June 14, 2018
Class of 2018: Kinesiology PhD grad helps soccer elite perform their best
No selfies. No autographs. No problem.
Because when Stefan Hoerzer is dealing with the planet's best soccer players, he is focused. He has a job to do — and fawning plays no part in it. He would never behave like a fan.
"No, you shouldn't," says Hoerzer, laughing. "Obviously, they trust you as an expert. They trust you as being professional. You want to show, 'I can help you. I'm here to help you perform at your best, to make you better.'" And Hoerzer — as senior manager athlete services for adidas in Nuremberg, Germany — is certainly qualified to do that. Footwear is his specialty.
"If one of the players has specific needs, whatever that might be, we are the department here that customizes the boots to these needs," says Hoerzer. "We have different devices to measure feet. We also have different computer programs for how we analyze the data. Based on the data, we do our customization."
Biomechanics PhD leads to adidas job
If this sounds like a fantastic job, well, it is. And that is not lost on Hoerzer, who, after earning bachelor's and master's degrees in sports engineering in his native Austria, earned a PhD in biomechanics from the Faculty of Kinesiology at the University in Calgary in 2017. His career is on track.
"Absolutely, absolutely," says the 33-year-old. "Being interested and enthusiastic about soccer, working with those heroes you usually see only on the TV, and having interaction with them and helping them to perform at their best, I think it's super exciting. For me, it's obviously the best job I could have found with my education I got from the U of C. It's absolutely fantastic. I love everything."
Confidentiality prevents him from name-dropping, but he admits that even casual soccer fans would be familiar with his clients. However, he cannot be starstruck. "When you need to do a certain customization, you obviously have to see the player," says Hoerzer. "You have to get the feedback, you have to get the data. So there's a fair amount of time you spend with players, yes."
Exciting meeting with Benno Nigg turned into opportunity
He began charting this course eight years ago. While writing his master's thesis at adidas during an internship, he was introduced to Benno Nigg, founder of the highly regarded Human Performance Lab in the Faculty of Kinesiology.
"A big hero in the field of biomechanics … this is the guy everybody at adidas was talking about, so I was very excited to meet him," says Hoerzer. "Also, it was very exciting to hear what he told me my field of study could be in Calgary. It was an easy decision to say, 'OK, let's take this opportunity.'"
In March 2011, he arrived in Calgary and began to conduct his research into running shoe customization. Thesis defended, he fulfilled his PhD requirements by September 2017.
'I love my job — I would even call it my dream job'
These days, like an accountant at tax time, Hoerzer is swamped. You see, the FIFA World Cup is set to open June 14 in Russia and the game's superstars want their boots fitting perfectly.
"This is probably the busiest time we have," he says, "not only for soccer fans around the world, but for companies dealing with soccer. It's the most important event there is, basically. Everybody is excited, but also busy because there is a lot of stuff to get done before the World Cup starts."
But don't mistake the mention of the challenging work-rate for any kind of dissatisfaction. Because Hoerzer could not be happier — or more appreciative.
"I'm not only saying that I love my job, I really do love it," he says. "I would even call it my dream job. If 10 years ago, somebody would have told me that this job actually exists, I would have said, 'Yes, let's do it. I'm willing to do everything to get there.' Truth is, this is why I'm very, very, very grateful that I was in Calgary.
"Because, without Calgary, without Benno, I wouldn't have this job, I'm certain. It worked out just beautifully."