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McKinney — Peter Ferrito has found his niche

by Luke Gilliam, Special Contributor
The Dallas Morning News, SportsDay, Collin County, Wednesday 09/29/04, p. 12C.

Clients are mindful of teacher's method:
Sports psychologist wants students to fit in but also stand out

The McKinney resident has brought sports psychology to the high school level. He also works with leadership groups and marching bands. His expanding clientele reaches 12 states and an estimated 3,000 students per year.

"People think sports psychology is visualization all day long," said Ferrito, who began his business in 1995. "I have a gift for creating team chemistry. I use an area where kids have passion to teach them life skills. It's the greatest thing on Earth to watch kids excel."

Ferrito, 48, recently worked with the McKinney North volleyball team and is scheduled to meet with McKinney's volleyball team.

His presentation typically entails a one- or two-day workshop. While the message is tailored to each situation, the content stays the same.

"The challenge is for students to fit in and stand out at the same time," he said. "You try to find each kid's strength for the best use of the team, and get them to let go of their ego. When that happens, there's magic on any team."

Each athlete receives a 30-page manual of leadership principles, behavior standards and performance contracts.

"I am a big believer in making agreements and holding kids accountable," he said.

Ferrito calls himself a "change agent." The burden of following through on his teachings falls on the coaches and players.

"The coach and I have to be on the same page," he said. "I had one coach tell me, 'Go fix them.' It doesn't work that way."

Team members complete questionnaires before Ferrito's session. His workshops consist of lectures, group interaction and problem-solving exercises under time constraints.

On Sept. 18, Ferrito conducted an eight-hour workshop with the McKinney North volleyball team - the first sports team with which he's worked in Texas. Lady Bulldogs coach Mika Tepfer, SportsDay's 2003 coach of the year, said she recommends Ferrito to any coach.

"It was a lot of concepts teenagers don't normally think about," junior Kelly Shelton said. Everything he said goes a lot bigger than the team. It's stuff that can help you with your family and friends."

Ferrito's greatest success story is the boys basketball team at Rufus King High School in his native Milwaukee. In Ferrito's three years working with the team, King won two state championships. The game ball from the first title is in Ferrito's office.

"He did some wonders with our kids," King coach Jim Gosz said. "Here's this middle-aged white guy working with inner-city kids, and he made them trust each other."

Ferrito didn't play sports in high school, but he is an avid Green Bay Packers fan. He doesn't have children, but he said his passion for young people stems from helping raise four brothers after his mother died when he was 14.

Ferrito moved to Texas from Wisconsin last year to get married. He met his future wife while conducting a workshop for the Tom Bean band.

"I'm always in awe of him," said his wife, Karen, who was the school's band director. "I've never seen anything as long-lasting as what he does. I've heard great motivational rah-rah speakers, but they don't leave you with any tools. Peter establishes a program and understanding that evolves over time."

Ferrito has a master's degree from Adler School of Professional Psychology. He is a certified sports counselor and member of the National Institute of Sports. He gained unique experience as a live-in counselor at a boys' home in Milwaukee, where he worked with inner-city youth entering or leaving prison.

In 1996, a car accident left Ferrito in a coma for 10 days. It took 13 months of rehabilitation before he learned to walk again without a cane. He said that gave him a sense of urgency.

"I had a renewed focus to reach as many people as possible, because you never know when your time is up," Ferrito said.

Ferrito said he hopes to reduce the 125 days a year he travels by writing books and starting a nonprofit organization to work with children. His dream job is to be the United States Secretary of Education.

"But right now, I'm loving what I do," he said.

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