A Bell Cow Coach provides us a model from whom we can learn deeply and meaningfully about coaching. The term “bell cow” is not just a catchy reference to Wisconsin’s proud dairy heritage, but a useful metaphor for leadership.
Tradition has it that farmers have been known place a large bell around the neck of the “lead cow” in a herd. Knowing that the other cows tend to congregate around the lead cow, the herd can easily be found by the farmer, even in the biggest of fields or roughest of terrains. The farmer listens for the clang of the bell and knows that by finding the bell cow, they’ll find the whole herd.
What’s interesting to note about bell cows is that the other cows naturally follow them. They watch, learn from, and follow the bell cows. Bell cows pace the herd and model the way to go. In a similar fashion, we can each benefit from “bell cows” in our own lives. We can observe, listen to, learn from, and, in some cases, emulate leaders we admire. Bell cow coaches.
The Wisconsin Coaching Project is identifying and honoring several Bell Cows throughout the 2021-22 academic year. These leaders change lives. They grow the good around them.
Our most recent Bell Cow Award was presented to Lora Staveness, the head girls basketball coach at Madison Edgewood High School since 1993. "Stav," as she's known throughout the school and basketball community, is a winner. She develops players through countless hours of personal and team attention. Her teams get better as each season goes on. She's won hundreds of games more than she's lost and even led Edgewood to a state championship in 2017.
For her efforts, Stav has won countless accolades -- including state and national coach of the year awards. She was recently elected to the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
We honored Stav with the Bell Cow Award for all of this player development and winning. But even more, we recognized her for the longitudinal relationships she forges with her players. Stav gets to know the girls in her youth program. She spends hours coaching them, getting to know their names and games well before they arrive to 9th grade.
During their high school years, she's steadily by their sides, ready to lend support. She opens the gym at all hours. She offers formative feedback. She's honest -- even blunt. But even when critiqued, Stav's players love her because they know she cares about them.
And after graduation, Stav remains "coach." She wants the best for her former players, remaining connected to them through life's ups and downs. One of Stav's former players -- five years removed from her Edgewood career -- offered a beautiful testimony, describing how Stav was one of the driving forces in her sport and life trajectory.
"I attribute my ability to remain determined throughout my high school career to Coach Stav. Countless early mornings, I asked Stav to come in to open the gym for me. She was never late. And even while I was home in college, she found a way to open the gym or weight room. Without this access, my determination to become a college basketball player would not have been achievable."
Coach Stav is with her players over the long haul. She's a model for how aspiring coaches can "grow the good" in and beyond sport. Congratulations, Coach!