Rowing Selection: How To Win Your Seat Race

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Introduction to Seat Racing

Seat racing is a vital selection tool in rowing used to determine the optimal lineup of a crew for competitive races. It involves systematic comparisons between rowers by swapping them in and out of different boats across several race pieces. This method allows coaches to assess individual contributions to the overall boat speed, making it an invaluable process in team selections.

Purpose and Benefits of Seat Racing

The primary purpose of seat racing is to evaluate how changes in crew composition affect the speed of the boat. By observing the impact of substituting one rower for another, coaches can identify which athletes harmonize best in terms of power, rhythm, and technical efficiency. This process not only helps in forming the most competitive crew but also in understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each rower.

Logistics of Seat Racing

Logistically, seat racing requires meticulous planning and execution:

  1. Selection of Courses: A straight, calm stretch of water is ideal to ensure fair conditions for all participants.

  2. Boat Configuration: Boats used in seat racing must be the same type and ideally have similar weights and rigging setups to eliminate equipment differences as a variable.

  3. Timing and Measurement: Accurate timing devices are crucial, as the differences in boat speeds can be minimal. The time differences between crews recorded during the races measure each swap’s impact.

  4. Observer and Data Collection: Coaches or designated observers follow the races closely to collect data and provide switching athletes instructions.
In the examples that follow, I approach seat racing with a side by side approach in order to help me visualize the mechanics of a seat race. However, I would like to note that ideally seat races should be done in a processional style (head style) where one crew follows another with an interval of time in between, and all seat racing done in the same direction on the river or body of water. A good reason for this approach is to never underestimate the psychological impact on any rower that may be behind in a side by side situation (or any situation for that matter).

Strategies for Rowers in Seat Racing

To excel in seat racing, here is my advice for an successful approach to winning sweat races.

Adopt a Team-Centric Approach: Remember that while individual performance is crucial, the ability to enhance overall crew performance is what wins a seat race. Think of it as if you’re not only racing for your seat but also helping your teammates row well to enhance the overall performance of the crew.

Understand and Adapt to Crew Dynamics: Successful seat racers are those who quickly adapt to the nuances of the new crew setup with each swap. Pay attention to how your crewmates row and adjust your style to enhance the boat’s overall force application, rhythm, balance, and speed.

Technical Mastery: Focus on perfecting your stroke length, timing, and balance. Your ability to blend seamlessly into the crew’s dynamics can make a significant difference in the boat’s performance.

Mental Resilience and Focus: Seat racing can be mentally and physically demanding. Maintain focus on your performance and on making tangible contributions to the boat’s speed, regardless of the internal competition.

Seat racing is not just about finding the fastest rower; it’s about identifying the right combinations that produce the fastest boat. For rowers, the goal should be to demonstrate not only individual prowess but also the ability to enhance crew cohesion and performance. By focusing on how you can contribute to making everyone in the boat faster, you position yourself as a valuable team player, capable of lifting the overall boat speed. This approach is what ultimately leads to successful outcomes in seat racing.

A Practical Example Of Seat Racing

To illustrate the logistics of seat racing with a practical example, let’s consider a scenario involving two crews—Crew A and Crew B. Here’s how the process unfolds:

  1. Initial Setup: Both Crew A and Crew B line up at the starting point on a designated straight course, ideally in similar boats to ensure fairness. The weather and water conditions are checked and noted to ensure they remain consistent throughout the session, or adjustments are made to account for any changes.
rowing seat racing a practical example

2. First Race Piece: The timer starts, and both crews row a five-minute piece at race intensity. The objective is not only to row as fast as possible but also to maintain technique and crew cohesion. Sometimes coaches can set the rate that each piece should be rowed at (typically between 28 and 32 strokes per minute). At the end of the piece, the time difference (margin) between Crew A and Crew B is recorded. For instance, let’s say Crew A finishes eight seconds ahead of Crew B.

3. Athlete Swap: To evaluate individual performance contributions, two rowers from opposing crews are swapped. For example, a stroke seat rower from Crew A switches places with a stroke seat rower from Crew B. This swap is strategic, aiming to test specific positions and their impact on the boat speed.

4. Second Race Piece: With the swapped athletes in their new boats, both crews again row the same five-minute piece under the same course conditions. Careful attention is paid to ensure that the intensity and effort remain consistent with the first race.

5. Result Analysis: After the second piece, the new time difference between the two crews is again recorded. Suppose this time Crew A, now with one rower from Crew B, finishes only three seconds ahead of Crew B. This smaller margin indicates the impact of the swapped rowers on their respective boats.

how to win your seat race explained 2 rowing (2)
  1. Evaluation: Coaches analyze the results to determine how the performance of each boat was affected by the swap. In this example, if Crew A’s lead decreased after the swap, it suggests that the rower from Crew B positively contributed to Crew A’s performance relative to the swapped rower from Crew A to Crew B. In this case, the result would be a 5 second win for the rower represented by the blue circle in the graphics above.

