by Eric McMahon, MEd, CSCS, RSCC*D and Michael Snowden, CSCS, RSCC
Coaching Podcast December 2021
Mike Snowden, University of Alabama Men’s Basketball Strength Coach, talks to the NSCA Coaching and Sport Science Program Manager, Eric McMahon, about...
Mike Snowden, University of Alabama Men’s Basketball Strength Coach, talks to the NSCA Coaching and Sport Science Program Manager, Eric McMahon, about having a genuine relationship with head sport coaches. Topics under discussion include building players into the program, creating buy-in, and embracing new and unique career opportunities. Find Mike on Instagram: @mike__snowden or Twitter: @Mike__Snowden | Find Eric on Instagram: @ericmcmahoncscs or Twitter: @ericmcmahoncscs
Mike Snowden, University of Alabama Men’s Basketball Strength Coach, talks to the NSCA Coaching and Sport Science Program Manager, Eric McMahon, about having a genuine relationship with head sport coaches. Topics under discussion include building players into the program, creating buy-in, and embracing new and unique career opportunities.
“I think a lot of single leg work is huge for those guys. And we spend a lot of time-- iso holds, different split squat variations. I think they look better, perform a little bit better, doing those, and gain a little more confidence doing those.” 14:45
“One of those things that I constantly harp on young coaches is be yourself. Don't feel like you need to be your favorite strength coach on Twitter, or Instagram. You know saying be yourself, coach within that, and do what's best for the student athletes that you get to work with.” 21:02
“Don't say no to an opportunity. Because you never know what that may turn into down the road, or how you meet somebody there that may help you out down the road or whatever.” 23:01
“I think the sports science route is also going to open a lot of opportunities, both in college and in the private setting, as far as having kind of like you look at it now, where you have those AT's with CSCS as almost like dual purpose roles.” 26:43
[00:00:00.87] Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast, episode 113.
[00:00:05.22] Don't say no to an opportunity, because you never know what that may turn into down the road.
[00:00:11.49] This is the NSCA's Coaching Podcast, where we talk to strength and conditioning coaches about what you really need to know, but probably didn't learn in school. There's strength and conditioning, and then there's everything else.
[00:00:22.51] Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast, I'm Eric McMahon. Today we're joined by strength and conditioning coach Mike Snowden of University of Alabama men's basketball program. Mike and I connected at Sorinex Summer Strong, we were in the outdoor training area, cutting it up between sessions. So Mike, it's great to have you with us and keep the conversation going.
[00:00:43.76] Thank you, just glad to be here and appreciate you for having me on.
[00:00:47.46] Awesome. So Mike, you're going into your third season with the Alabama men's basketball program. I want to give you the opportunity to tell your story, how you got into the profession, and up to where you're at today.
[00:01:00.01] OK. So my path, I would say the unconventional route. Always enjoyed training, always enjoyed kind of the process of preparing for a competition, that sort of thing. But from Frederick, Maryland, I knew I wanted to do something different. So I actually joined the Navy right out of high school, I spent seven years in the military. While I was there-- I guess this is probably my the end of my third year-- our fitness director for the ship that I was on, the USS George Washington, was working with a rugby team on the side in Japan. And just through some conversation with her I was like hey, can I come watch you one day? Went out, watched her, and I was like, that's what I'm doing. So pretty much from that day on, I was dead set on getting into the field of strength and conditioning.
[00:01:49.95] And you know my first contract, it was four years. So coming up at the end of that, I got offered an opportunity to go back to Northern Virginia. I'm from-- like I said, I'm from Maryland, working in the DC area, an opportunity to go work for the White House. And I'm like well, I can't say no to that right? So I would basically work during the day for the military, and then at night I would go to school at community college and knock out some low level courses. And so I was there for three years, and during that time, I really just kind of used that as an opportunity to just prepare myself to move into the field for the next three years. So I would research fitness and conditioning, I'm calling coaches trying to figure out how they got to where they were, what steps they took, and really just kind of laid out the road map.
[00:02:34.91] So from there, when I actually did get out of the Navy in 2012, I went to George Mason University. Got my undergrad there in kinesiology and just meeting professors, that sort of thing. Dr. Margaret Jones was my advisor who was at Springfield College and kind of got things rolling there. And as you know, Springfield is the mecca of strength conditioning, right? So--
[00:02:56.12] She was my advisor, too.
