The major part of domestic American rowing is in the universities – locally called ‘schools’. The standard varies from world-class (6 to 7 schools) to very, very bad. Most of the schools start on-the-water training at the beginning of March, sometimes even the middle of the month, and will have a competition period commencing in April and culminating in May or June. Since the larger programs about 18 to 30 athletes trying to make the first boat (the Varsity Eight), there is a need for a fast, simple and objective selection procedure. Seat racing is, therefore, commonly used.
Since there are only 2 to 4 clubs that have some type of systematic, annual training program, most clubs will rely the on the influx of student athletes at the end of the college season for rowers to participate in the National Championships. As the Nationals are usually in June, the clubs must select quickly to choose crews, hence seat racing. It may be noted that early selection allows the “cut athletes” to leave the program and seek summer employment.
The high school rowing programs are generally much smaller than the university programs. In most cases, the schools are organized to allow students the opportunity of participating in a different sport during each semester (fall, winter and spring). Rowing is often considered a spring sport. Since there are sometimes only 2 to 3 weeks of training before the first race, there is again a need for fast, yet effective, selection: frequently this is seat racing.
Finally, the National Teams are generally formed using candidates from the clubs and universities who are often all together for the first occasion at the end of June. Since there is no real club racing season and information may be lacking about many of the candidates (for example, information on their ability to race either in boats other than an eight or in different combinations), seat racing is a valuable and efficient tool.
Read Duncan Holland’s Rowperfect Seminar slides on Seat Racing – he explains how to run a selection using this technique and what to look for in order to ensure accurate selections for your crews.