Former Carmel Valley pilot learned special skills to teach children to swim — and love the water

By Karen Billing

Carmel Valley’s John Silverman is teaching children to learn to love the water with Triton Tykes, his new swimming lesson business. In business for just a few months, Silverman uses a trusted, guaranteed method based on trust, discipline and continuity.

“It’s very powerful when you get a child who was screaming and holding onto you for dear life and three days later, they’re loving swimming,” Silverman said. “There’s going to be hollering but just give me a few days and you’ll think I’m the greatest guy you’ve ever met.”

Silverman comes to the water from the air — he is a former pilot.

He spent six-and-a-half years in the Air Force and then flew commercial airlines for US Airways for 36 years, retiring in 2013.

Growing up in South Florida, Silverman swam on his high school swim team and was a lifeguard at the ocean and at pools. He taught swim lessons when he was in his 20s but never really used or knew a proven method.

Silverman decided to get into the business of teaching swimming lessons after witnessing the remarkable progress of his then 10-month-old grandson, Owen, who lives in Atlanta. A year ago, his daughter sent video of Owen’s swimming lessons.

“On day one, Owen was screaming bloody murder. But on day three he was happier than a clam and I was amazed,” Silverman said.

The difference-maker in Owen’s love of swimming was in the teacher and his techniques — “Coach Tom” Bradbury, an instructor who is 81 years old and has been teaching for 57 years, teaching tens of thousands of other children just like Owen how to swim.

Silverman was so impressed that he asked if Coach Tom would share his skills; in March this year Silverman went to Atlanta to spend a month learning his techniques and shadowing him as they trained 90 children how to swim.

The method is not blowing bubbles and playing patty cake — Silverman said it’s 95 percent child psychology as, for whatever reason, little ones are often hesitant to get in the water.

“The child’s way of objecting or manipulating is through crying. I don’t even listen to the crying,” Silverman said. “You have to power through the objections and the resistance of the child and that’s what parents are not very good at doing.”

Silverman said when a child cries, he will ask the child to rest on his shoulder and then proceed with the lesson.

“By day three or four the crying is over and the kids are happy,” Silverman said. “It’s almost like a switch is thrown.”

Silverman’s method is seven consecutive days of short lessons taught in a warm pool, heated to 92 degrees. The last two days he gets the parents into the pool, as well, to teach them how to work in the water with their child.

He loves the success stories — of parents so happy with the results and of kids who, after five days, don’t even have to be told to swim to him, he just puts his palms up on the water’s surface and they launch. It’s a pleasure to be able to teach a child a life skill, according to Silverman.

“It’s probably the most gratifying thing I’ve ever done,” Silverman said.

Silverman gives lessons to children at a minimum age of 19 months and comes to clients’ home pools for lessons. For pricing or more information, visit