How To Become a Referee

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 18, 2021 | Published February 4, 2020

Updated February 18, 2021

Published February 4, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

In addition to the spectators, coaches and players, referees also play a vital part in the success of a sports event. They are the persons in authority in a variety of sports. They are known by several other titles as well, including judge, umpire, linesman, arbitrator, timekeeper, commissaire, technical official or touch judge.

Referees usually wear black-and-white striped tops paired with black bottoms and work in many different sports. In this article, we explain what a referee does, how to become one and answer some common questions about being a referee.

What does a referee do?

Referees monitor and enforce the rules of sporting events, such as basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer and football. Their responsibilities usually include starting or stopping the game whenever necessary and resolving infractions of game standards.

Before starting the game, they may check equipment to ensure that it adheres to safety standards and game regulations. While some referees serve as the only official for a game, others work in teams with line judges and other sports officials.

Other responsibilities of a referee include:

  • Judging performances in sports competitions in order to impose scoring penalties, award points and determine results

  • Signaling participants or other sports officials to alert them of infractions or to otherwise regulate competition or play

  • Keeping track of event times, including race times and elapsed time during game segments

  • Resolving complaints by participants or claims of rule infractions and assessing any necessary penalties, according to the game's regulations

  • Conferring with other sports officials, players, coaches and facility managers to coordinate activities, provide information and settle issues

  • Researching and studying teams and players in order to anticipate problems that may arise in future engagements

  • Verifying credentials of players or participants in sporting events and making other qualifying determinations

Average salary

Referees earn an average salary of $15.98 per hour, and some salaries range from $7.25 to $35.75 per hour. The salary of referees varies depending on several factors, including their level of education, geographic location and certification.

How to become a referee

Here are the steps that you can take to become a professional referee:

  1. Obtain a high school diploma or equivalent.

  2. Choose the sport you want to officiate.

  3. Obtain specific training.

  4. Complete state registration.

  5. Gain experience for career advancement.

  6. Become certified.

1. Obtain a high school diploma or equivalent

The educational requirements to become a professional referee vary by state and are sometimes determined by your local sports association. While some states have no formal education requirements, other states may require referees to have a high school diploma or its equivalent. To determine your state's educational requirements for referees, you may need to refer to your state athletic or activity association.

Related: How To List Education on a Resume

2. Decide which sport you want to officiate

Because each sport has different rules and regulations, you will need to become certified as a referee for a specific sport. If you're not sure which sport you want to officiate, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Which sport I am passionate about?

  • Which sport I am most familiar with?

  • Are there refereeing opportunities in my area? If so, in which sport?

  • Do I have friends or family members that play a sport I could referee?

3. Obtain specific training

You may participate in training programs offered through officiating or sports organizations, colleges and universities or accredited third-party training schools. These programs teach you how to interpret the regulations and procedures for a given sport, interact with coaches, promote good sportsmanship and maintain ethical standards and practices.

You may also participate in training clinics sponsored by sports organizations to learn about game rules and play, refereeing skills and the organizational structure of a sports league.

You may also enroll in a professional school. Professional sports organizations usually offer or accredit specific training opportunities. For instance, the Professional Baseball Umpire Corp, which is a fully owned subsidiary of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL), accredits three professional umpire training programs. You need to complete one of these programs before umpiring rookie and Class-A league games.

4. Complete state registration

If you want to referee high school sporting events, you must complete state registration. The registration requirements usually vary by state and sport, but most require completion of a written examination.

Some may also require you to complete formal training classes before you can take the exam. You may need to take a field test as well. Some states also require you to register with the agency that supervises high school athletics before you can referee high school games.

5. Gain experience for career advancement

Career advancement for referees usually comes only after gaining several years of experience. In some cases, sports conferences or leagues may have specific training, experience or evaluation requirements that you must meet.

Working closely with a local chapter or office of a sports organization allows you to stay informed about the necessary steps for advancement. For some sports, there are many amateur leagues where you can gain status and skills to qualify for professional sports refereeing.

Related: Listing Professional Experience on Your Resume

6. Become certified

Depending on your state and the type of sport you want to referee, you can become a certified referee or official by participating in training clinics. For instance, the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) of America, Southern California chapter, allows umpires to obtain certification through their mechanics clinic program or with a participating provider.

Related: Impress Recruiters With These Desirable Professional Certifications

Frequently asked questions about referees

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about referees:

How do I become a referee in professional sports?

Professional referees usually start their careers in local leagues and then advance to high school and collegiate levels before entering professional leagues. While not required, many referees and other sports officials have played their respective sport at high levels or for long periods of time, allowing them to gain a wide understanding of the standards of the sport.

Each sport has its own requirements for becoming a professional referee, though most follow the same tracks.

In baseball, for example, you are required to enroll in a training school approved by the Professional Baseball Umpire Corp. Once you complete the training, you may need to undergo further evaluations.

Depending on available openings, only top-performing students get to become minor league umpires, who then advance to the majors. Umpires who maintain quality performance usually become professional in under a decade.

What skills are necessary to become a successful referee?

To be successful in this role, aspiring referees generally need:

Communication skills

Referees and other sports officials must be good at informing athletes on the rules of the game and settling disputes between competing players. They should also be good at communicating infractions and violations to spectators, coaches and opposing team players.

Decision-making skills

Referees must also be adept at observing play, assessing various situations and making quick decisions.

Good vision

Referees must have good vision and observation to notice infractions and determine any violations during the game. In some sports, such as gymnastics and diving, sports officials must be able to clearly see an athlete's form for imperfections.

Stamina

Referees should have the stamina to walk, stand, run or squat for long periods of time during games or events.

Teamwork

Because referees usually work in teams to officiate a game, the ability to cooperate with others is essential.

Related: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

What are the working conditions for a referee?

Referees work both indoors and outdoors and in all weather conditions. Some referees are required to travel on long bus rides to sporting events. Others travel by air. Because referees must carefully observe play and usually make fast decisions, their job is filled with pressure. In some cases, strong disagreements may arise between officials, coaches and players, resulting in additional stress.

Referees sometimes have profanity directed at them by upset spectators, coaches and players. They should be prepared for sports fans threatening physical violence. Major sporting events can lead to controversial calls that put referees at the center of a brawl, tussle or riot. Referees must be able to extricate themselves from these situations to avoid long-term suspension or firing as well as physical danger.

What is the job outlook for a referee?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of referees and other sports officials is expected to increase by about 6% from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all careers. Because the public is interested in watching sports for entertainment and playing sports for health reasons, the need for referees will likely increase.

What is the typical work schedule for a referee?

Referees usually work irregular hours, including evenings, holidays and weekends. Those who officiate sports in schools often work part-time.

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