Spectating Based Cognitive Therapy

Why We Propose Recovery Through Spectating Based Cognitive Therapy

Kevin Part Seven

By Attorney Gordon Johnson

Spectating Based Cognitive Therapy

Kevin showed excellent memory and analytical skills when talking about sports. This is why we propose spectating based cognitive therapy as a path to recovery for severe traumatic brain injury.

High interest reading is one of the areas being studied in education. Could inner city kids do better in reading if they were reading about topics they loved such as sports? And could the same logic apply to brain injury patients?

We did a Google search on idea five years ago when we wrote this story. Then the results for a search of “brain injury rehabilitation” and “high interest” were sparse. The term “sport cognitive therapy” has not been used in this context. The term “sports psychology” has been used in terms of using sports to help people recover from psychological problems. It has also been used in terms of how to help athletes perform better. I coined the term “spectating based cognitive therapy.” Part of the problem with the current research is the focus on performance. It does not focus on how sports fans think.

We repeated the search of five years ago today. The first result was our story about Kevin. While there weren’t other results dealing with sports, there was an article about something similar at http://www.brainline.org/content/2013/08/in-the-classroom-positive-behavior-supports.html

We went to this link with some hope that they might actually be trying something like what we wrote about five years ago. Here is all they said:

“Good lesson planning can prevent problem behaviors by engaging students in high interest activities that are instructionally appropriate.”

Sports have been criticized for taking too much money in society. Maybe it is my background as the Sports Editor of the Daily Northwestern, but I think that sports brings a lot of joy into the world. It gives people something to focus on when they are bored. It gives them a reason to dream and to care about something.

Sports brings value to Kevin’s life. The more I review the interview, the more sure I become that spectating based cognitive therapy could help other people. While it would likely benefit more men than women, the number of female sports fans is continuing to grow. Furthermore, sports cognitive therapy could be used in another significant TBI population, specifically in soldiers returning home with brain injuries.

Why is sports therapy valuable? Motivation is one of the deepest areas of problems following a brain injury. Frontal lobe damage can lead to significant motivation deficits. It is highly likely that Kevin sustained frontal lobe damage, yet he was motivated when it came to sports. The area of sports can ignite a spark in a person, so that they start to care about the world again.

Furthermore, watching sports can be very stimulating. It requires visual and auditory assimilation of information. That information is very fast, improving processing speed. Most American sports, especially football and basketball, will stimulate analytical skills, especially in conjunction with the sports broadcasters on television.

It also has been studied if sports help with math and computational skills. Football requires spectators to calculate distances. Basketball has a constant changing score, requiring some arithmetic. Watching sports could also help with math in that one may need to learn sports statistics.

I found an excellent article relating to the nature and value of being a sports fan by McDonald, Milne, and Hong, “Motivational Sport Spectator and Participants Markets” in Sport Marketing Quarterly in 2002. The article laid out the behavioral aspects and correlates of being a sports fan: physical fitness, stress reduction, aggression, affiliation, social facilitation, self-esteem, competition, achievement, skill mastery, aesthetics, value development, and self-actualization. The article may be viewed here: http://caledonianblogs.net/sportmarketing/files/2011/02/sports-participant-and-spectator-markets-McDonaldpdf.pdf#sthash.yfZJXZHU.dpuf

While things like aggression may not be a positive for the TBI community, it does show the wide range of areas in which survivors are challenged that spectating reaches. The area of “high interest” does not just pertain to sports. The definition of fan is not limited to sports either. For example, one can be a fan of a celebrity or a musician. Movie buffs or political junkies could show improved cognitive motivation in areas of high interest.

My own interest in spectating sports makes this kind of therapy seem natural to me. The ease of designing a study on spectating based cognitive therapy and finding very many volunteers in my home state makes NFL spectating an area fertile to begin such research. The opportunity to use it among soldiers returning from Afghanistan or Iraq makes it particularly appealing.

See our next post on Kevin’s current cognitive functioning.


Gordon Johnson

Attorney Gordon Johnson is one of the nations leading brain injury advocates. He is Past-Chair of the TBILG, a national group of more than 150 brain injury advocates. He has spoken at numerous brain injury seminars and is the author of some of the most read brain injury web pages on the internet.

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