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Throwing Challenge

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#1 scottiebie



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Posted 15 February 2017 - 10:32 AM

I've been teaching beginning throwing for many years and recently had the challenge of trying to teach some obese students.  There is the physical challenge of consistently sit close enough to the wheel and position their arms and hands to center clay and throw.  Because of this challenge, they get frustrated and I get frustrated and they drop the class.  Does anyone have any suggestions in teaching an obese person?  Maybe teach them on a stand up potter's wheel?

#2 Pres


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Posted 15 February 2017 - 12:23 PM

Standing wheel is an option, or having them brace in to the thigh half way down the leg. 





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#3 MatthewV



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Posted 15 February 2017 - 02:46 PM

Different people sit differently. Many ways work. Sitting close helps but still isn't a requirement. I know if you single out someone for a physical characteristic the discouragement will happen very quickly -- because they won't feel welcomed.

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#4 LeeU


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Posted 15 February 2017 - 03:46 PM

I am obese and have found that getting as close as is taught is indeed a problem. Same embarrassing issue as with some restaurant booths :(


For throwing I just get as close as is comfortable and put a bit more effort into keeping my body firm, but not tense--takes a bit of practice but isn't such a big deal. I excercise with hand weights to keep up my forearm strength and that helps. One thing to guard against is to not get in the habit of hunching over-not good for the spine. I use a mesh lumbar brace on my chair (not a stool) and that helps extend my reach. I brace on my thighs a tad closer to my knees and less toward the hips.

Lee Ustinich






#5 glazenerd


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Posted 15 February 2017 - 06:49 PM



I have no recommendations for you: but heaps of praise and admiration for being inclusive. Tough enough growing up, and trying to fit in. Thank you for carving a notch in your program where people can fit.



#6 What?


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Posted 16 February 2017 - 08:34 AM

I would say if they are teens throwing standing is the best way to go. The issue is the height will vary from student to student so you should adjust accordingly. I threw a couple weeks ago in the college studio on a raised wheel that was 3 or 4 inches shorter than my home studio wheel and wow my back was burning after just 15 minutes. An adjustable stool or some bricks under the feet so the student is not bent over so much might help. I am a big guy by the way.

#7 Min


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Posted 16 February 2017 - 12:39 PM

Only thing I could think of is using a wheel with a 12" wheel head rather than a larger one. Maybe removing the splash pan and rigging up a large carwash sponge to catch the water/slip.  Or even just using the back half of a 2 piece splash pan would help. If you do go for throwing while standing I had a friend who used an ATV lift to raise the wheel, you would be able to change the height of the wheel fairly quickly with the wheel on one of those. 

#8 JBaymore



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Posted 16 February 2017 - 12:50 PM

Bringing in some of my formal sports teaching training here (former Educational Staff member for PSIA)........


So... aesthetics completely aside... throwing is a physical activity that involves a human body interacting with the world around it.  Coming into play are biomechanics and physics.  The more you understand these aspects... the more effective your coaching can be.


As a coach, you look at the desired outcome you are trying to attain, assess the current performance, and take your assessment of how the (athlete) potter is currently using their body and tools to offer combinations of descriptive and prescriptive feedback.  You check for understanding, and then watch them perform again.  Assess and repeat.


An important point is that there is no such thing as "one size fits all" in this stuff.  "Obese" is certainly a formal medical designation, but that designation covers a LOT of ground between the "O" and the "e".  I know "obese" people who have shorter legs relative to the human biological norm,... and some with longer legs relative to the norm.  Some with shorter arm length, and some with longer arm length.  Some with body mass concentrated in the lower half of the body, some with is evenly distributed.  Some with mass concentrated in the front of the belly area, and some with it in the hips.  You can go on and on.


Not much different in this regard from the general non-obese designated population.


Each person is an individual.  The job of the coach is to figure out, based on their understanding of the use of the human body, understanding of the physics of the intended activity, and the understanding of teaching and learning styles, how to approach THAT particular person.   How you approach those individuals will vary.  There should not be "one" answer.


Personally, as I watch stuff on youtube and other such places that people demonstrate throwing, I quite often see a lot of throwing activities taught in ways that are not really using the body effectively from a biomechanical standpoint.  This not only can impact the most efficient use of the body to get the job done (less work, less frustration), but also can set the stage for stress injuries over time.


Another important point I'd like to make here is to not ASSUME that the "issues" one is seeing is actually related to the designation that you feel the person is "obese".   You need to be SURE that this is the root of the performance questions you are seeing before "going there".  It is easy to "assume" certain things and miss what is really happening.  Maybe "obesity" is not the issue, but a lack of understanding of some other aspect is what is going on.  Lots of interaction and exploring of what that student has taken away so far from instruction is in order to assess the situation well.