[00:02:57.71] OK. So I got that there with her, and she introduced me some people, and I did a bunch of internships while I was there. Following George Mason, I went to VCU. I was a graduate assistant there for men's basketball working with strength conditioning. So I spent one year there, I did a master's degree. And you know my year there as a graduate assistant, we played Buffalo under first year head coach Nate Oats. You know before the game just bumped into him, one of the assistants said hello kind of quick. Kept in touch, briefly, just random emails every now and then. And I went back to George Mason full time at that point, I was there for a year and then they posted a job for the University of-- University of Buffalo strength conditioning position. So reached out about that, thankfully coach Oats hired me. I spent two years up there with him, then he took a job at Alabama and gave me the opportunity to come down here.
[00:03:55.95] So coming up on our third season like you mentioned. So that's been my journey in the field, and you know I got help from a lot of people along the way.
[00:04:02.81] That's great, yeah. You know, I hear this from a lot of coaches, there's always that period where we're maybe working multiple jobs, or doing different things in the field than maybe what we aspire to do in the long run. But you're in the military, you're going to school, you're planning ahead for your future after that. And I thought-- really cool, you touched on it briefly-- opportunity to work with the White House. Talk about that a little bit, what did you do?
[00:04:29.54] Yeah so I worked-- I'm sure everybody's seen the green helicopters the president flies on. So I worked there, marine helicopter squadron one. Basically everywhere the president goes, we would go a week ahead of time kind of set up shop. I worked in logistics, I signed up for logistics anyway. But when I got there, so basically, we would go and any time something looked like it was going to go bad, smelled like it was going to go bad, we'd try to find a replacement part and get that to-- get that to our maintenance guys as quick as we could. So we'd be flying through-- flying through Iowa in the middle of the night and we'd have to find the closest base, or even get it shipped from back home in Quantico out to wherever we were. So that was my job.
[00:05:13.28] That's cool. And you know, speaks to the resourcefulness that you probably use today as a strength coach, and just having to be versatile and apply a lot of different skills. So I thought that was such a cool experience that you shared in your bio when you were getting ready for this, and I just I wanted to bring that up here today. You know I thought it was also really interesting you've been with Coach Nate Oats at Buffalo, where you guys had some success, and now at Alabama, where you guys really had a great season last year. Maybe a little unexpected how great it was. And so talk about your relationship with your head coach and how that's been, how he supports the strength and conditioning program, and just how that's grown over the years.
[00:05:59.90] Yeah, so I think Coach Oats-- and the people that know him much longer than I have will speak to it-- but he's a great leader, great leader of young men. When he took an opportunity-- or took a chance on me when I was coming from my current job, I had women's basketball, women's volleyball, and women's lacrosse. And like I said, he took a chance gave me an opportunity, and I'm thankful for that. And then also did it again coming to Alabama. But you know, I think we, one hit it off, because he doesn't have a very conventional route either in this field. You know he's a high major college basketball coach, but less than 10 years ago he was teaching high school math class. So we both got some unique journeys there, I think that kind of ties us together.
[00:06:45.11] But he also-- from a strength conditioning standpoint-- one, he trains so he understands what we're doing, he understands what we have in the room. If I say I need something, he knows I'm not just saying it because I want it. No, because it's an actual need. So he understands that piece of it. But he also lets me coach. I've worked with multiple sports, multiple coaches, and it's not always like that. And even today, I still hear stories, just coaches in the field, and just some of the situation they're in. And you know I'm thankful for that, because like I said at the end of the day, he lets me coach. You know he puts trust in me to take care of the guys and help them, and help them be prepared to practice and play games. And I know when it's time to stay out of it as well. So there's a balancing act there, but it's been a great relationship.
[00:07:29.99] Nice. So you know like I said, we first met back in May at Summer Strong. And now it's about that time, we're getting back on campus with athletes, getting into the academic year. Take us through the men's basketball calendar year, through the fall semester, spring, up to the tournament, and beyond.
