The Uses of Enchantment


I recently bumped into a wonderful book called The Game, by Ken Dryden, a Hall of Fame NHL goalie and uncommonly thoughtful writer. On the surface, it’s about sports, but underneath it’s about learning — specifically, the special moments when it begins to accelerate. At one point, Dryden is reflecting on the skills of the great players he’s met.

It is in free time that the special player develops, not in the competitive expedience of games, in hour-long practices once a week, in mechanical devotion to packaged, processed, coaching-manual, hockey-school skills. For while skills are necessary, setting out as they do the limits of anything, more is needed to transform those skills into something special. Mostly it is time unencumbered, unhurried, time of a different quality, more time, time to find wrong answers, to find a few that are right; time to find your own right answers; time for skills to be practiced, to set higher limits, to settle and assimilate and become fully and completely yours, to organize and combine with other skills comfortably and easily in some uniquely personal way, then to be set loose, trusted, to find new instinctive directions to take, to create.

I love that phrase: time unencumbered, unhurried, of a different quality. That’s a type of time that seems in  tragically short supply these days. I’m not going to add to the chorus of people decrying our hurried, overscheduled lives, but I will point out that the main barrier to achieving more of this unencumbered time is the mistaken sense of emptiness; the anxiety that we’re missing out on some important activity, the nagging worry that nothing’s happening. In truth, everything’s happening.

Two of our kids go to a Montessori school, whose founder coined a terrific term: “enchantment with materials.” This refers to the relationship between a learner and the physical elements of the environment – the blocks, the violin, the tennis ball, the pencil and paper. Those things – those simple, everyday objects – are seen as magical, worthy of reverence and care.  (Think about what you’re good at, and your relationship with those materials.) The enchantment powers the process – it’s the fuel tank, that keeps someone coming back, experimenting, playing, doing what Dryden so eloquently describes – creating their skill.

I think these two ideas work together — unencumbered time and enchantment.  They’re the yin and yang of learning: unencumbered time allows the enchantment to happen; the enchantment fills the time with engagement and learning.

So with that in mind, I’d like to wish you all an enchanted, unencumbered holiday.  Thanks for reading and commenting this year; I really appreciate it, and you. Merry Christmas, Dan

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11 Responses to “The Uses of Enchantment”

  1. Ted says:

    Outstanding post


    The list of truly great who had many hours of personal time with their game is long.

    Have a Merry Christmas and Thank you

  2. Gjält says:

    Thank you for your wonderful blog! It’s been 4 weeks since I found your site, but I’ve already read every blog entry you wrote and I’m now reading your book. Really enjoyed the reading and I’m looking forward to new blog entries and your new book.
    Have a merry Christmas.

  3. Jeff Plumb says:

    Merry Christmas Dan!

    Thanks for your great book and interesting articles.


  4. Walter says:

    Had a chance to meet Dryden once and i needed a thesaurus to say hi to him. He went to one of the Ivy league schools and was also involved in politics here in Canada. Thanks for the blogs and exposing us to everything you do Dan. Big time fan. Enjoy the holidays.

  5. Dale says:

    Thanks for all the great stuff this year, Dan.

    Here’s some enchantment: I’ve been practicing memorizing a deck of playing cards and now the decks appear to be physically smaller than they used to.

  6. Vladimir says:

    Dan, that is exactly what I’ve been doing since I put on hold my business due to the 2 wonderful daugthers we got and the fact that it was not going well. Thanks for sharing the book’s gist “time unencumbered, unhurried…” and for putting it winderfully into a nice “framework”, which I am sure I will be resorting to. A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2012. Look forward to reading your stuff more in the future. Vlad.

  7. Heather says:

    Great post! As a violin teacher, enchantment or curiosity is one of the ways I help my beginners learn the violin. I love that idea of unencumbered time, a wonderful thought to start the new year with. Thanks.

  8. djcoyle says:

    Hey Dale, That is interesting about the cards. You’re probably onto this already, but have you read Moonwalking with Einstein? As a card-memorizer, you’ll love it if you haven’t. Best, Dan

  9. Goldman says:


    “time unecumbered, unhurried” is key to developing skill. My child also had the earliest part of his education at a Montessori school. Why don’t parents get that athletic skill of young child is not improved by logging more time in a car to compete against other 6-9 year olds. Let your child practice their sport in the driveway or at the local tennis court. Even better play with the sport with your child – but, offer no advice and no critic. Would Dali have continued with his art if at every stroke of his brush a parent was telling him what he was doing it wrong. Learning to keep my mouth shut and allow my child to experiment has been so hard to learn.
    Tennis is my child’s favorite activity and he has become very proficient. But, I know nothing about tennis and as a result I never attempted to improve my child’s ground strokes. My child got lessons to keep him on the right path.
    As important to development appears to be visualization and deep thinking a child does about their chosen talent or skill. My child is writing a book about tennis and it seems to be part of his training regimen. Large blocks of unscheduled time allows my child time to focus and think about his tennis through writing. The book is no great work, but its another opportunity for my child to think deeply about the tennis and visualize playing his favorite sport. This deep thinking is way more important at this early stage than driving around or at least thats what I tell my self.

  10. djcoyle says:

    Hi Bill,
    Very well put — thanks for such a great response. I love the idea of your son working on a book about his tennis — that’s got so many wonderful dimensions to it, both for his sport and for his writing. It’s remarkable to me that more schools and parents aren’t thinking like this. Best, Dan

  11. Patricia says:


    Thank you so much for taking the time to write these wonderful blogs. I believe I will be a better mom because of all the invaluable information that you write on your blogs. My kids will become better human beings. Also thank you for sharing the links. I always checked them and they always make me think more. After reading about the KIPP character traits, I’ve decided to start teaching my kids more about character traits and will write on their bedroom wall a few of those traits.

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