7 Top Tips to Prepare for Single Sculling Starts!


Head of the Schoolgirls logo by Rowing Victoria. Image via Wikipedia

A Guest post by Jacqueline Pigdon rowing and life coach.

Racing starts in a single scull can at first be rather daunting if not downright scary! There you are trying to execute your fastest start from the stationary position, sitting at the catch, balancing in position with blades square and buried, adrenalin pumping, ready to take that first stroke.

Rowing an incorrect first stroke from a stationary position can move you sideways, keep you from going anywhere fast or even leave you flipping out of your boat!
So how do we ensure we give ourselves the best possible start to our race?

  1. There are various types of racing starts to use in your race plan and the main differences are how far forwards on the slide you progress before taking the next stroke. For example a popular start format is; stroke 1 rowed from ¾ slide, stroke 2 rowed from ½ slide, stroke 3 rowed from ¾ slide and stroke 4 is a full slide stroke. I have rowed a variety of start formats and my all time favourite in a single scull is ½, ½, ¾, full. The most important factors in your starts are that you squeeze and leverage the strokes, make very fast clean short sharp strokes to then build upon and establish a good rhythm.
  2. Practice Practice Practice! Don’t be afraid of starts and therefore put off practicing them. Practice early, well before your race date and practice at each chance you get. You can even practice a start at a slow pace each time you do a piece at training. I teach my rowers to practice x1 stroke then stop and repeat over and over until they master the first stroke. Then x2 strokes, then x3 strokes and then x5 strokes. Followed by a start and a hard and fast 10-20 race pace strokes. By practicing starts in training pieces you also have the chance to practice in different weather conditions.
  3. When making your way to the start of your race be there early/in plenty of time (but not too early otherwise you risk sitting stationary for too long after your warm up or may get into trouble with the marshals). It’s best that you are not in a rush or stressed before you even start your race.
  4. Get yourself very familiar with the course and how your start will run. Watch other starts if possible beforehand to see what they can be like for rowers. Note some start marshals are very calm and clear others can become grumpy so ensure you keep calm and listen carefully when you are being instructed to do something.
  5. When in your starting position, ensure you are straight in your lane. If there is a side wind you may want to point your boat into the wind slightly because by the time you hear the start command the wind can push you around straight. You will know if you should do this if it’s happening as you are getting yourself ready in the starting position. I.e. if you have to keep touching it on one side to keep straight in your lane.
  6. When straight and ready, square and bury your blades and get into position for your first stroke. Sit up, take a breath and listen to the start command and FOCUS! Now this is my favourite and all important tip. The better you can focus in your own boat the better the chance you give yourself of your best start. It’s a real craft to be able to block out everyone else around you and zone into what you are doing.
  7. Upon commencing your start keep your eyes in your boat (unless you are going off course) what I mean by this is don’t worry about the racing position you are in until you have settled into the race.

Racing starts can be your biggest asset when you can effectively and efficiently get your boat moving from stationery to fast! Or it can be your biggest weakness if executed poorly you can give your competitors a length ahead and spend the rest of the race trying to catch up. So follow the above tips and you will be well on your way to a flying start in your single scull!

Jacqueline Pigdon
Rowing Coach, Jina Life

Jacqueline began rowing at The Geelong College at 14 years old and has rowed in pairs, fours, eights, single, double and quad sculling. Jacqueline’s rowing career includes; Head of the Schoolgirls Champion, Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmanian State Titles, Cambridge United Kingdom Indoor Rowing Champion, Dual Australian Rowing Champion and competing in the Sydney 2000 Olympic Australian Selection Trials.


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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Janet

    Sound advice and very clearly put- thank you Jacqueline (I hadn’t realised your c.v. was so impressive!)

  2. Felicity

    Very useful advice on type of strokes for starts. Will practice that. Good reminder on what to focus on starting a race. Very often we take for granted. Thanks!

  3. Jacqueline Pigdon

    Thanks Janet & Felicity for your positive comments to my article on racing starts!

    Good luck with practicing them yourselves when you are out on the river training.

    Remember the more you practice the better and easier they will become – a great rowing asset to have!


  4. Tom Swallow

    I like the idea of, whilst buried and waiting for the off, pointing off-line to compensate for the effect of a cross wind .

    1. Rebecca Caroe

      Tom, it’s a great idea and takes some “guesswork” because you have to plan for how much the wind will push you across and how quickly the starter will say ‘go’. And so adds a lot to the skill of the coxswain getting the best possible alignment for his crew.

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