[00:07:51.14] Yeah, so to be honest with you it never stops. We-- again we were here eight weeks in the summer period, eight hours a week, four hours on the floor, four hours in a weight room. That's continued as school started back up, it'll continue. Our first practice issue I believe is going to be September 28th, and then we'll ramp up to 20 hours. But you see the t-shirts that say Alabama basketball never stops, and it really doesn't. Throughout the year we're still training, obviously the volume is much lower, but we're still trying to help guys stay safe, stay strong, and be able to perform. Kind of that March, April, whenever you wrap up, we'll go down we may train three days a week, then. But you want guys to be fresh, and for us you know that back half of the season can be tough on them academically, as far as going to class and that sort of thing. Especially this year when we're out in Nashville and Indianapolis for a month and a half. So making sure your guys are caught up there, but you know we're kind of always going. For the most part, we get in about four times a week, and are able to train.
[00:08:57.05] So when we think college sports, it's typically that four or five year window of development with players. How do you approach that, from a training standpoint, when players come on campus as a freshman? Or you first get to work with them all the way up through when they're getting more playing time, and when they're on the-- when they're on the court, and up through their junior and senior year?
[00:09:21.35] Yeah so I mean year one, or even for us the block one, I mean you come in, you've got to see what they can do first. I think that the days where you come in and just throw a ball around and it gets back is pretty much gone, right? At least if you want to stay around for a while. So it's all-- for us, it's all movement based, right? What can you do, we want to see what they can do. And there's an entire assessment protocol, and so we'll be using that both on the distribution side, also in the military training side, to kind of see where each guy's at. And we want to meet them where they're at with what we're doing in the room.
[00:09:56.94] But really from the year one we keep it simple with them, and then progress them through. Year two for us is a lot more-- now that they know the movements, OK, what can we make changes-- or greater changes, both from the nutrition side, from the lifestyle side, to kind of better enhance what we've already got going? The same thing in four. Really I'd say year three or four, we're looking at maximizing kind of the power profile for each guy, what we're doing. And again, like you mentioned, the college landscape changed a little bit. It's getting weird now, whether you have that four year cycle that five year cycle. And then even at this level, some of these guys-- some of these guys you only got one year. And it's just kind of what it is, and it's like you got to be mindful of that as well.
[00:10:39.94] How about the COVID year, has that affected you at all with eligibility changes related to COVID 19?
[00:10:47.46] We're not there yet. We had people that could have had an extra year, but graduated and have gone on to better opportunities. But I think we're still another year out from seeing people that are going to use that extra year, and kind of what that actually looked like and what it may look like for us. But I think it's good that gave kids an opportunity to have that year back, they went through a lot, everyone went through a lot. So we'll see how it works out.
[00:11:12.09] Yeah it's interesting. I liked how you broke down your four year, or you're four or five year plan there, where it was just that simple movement based program for year one and then it kind of went into some holistic changes. Nutrition, overall just wellness for the athlete, and then it really dials in on performance. From a programming standpoint, how different do you approach strength conditioning in season when guys are at the-- they're playing a lot, they're your key guys, and you're trying to maximize their performance every day, and you're trying to keep them strong and powerful, like you said maximize that power profile. What does that look like in terms of exercises, and maybe any technology or other areas you look at?
[00:12:06.60] Yeah so I would say for us, the biggest change program-- from a programmer standpoint is going to be the volume, the guys just can't handle as much of it. Obviously with the volume also going up that they're doing on the floor. So we make the adjustment there, and that's based off of minutes as well. So if you're not playing a bunch and you can handle a lower volume, and we'll find ways to-- even if it's pick up, from a conditioning standpoint, we're doing that on the floor. So being mindful of that at all times is going to be the number one piece for us. From an exercise standpoint, I wouldn't say throughout the year there's really no exercises that we don't-- we're not in an Olympic program, or we're not a whatever. There's nothing that we don't do. We just try to find the exercise for each guy that can work.
[00:12:49.14] And obviously in-season, as you know, in basketball, people step on ankles, and people get knocked down, and bruised or whatever. So you're always kind of making modifications there. So we're not hard set, dead set on one exercise and everybody's going to do this, this week. For our guys have been around and kind of earned it, we give him a little autonomy as well. Especially in season because it can be a long season. So there's plenty of days where I would say the exercises don't necessarily matter, we're going for a stimulus. So we'll kind of give the guys a box to work within, and they could figure out their own exercise for that day. Kind of gives them a little bit more buy-in there I think as well. It keeps kind of motivational-- excuse me, the motivation level there a good bit too. Especially when it's say, late in February and that sort of thing.
