The 5 Stages of Seat Racing

The 5 Stages of Seat Racing

In some ways seat racing is more stressful than actual racing. The build-up, the pressure, and knowing that to do well you have to beat your crewmates. Whilst there are obvious benefits, it’s important to recognise the disappointment that can come from seat racing, and how to translate these experiences into something valuable for the upcoming regatta season.

Clearly, seat racing is done to produce the fastest crew...

Clearly, seat racing is done to produce the fastest crew, which is a definite positive. It gives both the athletes and the coach the piece of mind that they are giving themselves the best chance going into a race, whether it be the British Junior Rowing Championships or a local regatta. However, at the same time the stress of competing just to be able to race has the potential to overshadow the enjoyment. Whilst this isn’t the aim, it is an almost inevitable side effect, and can really damage individual’s self-esteem if they are faced with consistent barriers.

In the same way, seat racing in its nature encourages competition, which could develop into conflict between teammates, which whilst obviously not the being coach’s goal, should be considered when conducting the selection process. That said, a healthy struggle between teammates is certainly valuable to a squad- a close rivalry is often very motivating, especially at this time of year when there’s not as much external racing.

Seat racing different crews gives a much more representative picture than erg scores...

Whilst some may see it as a waste of training time, the comparative benefits of seat racing are much greater. Also, it is largely unnecessary to run them very frequently as there will be little variation between crews. Further, seat racing different crews gives a much more representative picture than erg scores. Coaches and athletes can see the combination of technique, teamwork and power actively contributing to boat speed, which is not only motivating in terms of seeing the successes of different training focusses, but also gives an idea of what the squad needs to work on as a whole, as well as individually.

The biggest drawbalk to seat racing, both from a coaching and individual perspective, is the fact that inevitably some of the crew is going to be disappointed. There is a number of stages to go through to get over it and come out of the other side in a better position as an athlete all round.

  1. The first is to accept that, at the end of the day, it is gutting not to get in. Beyond that, the process of working through rejection can be very valuable, not least as a collective bonding experience with everyone else who also didn’t quite make it.
  2. Stage two is using it as a chance for self-reflection without the pressures of an actual race. Obviously you don’t have to wait to be rejected to consider what you could improve on, but it helps to distance yourself from the disappointment by focussing on what you can change in the future. In breaking down technique, strength, and fitness, the main elements of a successful rower are isolated into comprehensible chunks, making the process of improvement much less daunting.
  3. The third stage is recognising it can be used as motivation to make these changes, after your assessment of the various components. This in turn can be a great opportunity to build a stronger relationship with your coach as you can work together to realise these improvements, to go faster. During this stage, it is important to make goals realistic, and not spiral into a desperate, split-chasing frenzy-  which may not be easy to avoid, but is definitely worth it if you can.
  4. Contextualising the issue is in fourth- if you don’t make one crew it is not the end of the world. Remembering the number of races on the calendar certainly helps with this, especially if you are stronger during head or regatta season, as there are so many opportunities to race throughout the year.
  5. The final, most important, stage is trying not to compare yourself to your teammates. Not only can this be demoralising, but there is nothing you can change about them, so you might as well focus your efforts on improving compared to your personal performance- like stage 3, this is very hard to completely escape. However, the more you are aware of the tendency to analyse yourself against your crew, hopefully the more prepared you are to avoid dwelling on it.

Heading towards regatta season, the likelihood of seat racing appearing on training plans is only going to increase. This isn’t a bad thing. As we’ve discussed there are certainly many, sometimes indirect, benefits to the process. One thing to focus on going into the summer is tailoring your training. In terms of self-reflection and improvement, what is going to make the difference in this season is shorter, more intensive training efforts. The endurance training of the winter months is going to be less useful than the cardio benefits of more concentrated pieces, which is something to consider when working towards a more successful (seat) race.

Finally, from an athlete’s perspective, one of the most irritating things about seat racing, especially now the transition to regatta season is upon us, is doing one race at the start of the year and using those crews through to the next August. For most of these techniques to be in any way effective, they require consistent (but not super frequent) reassessments of ability. Whilst this is likely not on purpose from the coaching side, its fairly crucial for any level of motivation to be maintained throughout the rest of the squad that seat racing is often enough to allow for fluidity within the top crews, so don’t just take the fastest eight from September and go with it!

words by Junior Rowing News
photo by Ed Evans

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