In working with disabled athletes (which I have some training in but have not specialized in), from a biomechanical and physics aspect, we look at "what they have left" as far as physical mobility, perceptual awareness, and proprioception (feeling where the body is in space). Then figure out how to get the interaction with the physical world with what you have available to work with.  This is a fascinating field..... and I applaud those that specialize in that work. 


What is potentially directly related here is the idea that IF the issue really is from something like "obesity", one treats it similarly.  "Obesity" has 'taken something away' that a non-obese person has inherently available to them.  What is that?  What other aspects of their body interacting with space can you use to get the same JOB done to affect the outcome?  How do you share that with them and get them to perform as you are thinking?  Remember that it might be a combination of more than one aspect...... like obesity combined with short arm length.  Or obesity combined with weakness from lack of arm use.  Or obesity combined with nerve damage (and sensory deficit) from something like diabetes.  Lots could be going on.


Sometimes it has nothing to do with what you "'assume" is happening.  While not completely isolated, each of us tends to have a dominant learning style.  It is how we most easily process information.  Unless you've had some formal training, or a LOT of teaching experience (trial and error learning), you will tend to TEACH to this learning style.  This works GREAT if your students share that dominant learning style.  But when they don't, you often miss the mark with HOW you are presenting information, not WHAT you are presenting. 





John Baymore
Adjunct Professor of Ceramics; New Hampshire Insitute of Art

Former Guest Professor, Wuxi Institute of Arts and Science, Yixing, China

Former President and Past President; Potters Council



#9 neilestrick


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Posted 16 February 2017 - 05:29 PM

No matter who I'm teaching, their age, body type, etc, I first present my typical methods that work for most people, then adjust them as needed for each person if I see them struggling with those techniques and it's not just because of lack of experience. Every body is different, every muscle is different. Some people are really dominant with one hand, so that has to be dealt with. Some people have short arms, so that has to be dealt with. Some people have little hand strength, some people are obese, some people have no confidence, some people are too aggressive, some people move to slowly or too quickly, etc. There are techniques for dealing with all of it, and sometimes you just have to give the person permission to experiment a bit within the parameters of 'good' techniques to find which one works best for them. I stress all of this to my beginnings students, and try to make them feel as comfortable as possible, which can be difficult when they are struggling while the person sitting next to them is not.


As for obese folks specifically, or anyone with a body type that's outside of 'average', whether they be really tall or really short, I leave my instructions for body positioning a little more open ended, and instead focus on the goal rather than the specific technique. Instead of saying 'rest your elbows on your thighs', I say 'brace your elbows', and give them a few options, like 'thigh, knee, rib, sides, edge of the wheel- anywhere but out in the air'. That gives them permission to accomplish the goal within the limitations of their own body. Instead of 'sit with your stool all the way up to the wheel', I'll say 'sit so you can comfortably reach the clay, while reaching out as little as possible. Keep your elbows as close to your torso as you can'. As you watch them work, suggest techniques that play to their strengths, like coning with their fingers laced, which gives more leverage in the wrists and focuses on the hands rather than the arms, etc.


People know their bodies- they live with them every day. So if you just give them the goal and support them they'll figure out how to get there. 

Neil Estrick
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#10 firenflux


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Posted 19 February 2017 - 07:06 PM

I'm an obese potter and this is interesting to me as I don't see my weight or body shape as a hindrance in throwing. I know my body's limitations and adjust accordingly. In some ways, my larger size is actually helpful as I have a larger surface area in which to brace my arms against, and I can throw some of my body weight into centering instead of relying solely on strength.

I use a couple blocks to prop my left foot up since I have short legs, but I have no problem getting close enough to the wheel. I can't sit for hours and throw since it's too taxing on my body, so I throw a handful of things, then get up and move around to stretch out and work on another task for a bit before I go back and throw more.

I agree with what's been said above, it's about making adjustments that work for each student. I have a 10 year old student who can't straddle the wheel to get close enough. We use extra blocks for her feet and a rolled up towel in her lap so she has more to brace her arms against. Many years ago I taught a teenager with long nails who refused to cut them. We just used sponges in each hand so she could get around that issue.

Have you asked any of these students for the reason they don't stick with it, or is this just your assumption? If you havent, it might be a good idea. Asking for ways you can improve from your current students may also be a good idea to improve your student retention if that is your goal.

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