[00:13:41.88] For sure. One thing I think about with basketball, and I found myself at a G League game a few years ago, and I'd never really been in the presence of three seven footers before. But I was like, it just blew me away just how tall that is. And so from a training standpoint, I want to talk about height adjustments. What types of exercises get favored in the sport of basketball simply because guys have longer levers? Or need more core stability to support movement? Is that something you think about on the training side at all?
[00:14:21.94] You know, it is, but obviously you want everybody to be able to have the freedom of movement to be able to do everything. I think for us-- especially the bigger guys, and we just got some seven footers in-- and so it's fun working with some of those guys, and seeing some of the things you thought worked like, maybe that's not going to work. But you know, I think a lot of single leg work is huge for those guys. And we spend a lot of time-- iso holds, different split squat variations. I think they look better, perform a little bit better, doing those, and gain a little more confidence doing those. Now that's not to say they don't do any bilateral squatting, and I'm not necessarily talking about back squatting, but they do bend their knees, both legs at the same time, whether it's same front squat, goblet squat, or whatever. But I think we get a lot of bang out of our buck for the single leg work with those guys.
[00:15:15.55] A couple of things you've said that really connect with how I approach training with professional baseball players is talking about the taller athletes. And you also said finding-- basically finding the exercise that works well with the athlete, finding a solution for them. And so that's something that I think sometimes we forget when we're building strength. And we're building power that, coordination precedes that in a lot of ways. And in the sport of basketball, these guys are unbelievable athletes, but what makes that athleticism is the fact that they're very coordinated athletes and they move well. And when they don't, things like isometrics, like you said, those can be really good foundational strength movements to support further training. And yeah, I really like that, and it related-- I thought it connected so closely, it hit just where I felt like, at the professional level. And I know college basketball, I mean these guys are very elite in the game, and so it really-- I think that's really interesting.
[00:16:24.81] It's 100%. Because I say the same thing. Like, we have guys that come in and can do some incredible things on the basketball court, and then we're doing like a band good morning and we can't figure out a hit management. It's not their fault, but you just got to work with them and figure out where they're at and progress them along. You're trying to get them in positions that they haven't had to be in before, and hold, and be stable, and really own. So you just work with them.
[00:16:51.63] Yeah, I want to ask you something. With the level of athletes you work in, I think basketball is one of those sports that we talk about athleticism a lot. Do most of your players today come from multi-sport backgrounds, or would you say they play primarily basketball up until when you get to work with them?
[00:17:10.36] We've-- I think we've actually got a good mix, to be honest with you. We've got a good mixture of people who who've played multiple sports, and that's something we just do random conversations you have with guys. You ask them those questions, just to get a little bit background on where they're at. But we've got a few who just played basketball since they were fourth grade, fifth grade. We've got a couple of guys who, like I said, kind of that eighth grade point, ninth grade point, they just kind of shut it down on the other sports and just focus on one, which is fine as well
[00:17:41.19] Yeah that's always one of those conversations, long term athlete development. And I have kids, so I always hear about physical education, and youth, and how that's changed from when we were kids to what it looks like today. But I think sometimes it's an assumption that kids aren't playing multiple sports, or need to be playing multiple sports, but maybe there's a way to develop in both directions. If you are an athlete that focuses on training for one sport early, and are intrinsically motivated to do that, maybe that's something strength conditioning coaches can support as well. So it just gets me thinking, and I wanted to ask because basketball is such an athletic sport.
[00:18:27.86] So Mike, we talked a little bit about your Navy background. And tactical strength conditioning is something you haven't worked in, but it's something that you have experienced and in and lived through. So I just want to get your perspective on this as an emerging area for opportunities, professional opportunities, in the field for a lot of coaches. From your military experience, what were some of the big needs that you saw in the area of strength and conditioning that would have helped you?
