Sport Heritage Review

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Sport Heritage and Reminiscence Therapy

Over the last few months, I have been involved in the development of exciting project involving the use of sport heritage in reminiscence therapy. In particular, the project is developing, implementing, and evaluating a non-pharmacological, sports-based reminiscence therapy kit and protocols based on Clemson football’s history and heritage for use at assisted living and memory care facilities in upstate South Carolina. This project was inspired by programs like the Sporting Memories Network in the UK, and hopes to use the local passion for college football in a healthcare setting. It is sponsored by the Brooks Sports Science Institute at Clemson University.

On this project, I am working with one of my fellow professors, a recreational therapist, two wonderful recreational therapy graduate students, and Clemson’s football historian. Not being a recreational therapist, it has been a wonderful learning experience for me to understand how sport heritage – and its material culture – might be used to help people with memory issues such as dementia. We are at the stage where we have developed some draft session protocols based on sport heritage themes (such as famous games) and locating materials to use in our reminiscence therapy kit. We will soon be receiving feedback from reminiscence therapy experts on our sessions, as well as reaching out to a local care facility to receive their thoughts and feedback about this program. We also have to submit an application to our institutional review board to make certain our project is ethically sound. We are hoping to run the program over a 6-8 week period over the summer.


Thus far, I think the biggest learning experience I have gleaned from this project so far (besides learning about recreational therapy) is understanding what “Clemson football heritage” actually means. Of course, there are the on-field exploits of the team – most recently winning the National Championship in January – but also how the socialization component of college football has changed. We tend to think of it now mostly in terms of tailgating – which involves grilling, and games, and normally alcohol – but many of the social components of football in the 1950s and 1960s at Clemson was about post-game dances, bringing a date to the game, and more informal forms of tailgating – which was often a bucket of chicken, and normally no alcohol. We have concluded that understanding and representing both the heritage and memories of sporting artifacts (such as the stadium, the games) should be balanced with the memories of the social aspects surrounding the games (something discussed in research by Fairley and Gammon, and Cho et al.)



  1. […] heritage and Reminiscence Therapy project – Work continues on a research project linking sport heritage and reminiscence therapy. This project, which uses Clemson University’s football heritage in the creation of a […]

  2. Liz Forrest says:

    I am a Clemson alumni (’96) now back in grad school studying Gerontology in CT. It was with great interest that I read about this therapy in the latest Clemson World Magazine. I am wondering if you have had a chance to collect any longitudinal data on the outcome of the therapy? It seems from what I’ve found for Reminiscence Therapy in general, there is still positive effects 3 months after completing the therapy, but the gains are not there 6 months post-therapy. Was also wondering how long are the therapy sessions during the 6-8 week therapy period? Thanks for studying this important field!

    • Thank you for your message and your interest in the project. Our main goal with the project was to design and implement a sport-based reminiscence therapy protocol. While the idea has been used in other contexts (particularly in the UK), we were unable to find exactly how other programs were structured and implemented. As our program was only three weeks in duration (two sessions per week), we only tracked immediate pre/post program data. Certainly, a longitudinal study would be ideal. Some of our contacts who run sport-based reminiscence programming have had groups operating for, in some cases, several years – although they are not academic researchers so they can only provide us with anecdotal data. We are also seeing some groups who are using these primarily as social inclusion programming, with aspects of memory care being one of several outputs. In terms of our sessions, we had planned for them to be no more than 45 minutes in duration, although many sessions went well beyond this (none were fewer than 60 minutes, and some nearly reached 90 minutes). We have posted some of our information in the link below, and will soon be sending out our results for review and (hopefully) publication.

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