When choosing lineups, the sum of the parts is not always guaranteed to make the fastest boat. Often teams succeed when comprised of people with diverse talents. In rowing, the eight is the ultimate team boat and it can benefit when crewed by athletes with a variety of talents too.
Raw boat moving ability will always take precedence, but it’s also good to think about other qualities when selecting a crew.
Obviously, boats need as much horsepower and skill as possible. Trouble is, these qualities, while not mutually exclusive, rarely exist in equal measure in athletes. Coaches need to ensure their lineups have an appropriate mix of both. Relying too much on physical fitness alone—boating the top eight ergs, for example—rarely produces the best boat speed and can often be catastrophic. Similarly, the eight best single scullers or four top pairs, while technically sound, frequently lack the power needed in the bigger boats. It’s fine and often preferable to choose a lineup using one of these ways in the fall or early season to incentivize the athletes to get fitter or spend more time in small boats. It’s also a transparent way of making lineups. However, if the team has more than eight good athletes it won’t guarantee the best boat speed the team is capable of.
Even when considering horsepower alone, it’s helpful to recognize the various attributes athletes possess. Physiology comes in different packages and there is frequently a world of difference in one person’s erg and another’s, even if the final erg time is exactly the same. The best crews often contain a mix of those with good endurance capable of producing a desirable cruising speed and those who have the power to really drop the hammer and move the boat off the line with a big push, and in the last 250. Too much of one and not enough of the other and the crew will be lacking compared to more multifaceted boats.
Personality matters, too. We all praise leaders, but eight vocal “leaders” is less likely to work than eight followers. Neither, of course, is ideal. A cacophony of opinions has been the downfall of many a crew. Verbally, the coxswain and possibly stroke seat are best positioned to lead and most other seats are best positioned to follow. Those closer to the bow can still lead by example by letting their actions complement others, including the coaches’ words.
Race experience and maturity are desirable. Nothing helps so much in tight, stressful situations than having been in them before and persevered. But youthful enthusiasm helps immensely, too. The excitement of doing something for the first time is infectious and can lift a whole crew.
Obviously, those that make the boat fastest should fill the seats when competitive success is the goal. A broader, more diverse definition of talent may serve the bigger boats best.