[00:19:01.48] Looking back on it, I think having some sound, scientifically based, proven training methods would have been great. And that's not to say what we were doing was completely off the wall, but it was just kind of, when you're younger in the military, you just kind of, you're there and you're going to go do it. You know I look back on some of the things we were doing, and some of-- just some of the nagging injuries that I saw people that I was stationed with go through, and that sort of thing. And knowing what I know now, looking back, I'm like oh, OK. But maybe if we did this a little bit different, We could have worked it out. So I think it's a-- I think it's a need that's coming along. I think it's going be great. As you know, I think down the road, hopefully, the other branches pick up on what's going on with the army right now with the whole H2F thing. But I think it'll be great for all parties involved, and help build a little bit more robust of our military and keep them strong and healthy moving forward.
[00:20:01.31] For sure. And I think it's exciting to see, whether it's college coaches or professional coaches seeking out these opportunities now. And a lot of them are getting their experience in sport, and then seeing it as a way that, maybe they didn't go in the military, but just out of respect for our country. It's an opportunity to give back in a way that, maybe, they didn't anticipate having that opportunity. Yeah. So I want to ask you, we have a lot of young coaches that listen to this podcast. And I think they tune in to get advice from those that have been in the field. And so I just want to say, what advice did you get as a young strength coach, when you first got started? The Navy has lasted with you to today, or what advice do you give to young coaches when you have the opportunity?
[00:20:54.08] So you know, I always say I think I've been lucky enough to work around some coaches who gave me real honest advice from the get go. One of those things that I constantly harp on young coaches is be yourself. Don't feel like you need to be your favorite strength coach on Twitter, or Instagram. You know saying be yourself, coach within that, and do what's best for the student athletes that you get to work with. Or if you're in the tactical setting, the soldiers that you get to work with. Whoever you get to work with. This would probably be the biggest piece. You know I think being consistent, just in your message, what you're looking for, understanding that-- I always tell them, understand that your abilities, your appearance, and your attitude is on display every day. So people pick up on that, your athletes pick up on that, the people you train pick up on that every day. The other piece I would say, probably just-- yeah, I don't know. That's what I got there.
[00:21:53.39] No, it's good. It's funny, when I was in college, I took a coaching theory class. And it was actually the women's basketball coach who was teaching it, and I remember he gave similar advice, like number one thing to coaching is be yourself. And I think the last thing you want to hear when you're knee deep in student loan debt, and you've got to pass all these tests, and you're going to school is like, you're good enough now. Like, just be yourself. You know? It's like, well I want a little bit more than that, I wanted some X's and O's. And it made me think after the fact is that it's about authenticity of being yourself as a coach, and as a communicator. But I remember maybe not receiving that advice well the first time, but then later on in my coaching career coming back to him being like, OK, I get that now. That totally makes sense, because the athletes see through it when you're not your authentic self.
[00:22:52.78] 100%. And I'd also-- the other piece I would say to that, I think when you're getting in-- and like you said, you know you're up to your face in student loans, and you know you're doing the dirty work-- don't say no to an opportunity. Because you never know what that may turn into down the road, or how you meet somebody there that may help you out down the road or whatever. And that's not always to say you're always looking for the next place, but I just think I've thought about this because I was just helping somebody do a search. And one of the first question you get is, how much does it pay? And it's like, if you're interested in a position, you're going to go and not really care how much it pays, and you'll just figure it out. That's just how it goes. And that's a whole other topic of discussion about the field is strength and conditioning, but don't say no to an opportunity. Just because, you never know what could be next after that.
[00:23:48.60] Yeah. No, I think that's great advice right there. And just want to dive in, this is probably a common podcast question in our field right now. But as you had a lot of life experience, coming from the military, getting into the coaching profession, not all young coaches have that. A lot of times, this is their young professional experience. And so there's a lot of learning to be had. What are some non weight room skills that you see as vital for strength conditioning coaches?
[00:24:18.46] I would say being flexible is that, 100%. You got to do it, even now. Like you said, I've worked with Coach for years, and you know this is our fifth year together. Our schedule changes all the time, so you know I can't be rigid and get mad when something changes. You got to always be adaptable, understand that the strength and conditioning program is one piece of the entire program, and it's the head coach's program. So at the end of the day, you've got to kind of know where the chips fall on that piece. Like I said, be consistent with the folks you get to work with, the men and women you get to work with. Not only are they looking at you for help when it comes to the weight room stuff, but also just life stuff. Like I said, being consistent and being yourself, and they notice that. We speak, we meet as a staff multiple times a week, and it just shocks me sometimes how aware these athletes are about every piece of the program.
