An Interview with Jenna [Viscuse] Hinton WFR '91, Hall of Fame Inductee
1991 graduate who won five varsity letters in volleyball, basketball, soccer and softball. Two-time All-Conference performer in volleyball and the recipient of the 1991 Tommy Byrne Award, the schools most prestigious athletic honor. Hall of Famer at Barton College where she was the MVP and a three time all conference player. Served as head coach at Wake Forest High School for 7 years.
Since assuming the role as President of the Booster Club this year, I have been blessed to have met great people along the way - coaches, volunteers, parents, and students. With the advent of the Hall of Fame, this thread continues. I was fortunate to have been able to conduct the following interview with Ms. Hinton. While you may read it yourself, there is much more for your student-athlete to gain from her wisdom...
What advice would you give today's athletes in preparing for college?
First and foremost, embrace the concept that you must rely primarily on yourself. If you are not self-reliant you will have a short lifespan in collegiate athletics. Every successful student-athlete that I have observed has been strongly independent. You can’t be less invested in your athletic experience than those that support you. You should be driving every aspect of the process including your individual development, your recruitment, your relationships with your coaches, teachers and peers. At some point you will be the person living with whatever decisions have been made so make sure you are involved and the one making all those important decisions. Learn how to advocate for yourself and don’t deny yourself the satisfaction of setting a goal and knowing that you were able to achieve that goal on your own, there’s no feeling like it!
Second, never make excuses. Mr. Holliman, my middle school basketball coach, made a point to correct me at a young age when I felt the need to always ‘be right’. I cannot thank him enough for eliminating this bad habit and throughout my playing and coaching careers I have made a point to follow this advice. There are many reasons why we fall short, but you can’t move forward if you are constantly looking backward and attempting to assign blame. It is far too easy to fault a coach, teammate, circumstance, or referee. It usually comes down to lack of preparation or the result of matching up poorly against a more talented opponent. You can always reflect on what you or your team could have done collectively to change the outcome. But understand that the time to act was during the game. The opportunity to impact the result has passed, so move on.
Finally, think independently. Always have the confidence to do what you feel is right or just. Remember, true athletic character is most visibly on display during moments of extreme stress or adversity. One of my student-athletes recently described leadership as ‘knowing when to lead and knowing when to step out of the way and follow’. Recognize that just because someone else came up with a solution first, doesn’t automatically mean that the idea lacks value. A strong leader is collaborative and understands that strong communication skills include listening to others. But don’t ignore your own inner voice, listen to what your instincts are telling you. This balance applies both on and off the court.
What technology or training technique exists today that you think has contributed to better athletes or less injuries?
I think the biggest change I have seen in my work with youth volleyball players is an emphasis on improved nutrition, hydration and injury prevention. It is impossible to become an elite level athlete without elite level nutrition and hydration. Eating healthy does not require expensive food, an expert guru, or a fad diet. The same food pyramid that you learned about in elementary school is all you need. If you improve the quality of what you use to fuel your body, the results will be immediate. Next to nutrition and hydration, we now pay close attention to injury prevention. You want your student-athletes to spend more time in the gym and less time on the bench. Our bodies are designed to do incredible things, yet we still must look out for our young athletes. Here are some steps we have taken to protect our student-athletes at Triangle Volleyball Club:
Functional Movement Screening [FMS] – We conduct annual club-wide testing to identify physical strengths and weakness [core strength, flexibility, movement patterns are all scored and evaluated].
Orthopedic Subfloor – Our facility is equipped with a flooring system that is designed to reduce injury and protect our knees and spine. The floor system includes ‘neo-shocks’ which absorb stress upon impact.
Nutrition & Hydration Clinic – Annually, we have had a licensed nutritionist visit our teams each season to cover this important topic. Strength & Conditioning – We incorporate fitness, twice per week, into each practice [13u & up] under the supervision of our licensed Strength Coach who focuses primarily on addressing the areas of weakness identified as part of the overall FMS results.
VERT – Our older student-athletes often use devices that track and limit the number of jumps taken at practice [excessive jumping has the potential to lead to stress fractures]. These also aid in allowing our coaches to track the number of swings an individual has taken during practice and thereby avoid overuse shoulder injuries.
We have an in-house PT that schedules appointments at our own facility to meet with our injured student-athletes. Our PT is able to provide treatment, supervise rehab, and track progress.
