Getting To Know Volleyball Head Coach Laura Farina: Team Philosophy
April 29, 2003
Laura Farina has gone through four years as a head coach for a Division I women’s volleyball program, and during this time she has continued to develop a philosophy which began to form during her career as both a player and an assistant coach. In anticipation of the upcoming season, her second at the helm of the Auburn program, Farina spent time talking about the coaching philosophy she and her staff employ with the Tigers.
Great Teams are Made During Practice
Farina believes that “volleyball teams win as a result of what they do in practice,” so she puts much time and effort into the planning of practice time. With a regulated amount of practice time allowed for a volleyball program, Farina and her assistants have to make sure they make the most out of their practice sessions. Farina explains that for this team to improve, they need to work on both offense and defense all the time.
“We spend a lot of time on ball control,” Farina said, “but we also work on all of the other components. Ball control allows your offense to be more creative. It allows your hitters to attack the gaps in your opponents defense, but if you don’t have defense, then the ball is going to come over to your side and you’re not going to be able to have the opportunity to play it back over.
“All of our practices start with all skills being touched upon everyday. Sometimes we spend more time on one particular area over another, depending on what we have coming up for that night or if we have a group that needs to work on something – the outside hitters might need to work on pass and attack and the middle blockers might need to work on making a block move and coming off the net to attack.
“We are always thinking about ways to get points in rally scoring games,” she continued. “Offense and defense are incorporated into a lot of the drills together.” The amount of teaching in the gym at AU is great, and with so much responsibility, Farina has two very capable assistants in Matt Darling and Steve Aird, both of whom play major roles during practices.
“Everyone is involved in practice in every drill – from tossing balls to attacking balls to playing at times,” Farina said. “Matt’s largest role on the court is overseeing our serving. How are we doing in developing the serves of our players. He also really knows how to break down our passing underhand skills – what to be thinking about when you are receiving a ball, what to do in a free-ball situation and what to do with your body to get it in the right position. Steve helps runs a ton of drills and, at times, he enters drills when necessary.
“Overall, I think we have all added a lot to the coaching staff; and depending on the day and what we want to create for an environment and what we want to have happen in the gym, one coach may step forward at different times of practice to get something accomplished.”
Building Greatness Through Skill
Farina has trained great players at all positions, and she enjoys bringing together a team of players who have used practice time to sharpen their individual skills. Even though she herself was an All-American middle blocker at Illinois during her collegiate playing days, Farina says that she enjoys teaching the game to all positions. Farina can point to a list of all-conference and all-American middle and outside hitters she has coached over the years. Add to her expertise the experience of assistant coach Aird, of whom Farina says, “Steve was a great player and I have really relied on him for attacking, especially from the outside and right side. Those are positions he played at Penn State, and he has coached these positions a lot as well.”
The setting position is a key part of every team, and Auburn setters are given great responsibility by Farina. Having worked with one of the best setter coaches in the country, Farina herself has become expert at fine-tuning the skills and techniques of the position. But making great sets is only a part of the setter’s responsibilities. As a coach, Farina can instill a lot of leadership from the sidelines, but a team will always need an on-court floor leader to rely on. For Farina, the expectation is that the setter will be that commander. “Ideally we would like the setter to be the leader,” Farina said. “She runs the offense and she has more responsibility than anyone else.”
During the past season, the libero rule was introduced to collegiate volleyball, which Farina sees as another leadership role. “The other position that can make a great impact on that leadership role is the libero position,” Farina said. “The libero only plays the back row, is not allowed to attack, and their whole duty is to keep the ball off the floor in the back row. This defensive player can be on the court for all six rotations. That has a pretty powerful impact on the team if the emotion is solid and the effort is consistent.”
Success Through Teamwork
Strengthening fundamental skills, training individual players, identifying and mentoring the team’s leaders—all these are points of emphasis for Farina and her staff, and they culminate when the team takes the floor as a single unit. Then the focus shifts to offense, defense, and all the ways to make the team perform well together.
“We are challenged each year to find the offense that is best for us, especially as we are building the program,” Farina said. “Looking at the ability of our attackers and our passing will determine how creative our offense can be and how simple it needs to be. We can win with a simple offense if we have very good passing and good hitters on the outside and in the middle, but again you have to look at your personnel and make sure you do what gives the team the best chance to win.”
During the game, each member of the staff also plays an integral role in the success of the team, and the distribution of responsibility increases the team’s ability to succeed.
“I am watching the overall offense and the distribution of the offense – how many points are we scoring in a row in certain rotations and how many points are scored against us in a certain rotation or the opponents rotation – where do we have strengths and weaknesses – basically the general flow of the game,” Farina said.
“Steve is looking at the outside hitters and blocking and changing up the blocking to alter what part of the court we need to take away on our side and what part of the court we need to attack on their side. Matt calls the serves and also keeps me aware of how many timeouts we have left. In the huddle, we work on ways to make everyone better in that short 60-second span.”
Whether it is the 60 seconds during a time out, the three hours of practice on a given day, or the two weeks of pre-season, Farina uses her time making the team better. “As coaches, our goal is always to coach every player up, meaning that we give every player the chance to be their best for that day. The players have to be a willing partner in their own improvement, but we do everything we can make the gym a place with a great learning environment. We want every player to be successful.”