[00:25:20.02] Yeah. One thing I think about a lot is, today's athletes are-- they crave information. They crave, you know, whether we're testing, or you see it on social media, there's a lot more awareness to the analytical, or testing and evaluation, side of strength and conditioning. I want to get your crystal ball out here, and just maybe think about this a little bit. What do you see the field looking like in 5 to 10 years with just, sort of the current push towards more technology, and in just some of these new areas that we're talking about?
[00:25:57.58] Yeah, that's a tough one. I mean I think it's going to continue to evolve. Obviously the technology, the analytics side of it's going to continue to be huge. Like I said, coaches-- our coach's background is in high school math, so he's giving me a whole new perspective, he wants everything in numbers, and how we're kind of looking at it. And so he's challenged me in different ways, to find new ways of looking at what we're doing and tracking progress in different ways. So I think that'll continue across the board. I think the push-- like we said, the tactical route's getting bigger. I think that stuff will leak into other areas. Hopefully the public high school route gets a little bigger and continues to grow, because there's a ton of opportunities there.
[00:26:42.19] But I think the sports science route is also going to open a lot of opportunities, both in college and in the private setting, as far as having kind of like you look at it now, where you have those AT's with CSCS as almost like dual purpose roles. Where now, you can almost have that sports science CSCS role, I think it'll be valuable as well. And just having a greater experience there, with greater understanding for that kind of niche.
[00:27:09.47] I'm glad you mentioned that. And I think in this role I get to think about that a lot, the landscape of our profession, the different audiences, and in coaching, audiences that make up the strength and conditioning coach field. And you did a great job of really just showing areas that, one, that have progressed. And obviously tactical, so many opportunities right now. And some areas that we still have a lot of work to do. And I think high school strength and conditioning-- and one thing I think about a lot, with high school strength and conditioning, is the NSCA is working towards accreditation of the CSCS. So that's going to include a practical element to the CSCS exam that is included in the education program that leads up to being able to take the test. And with that, it's the same thing that happened with athletic training, and physical therapy, and some of these other professions that, students get put in that position where they have to choose their profession maybe a little bit sooner.
[00:28:11.60] And so where I think you get to give maybe some of your athletes their first exposure to legitimate strength and conditioning, the value of having strength coaches at the high school level, it also becomes very career focused, as well. You know not everybody's going to make it to the pros, not everybody's going to be a college athlete, but there might be a lot of great strength conditioning coaches that come up through high school that see it as a viable career path. So that's something I think about a lot, and man, you touched on all those audiences. And one thing-- I was just in a conversation the other day with somebody that also worked in pro baseball. And it was something where baseball was a growing area of the field in the early 2000s, there was a lot of opportunity there. And it's the same thing in tactical now.
[00:29:06.94] And so that's-- I know you're-- I know you're coming from the men's basketball side of things, the college sports side of things. But I think that's a great piece of advice for young coaches that we've been talking about advice for is, look at what opportunities are available, and get your experience where you can. Like you said, don't say no to an opportunity because you don't maybe have a full picture of what that looks like.
[00:29:33.12] Yeah, 100%. And that's another piece. I think on the university side, the single sports strength coach, I think that's going to grow. I mean we see it a lot more on the baseball side and in college, I think you'll see it-- you know, I think hockey is growing, the college hockey side. And even some of these volleyball, and volleyball programs are getting strict. I know here our softball program does an amazing job, and that's another thing that's also kind of chasing around the country and growing around the country, which is the softball programs.
[00:30:04.58] Yeah, that's awesome. So Mike, for our listeners today, what's the best way to get in contact if they want to reach out?
[00:30:11.01] Shoot me an email, if they'd like, firstname.lastname@example.org is probably the easiest way. Other than that, I'm on social media everywhere, it's just @Mike__Snowden. I'm available.
[00:30:26.31] Awesome. Mike, really, really appreciate you being on the show today. To our listeners, thanks for tuning in. We'd also like to thank Sorinex Exercise Equipment, we appreciate their support.
[00:30:37.48] From the NSCA, thank you for listening to the NSCA Coaching Podcast. We serve you, the coaching community. So follow, subscribe, and download for future episodes. We look forward to connecting with you again soon, and hope you'll join us at an upcoming NSCA event or in one of our special interest groups. For more information, go to nsca.com.
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