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Good Sports CEO Melissa Harper: ‘Can You Turn Your Mission into a Bumper Sticker?’

CEO Melissa Harper
Corporate Competitor Podcast
In this edition of our Corporate Competitor Podcast, Melissa Harper, CEO of Good Sports, shares the single greatest contribution a leader can make to an organization. 

Melissa Harper began defying the odds as a five-foot-one hurdler in track and field in high school, and as someone who says she “never met a sport I didn’t like.” She went on to compete as a Division I field hockey player at the University of Pennsylvania, graduated to corporate America, and was working as a consultant when she discovered her true passion.

That passion was to bring the benefits of sports participation to young people who lacked access to it. She met some like-minded people who not only shared her love for sport but also for making a difference. They co-founded Good Sports, an organization that provides sports equipment to children in high-need communities. To date, Good Sports has supported 10 million kids to play and stay in sports.

Calling themselves “a food bank for sporting goods,” they achieved a clarity of mission that allowed them to get buy-in from major sports brands—think big hitters like Nike, Adidas, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Under Armour and Gatorade—that have contributed tens of millions of dollars in equipment that has found its way out of the warehouses and into the communities.

“I think the clarity of mission helped us a lot. Because people understood what we did. When you explain to someone that you’re giving equipment to an organization so that kids in high poverty communities can play, it’s so simple,” Harper explained. “People weren’t afraid to jump on and support us.”

To Harper, that was the critical success factor in the early days, when she might only get two minutes with someone. “How do you make sure that they understand what you do and why it matters?” she noted. 

If you are a leader who wants to learn how to make a larger impact through your clearly-defined mission, you have much to learn from Harper’s experience building Good Sports into a national brand. Lessons include:

• Creating clarity: The more macro your purpose, the more concisely you have to be able to express it. 

• Improving each day: “The ultimate goal is not about perfection, it’s about progress,” noted Harper. 

• Thinking bigger: In order to make an impact, Good Sports had to become massive, too. 

For anybody who thinks that the world is too big and complex to impact, think again, Harper said. “There are kids who are playing today who weren’t playing yesterday because Good Sports supported them,” she pointed out. “It’s not about perfection, it is about progress.” 

Check out more episodes of Corporate Competitor Podcast with guests including Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders, MasterClass CEO David Rogier, and Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian.


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