 130, the collection trough 120 and the backdrop 100 fold against the court's fence for storage. As a result, the present invention can replace conventional board designs on any tennis court at similarly low cost. This invention is able to collapse providing the same footprint as conventional board systems. The trough 120 is constructed of plastic soft material with a hole that allows the ball 140 to be fed to the tennis ball machine 110. The trough's 120 incline is generally calculated as 1 inch for each 1 foot of trough 120 surface area. The backdrop 100 in this embodiment of the invention is angled away from the court's fence to prevent the fence's interference in the function of the backdrop 100.
 Moreover, those skilled in the art would appreciate that this design could also be incorporated off the traditional tennis court and placed in a separate area. Unlike the traditional board design found on tennis courts, the invention does not require the use of a permanent fence.
 By simply adding a portable tennis ball machine 110, the player is ready for practice in minutes. The practice time then becomes more efficient as the player is fed a continuous series of balls 140 and spends much less time collecting spent balls 140.
 Based on the foregoing, those skilled in the art would appreciate the various embodiments of the invention include a system that assists students and instructors by providing the opportunity to continuously keep the ball in play when it is swung below the net line. The above specifications provide a complete description of the manufacture and use of the composition of the invention. Since many embodiments of the invention can be made without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention, the invention resides in the appended claims.
 From the description above, a number of advantages become evident for the Athletic Training and Practice System:
 Reduces the need to collect practice balls. In sports like baseball and tennis, machines are used to deliver a quantity of balls to the student. After this quantity of balls is spent, the student and instructor collect the balls and return them to the machine. With this present invention, this requirement is greatly reduced.
 Improve safety on the playing field. In typical rebound systems the balls are projected back to the practice area and the student. This process litters the practice area with foot hazards and causes the balls to strike the student. The present invention keeps the balls clear of the practice area and systematically delivers balls to the student for practice.
 Collapsible. This invention is able to collapse providing the same footprint as conventional board systems. This eliminates the unit as a hazard in any required playing situation.
 Smaller assembled footprint. The "Athletic Training and Practice System" uses a smaller footprint than a traditional court and therefore can be placed on surfaces outside of the traditional court. A lower-cost cage can be assembled that frees up the court for matches. The system can also be assembled over various playing surfaces to allow practice on surfaces not available to every practice arena. For instance, a smaller clay practice court can be assembled at a much lower cost with the present invention.
 Removes focus on the net- The net-level deflection panel keeps the balls in play. Training is more effective because the student is not faced with the challenge of placing the ball over the net. Without this impediment, the student can properly focus on the details of developing the correct swinging motion. This "never miss" approach to training reduces distraction, reduces emotional swings, and improves body mechanics.
 Improves muscle memory. The present invention increases the number of practice balls played during a practice session and therefore enhances repetition. Repetition is central to muscle memory and improved technique.
 Allows early introduction of advanced training skills. In tennis, instructors initially teach students the use of striking techniques that purposely reduces the number of net balls. Once the student gains confidence, the instructors must un-train this technique and introduce proper techniques such as "top spin." By eliminating the failure and frustration associated with striking into the net zone, the instructors can introduce "top spin" techniques early in the lessons. This dramatically decreases the training time until a student is considered to have advanced skills.
 Assembled above the playing field. The low-ball deflection panel allows the "Athletic Training and Practice System" to be assembled on the floor of the playing field that eliminates the need to place the collection trough below the surface.
Patent applications in class Practice or training device
Patent applications in all subclasses Practice or training device