This structured and repeated process of racing and swapping not only allows coaches to assess individual contributions but also helps identify optimal crew combinations and synergies. Each piece provides valuable data on how changes in crew configuration can affect overall boat speed, crucial for making informed decisions about crew lineups for competitive races.

This approach underscores that it’s the relative changes in time margins that are crucial, not just which boat crosses the finish line first. Thus, consistently being in the boat that narrows the gap or wins outright can be a strong indicator of a rower’s ability to enhance overall crew performance.

The Importance of Consistent Training in Preparation for Seat Racing

Consistent training is crucial for rowers preparing for seat racing. Because athletes often do not know when they will be swapped during a seat racing session, every practice becomes an essential part of their preparation. It is during these regular training sessions that rowers can develop and refine the skills that will be tested during seat races. For instance, when tackling medium-length intervals such as 4 x 5 minutes or 4 x 1000m, the objective should be to maintain a consistent level of performance across all pieces. This consistency not only helps in building endurance and strength but also prepares athletes to deliver stable and reliable performances under varied and unpredictable seat racing conditions.

Approaching everyday training with the same seriousness as expected on race day instills a discipline that is fundamental to seat racing success. This discipline ensures that each rower is always ready to be tested, capable of adapting quickly to new crew configurations, and skilled in maintaining their technique and output regardless of changes in the boat. Therefore, consistent training is not merely about physical preparation; it’s also about cultivating a mental edge, necessary for dealing with the pressures and demands of competitive seat racing. By embracing consistency in training, rowers can significantly enhance their readiness and confidence, making them formidable competitors during the seat selection process.

Guarding Against Complacency in Seat Racing

In the context of seat racing, guarding against complacency is paramount for athletes aiming to secure their position within the crew. Coaches often employ multiple swaps during seat racing sessions to verify performance results, making every piece critical. This approach ensures that initial performances are not flukes and that the athletes can consistently contribute positively under different circumstances. Therefore, it’s essential for rowers to maintain a high level of effort and focus in every piece, treating each as an opportunity to solidify their case for selection.

Athletes must recognize that not approaching each piece with optimal effort can lead to a decrease in performance, potentially altering the outcome of the seat races. Each training piece is a chance to demonstrate not only physical capability but also mental toughness and resilience. Approaching every piece with the highest quality ensures that rowers remain competitive, sharp, and prepared for any changes or challenges that come their way during these sessions. By consistently pushing their limits and striving for excellence, rowers can avoid complacency, thereby maximizing their potential to influence the boat’s performance positively and secure their desired seat.

The bottom line is that if you are switched once, you may be required to switch again for another trial. Row your hardest each piece with consistency in mind.

​​Ensuring Integrity in Training During the Seat Racing Season

Maintaining the integrity of all training pieces throughout the seat racing season is crucial for both the fairness and effectiveness of the selection process. Integrity in this context means that each rowing session is conducted under consistent and controlled conditions, ensuring that all athletes have equal opportunities to showcase their capabilities. This involves careful monitoring of external variables such as equipment quality, weather conditions, and water currents, which can all influence performance outcomes.

Furthermore, the integrity of training pieces also relies on the honesty and commitment of the athletes themselves. Each rower must approach every training session with a commitment to genuine effort and sportsmanship, resisting any temptations to game the system or take shortcuts. Coaches play a vital role here, fostering a culture of integrity by setting clear expectations and holding athletes accountable for their performance and conduct. By upholding these standards, coaches and athletes together ensure that the results of seat racing are a true reflection of each rower’s ability and fit within the crew, leading to the strongest and most cohesive team selections for competitive racing.

Drawing Parallels

Drawing a parallel between the Harkness method and contributing to a rowing crew illuminates the profound importance of a team-centered approach in both educational and athletic contexts. The Harkness method, used primarily in academic settings, emphasizes collaborative learning through dialogue around a table, where each student not only contributes their insights but also actively facilitates the involvement of their peers. This method values the power of collective intelligence, where the goal is to enhance the overall understanding and performance of the group through shared contributions and active engagement.

Similarly, in rowing, while individual prowess is crucial, a rower’s ability to harmonize with and elevate the performance of the crew is equally valued. Just as students around a Harkness table must engage with and draw out the best in their classmates, rowers must tune into the dynamics of their crew, adapting their rowing style and efforts to optimize the boat’s rhythm, balance, and speed. This involves more than just rowing well; it requires understanding and responding to the strengths and weaknesses of fellow crew members, providing support, motivation, and sometimes leadership, much like fostering a productive discussion in a Harkness classroom.

In both cases, the success of the team—whether it’s achieving a deeper understanding of a subject or crossing the finish line faster—depends not only on the contributions of individual members but also on their ability to inspire and enhance the contributions of others. This synergistic interaction elevates the group’s overall performance beyond what any individual could achieve alone, highlighting the importance of a collective approach in achieving superior outcomes.


My hope is that you have found this discussion of seat racing both informative and helpful. Whether you are a coach, athlete, or a parent of a rower trying to work out what seating racing is when your child comes home from training one day.

If I can be of assistance in a coaching capacity, please contact me for a free consult. I have programs that cater to athletes as well as coaches who are looking to improve their performance.


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