How would you encourage a student who doesn't play a sport to find a sport or event they might enjoy?
Do a little research and find out what is available at your school. Find a friend that will go to tryouts with you. Put your confidence on first and work as hard as you can at tryouts and during the season if you are fortunate to make a team. Experienced coaches can always tell when someone is giving great effort and that willingness to work hard goes along way. Even if you are not successful finding a team sport that suits you, you should still explore other options. We are so privileged to live in an area where there are so many different activities for kids.
There are many individual sports you can try on your own [tennis, golf, fencing, dance, swimming]. My nephew recently started an ultimate frisbee club at his high school. Although he did not make the soccer team his freshman year, I am so proud of him for being determined to become part of a team and for making it happen on his own. He and his teammates are now traveling and playing in tournaments on the weekends and the team is gaining popularity quickly. I don’t think my nephew anticipated how fast his idea would take off but because of his initiative he is having the time of his life and is making so many new friends. I also believe he has learned more about himself taking this unconventional path than if he had made the soccer team initially.
Is social media an asset, a liability, or a distraction in today's athletic world?
For someone who has spent her lifetime developing student-athletes in a non-revenue sport, I would say that overall social media is a huge asset. Student-athletes have access to nearly all collegiate volleyball programs simply by following them on social media. It has opened up a flow of information pertinent to our sport that in the past seemed reserved for ‘insiders only’. Potential student-athletes are able to explore [online] nationally not just locally or regionally; this is great also for families who are limited in their ability to visit campuses far and wide. Today, we have the opportunity to watch sports like volleyball that have not traditionally been televised since they can now be viewed online via social media sites.
One of the past limitations of our sport is that young players have not had regular access to high-level ‘live’ volleyball. This resulted in myriad of disadvantages that have been overcome by technology. Youth players can now watch more volleyball online than ever before resulting in higher ‘volleyball IQs’ and we now have better access to [relatable] sport heroes or role models.
What was the most difficult injury you've incurred? How did you overcome it - both physically and emotionally?
Throughout high school and college I was unbelievably fortunate to remain injury free. I attribute this to cross-training at multiple sports and activities from a young age. During my college career, I dealt with minor issues but nothing that prevented me from contributing or playing. However, there was this one time at WFR when a legendary coach did accidentally fracture my leg during soccer practice. Anyone that knows the story also knows how much we [myself, my family, my teammates] all love this coach and that there has never been the slightest bitterness over the circumstances of a freak accident. It has been the source of many jokes. During that period of time where I was unable to participate [the first and only time I went from the starting line up to the bench] I made sure I stayed engaged during every practice and game. There is still real value to be gained by watching, listening and learning. You can’t afford to check out if you have any hope to return and regain your role; you have to work ten times as hard to close the gap. Dealing with injury and facing the reality that opportunities can easily come and can easily go only builds more athletic character in each of us. All lessons are important lessons.
What element of your time at Wake Forest Rolesville did you enjoy the most? Either as a student or as a coach?
Easy question. The thing I enjoyed most at WFR were my relationships with classmates, teammates, teachers, and coaches. Relationships that continue to thrive, even now, 25+ years later. I have such a deep appreciation for the community that existed at our school during my years at WFR. I write these words with the wisdom gained from having had the opportunity to observe countless student-athletes from hundreds of other schools in my role as a club director at Triangle Volleyball Club. What I have come to realize is that I was fortunate to have had a very unique experience that not many other student-athletes can boast. The things that seem to drive other people mad about their high school experience didn’t apply to the group of people I attended school with during my time at WFR. We genuinely enjoyed, supported, tolerated and cared for each other. Our teachers and coaches routinely went above and beyond for each of us. I never felt like they would quit on a student no matter how big the challenge; they always gave us their best effort. Likewise, I never felt like our student-athletes or teams would quit when we were tested; there was always a chance if the Cougars took the court or field. Anyone who was at WFR during my years would tell you that none of this is a cliché.
You can learn more about Ms. Hinton's accomplishments by visiting her Hall of Fame entry at Barton College: http://halloffame.barton.edu/?inductee=jenna-viscuse-hinton or her professional profile as a leader for Triangle Volleyball: https://www.trianglevolleyball.org/staff/leadership