Carroll County Times

Bird at Play: Playoffs trump all

There are many stories about teams that have had tremendously successful regular seasons and carried their domination into the playoffs.
The 1972 Miami Dolphins had an undefeated regular season and playoffs, the only team to do so in modern NFL history. The 1984 Detroit Tigers won a franchise record 104 games and beat the Padres in the World Series 4 games to 1 to be only the third team in MLB history to win the title, leading the league wire-to-wire.
The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls were the first team to win 70 games in a regular season with a .878 winning percentage and their fourth NBA title.
Not every championship team has the pedigree of these teams nor is every team that has a great regular season guaranteed a successful playoff run. In fact often a solid regular season can be a curse in the playoffs. It tends to be the teams that are playing the best at the end of the regular season that carry that success into the championship rounds.
In hockey, the teams that have the best regular season records have played an average of 1.6 playoff series while the Montreal Canadiens have taken a sub .500 record into the playoffs and won the Stanley Cup four times. The 2011-12 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers basketball team had an 11-18 regular season record before winning the conference title and the automatic bid to March Madness where they upset Mississippi Valley State before losing to eventual champion Kentucky.
The 1973 New York Mets had the lowest winning percentage of any team that won a league pennant, carrying their postseason success deep into October before falling to the Oakland A's in the World Series.
Doing well in the regular season is important as teams are rewarded with league or county championship hardware for their efforts. Many of the postseason individual honors come from the players' regular season performances which can open doors for young athletes to play at the next level. I know that I was recruited to play in college because I had been named to the all-county team.
But success in the playoffs is the important thing that as a player you'll remember the most and as a team for which you will be remembered. How many teams can you think of that had great regular seasons only to get knocked out in the playoffs?
Remember the 2007 New England Patriots, the first team to go 16-0 in the regular season, carried their success with an 18-0 overall record into Super Bowl XLII and lost to the New York Giants to finish 18-1?
When your team enters the playoffs, it's important for them to understand they begin a new season. Regardless of your team's success or lack thereof during the regular season, what matters is their success in the playoffs. A poor postseason performance can diminish your regular season accomplishments as can a good postseason make you forget your regular season woes.
Keep your players focused on the task at hand, not on the success or failures of the past. As basketball great Isiah Thomas said, "Our goal is to win a championship. That is our only goal."
A championship is something your athletes will never forget.