Posted on June 21, 2011 · Posted in TBI Voices
This entry is part 8 of 13 in the series Kevin

Spectating Based Cognitive Therapy: Kevin Part Eight

My undergraduate major was in sports journalism and my minor in education. I had to take a teaching remedial reading class as part of my education program.  I got the idea then that perhaps sports stories could be used to help inner city youths who had particularly poor reading scores, to improve their reading.  The idea was that if someone was reading something they had a particular interest in, they would be more motivated to learn and concentrate better. This is where spectating based cognitive therapy comes in.

Today there is some research being done in the field of education and reading with this concept, under the term of “high interest” reading.  For more on this, search in Google Scholar the terms “reading high interest.  One such article appears at RS Baldwin, Z Peleg-Bruckner ,Effects of topic interest and prior knowledge on reading comprehension, 1985 – JSTOR

Unfortunately, searches of the terms “brain injury rehabilitation and high interest” do not find of similar research.  The term “spectating based cognitive therapy” apparently has never been used in this context.  A search of such terms on Google found primarily references to “sports psychology” the field of using psychological therapies and interventions to help athletes perform better.  The term “spectating based cognitive therapy” or (“SBCT”) is my own ©2011, Attorney Gordon Johnson. Part of the problem in locating research on this may come from the lack of emphasis on the fan side of the sports equation.  Almost all of the focus is on the performance of the athletes, not the spectating based cognitive therapy of the fans about their favorite sport.

Many have argued that our society devotes far too many resources to collegiate and professional sports.  My background and interest in sports writing may be skewing my perspective, but I have always felt that competitive sport had it greatest value to society in the joy and intellectual stimulation that it brought to the fan.  Sports makes life more interesting for a significant proportion of the population, gives them something to focus on when they are bored, gives them something to dream and fantasize about, something to give them some reason for caring.

No where is that more clear than with Kevin.  And if the only value that sports brought to Kevin’s life was that it enhanced the quality of his life, that would be enough.  But the more I reflect on this interview, the more convinced I am that “Spectating Based Cognitive Therapy” could be used not only with Kevin but particularly with anyone who had a significant premorbid interest in sports.  While sports therapy would likely benefit more men than women, the number of women who are serious sports fans continues to grow.  Further, sports cognitive therapy could become a great asset in TBI rehabilitation for the significant group of returning soldiers who are returning home with brain injuries.

What makes sport spectating based cognitive therapy a potentially excellent therapy tool?  First, motivation is one of the most profound areas of deficit following brain injury.  Damage to the underside of the frontal lobes, which is one of the most vulnerable spots in our brain, can leave significant motivation deficits.  Many have argued that such motivational pathology is intractable and irreparable.  Yet, it is highly likely that Kevin suffered such lower frontal lobe injury, yet his motivation couldn’t be any higher when it comes to his beloved sports teams.  Sports may offer the opportunity to build a motivational bridge for anyone who has a premorbid interest in them.

Further, watching a sporting event offers many areas of cognitive stimulation.  First, it requires simultaneous visual and auditory assimilation of information.  Second, that information comes in very fast, helping to improve processing speed.  Third, most American sports, especially football and basketball may stimulate analytical skills, especially in conjunction with the running commentary on most TV broadcasts.

Another interesting theorem to test out in such future research is the degree to which SBCT could  help with math and computational skills.  Football is always a down and distance process.  Basketball has a constantly changing score, i.e. serial arithmetic, PASAT (a neuropsychological test).  It would be easy to devise many cognitive therapy exercises to enhance mathematic skills through the use of sports statistics.

While not dealing with cognitive rehabilitation, an excellent article I found in my research that dealt with the nature and value of being a sport fan was McDonald, Milne, Hong, Motivational Sport Spectator and Participants MarketSport Marketing Quarterly, Vol. 11, p. 113, (2002).  To view the entire article, click here:

This McDonald article lays out the following 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.

While not every item on that list would necessarily be a positive to encourage in a TBI population, it does show the wide range of areas that survivors are challenged, that spectating reaches.

One final thought on spectating based cognitive therapy before we conclude this Part:

While this promising concept of using sports spectating would likely only work with someone like Kevin who had a “fans” interest in his teams prior to injury, the concept of SBCT with those who aren’t sports fans, if they had areas of interest in other types of spectating. The key to the reading research is “high interest”.  Spectating spectating based cognitive therapy, is not limited to just sports. See for example the Wikipedia article on “fan”, at  Any number of other interests other than sports could utilize the same basic principles (although perhaps not as comprehensively as sports.)  For example, there are fans of celebrities and musicians (see our later story of 18 year old Nancy, who shows comparable memory skill with respect to her favorite boy band – to be published next month).  Trekkies, movie buffs, political junkies could all have improved cognitive motivation from these areas of high interest.

My historical and continuing interest as a spectator of sports myself makes spectating based cognitive therapy seem a natural to me.  The ease of designing a study and finding a plethora of volunteers in my home state makes NFL football spectating an area fertile to begin such research.  The opportunity to a football based spectating based cognitive therapy study among returning Iraq and Afghanistan TBI veterans, is particularly appealing.

Coming Tomorrow in Part Nine – Kevin’s Current Cognitive Functioning

By Attorney Gordon Johnson


A potential limitation of spectating based cognitive therapy is the significantly greater increase in sports interest among men than women, 65/35% in the McDonald article. While sports interest is probably continuing to increase among women, as as the majority of those with TBI are men, especially severe brain injury and coma, this does make such concept worth pursuing.  Further as our later Nancy story shows, other areas of high interest, such as with a teenage girl, a “boy band” may also show similar cognitive therapy examples.

About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447