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How to Become a Professional Referee: Education and Career Roadmap

Nov 03, 2019

Learn how to become a professional referee. Research the education and career requirements, certification and experience required for starting a career as a professional referee. View article »

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  • 0:00 Should I Become A…
  • 0:44 Career Requirements
  • 1:12 Steps To Become A…

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a Professional Referee?

Referees are sports officials who preside over games and enforce the rules at recreational or competitive sporting events. In accordance with the rules of the game, referees detect infractions, monitor player safety, track time and assess penalties. Many pressures may be associated with this occupation, since those involved often disagree over referees' decisions. Refs often work evenings, weekends and holidays, whenever the sports events might occur. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a mean annual salary of $33,990 for umpires, referees and sports officials in May 2015.

Career Requirements

Degree Level High school diploma or equivalent; sport-specific referee training is often required
Experience Referee experience at the high school or minor league level may be necessary before moving to the professional level
Certification State registration typically required; voluntary certification available
Key Skills Knowledge of the rules of a specific sport; excellent vision; good communication and decision-making skills; physical stamina
Salary $33,990 (2015 average salary for all umpires, referees, and sports officials)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

To become a referee, you'll likely need a high school diploma, and sport-specific referee training is often required. Referee experience at the high school or minor league level may be necessary before moving to the professional level. State registration is typically required, and there's voluntary certification available. You'll also need knowledge of the rules of a specific sport, excellent vision, good communication skills, the ability to make good decisions and physical stamina.

Steps to Become a Professional Referee

Let's go over what steps must be taken to become a professional referee.

Step 1: Determine the Sport You Want to Officiate

While many referees may have played the sport they officiate at some point in their lives, it's not a requirement for the position. Each sport has its own unique set of rules, and regulations can vary from level to level.

Step 2: Obtain Specific Training

Training programs may be offered through sports or officiating organizations, colleges or approved third-party training schools. These programs teach students how to interpret the rules for a given sport, promote good sportsmanship, deal with coaches and maintain ethical standards and practices. At training clinics sponsored by sports organizations, aspiring referees learn about game rules and play, refereeing skills and a league's organizational structure. Program components can include both classroom and field learning. Attendees may be prepared for official certification by completing a sports association's training program

Enroll in a professional school. Professional sports organizations may offer or approve specific training opportunities for their league. For example, the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues' Professional Baseball Umpire Corp approves three professional umpire training programs. An aspiring professional baseball umpire must complete one of these programs before umpiring rookie and Class-A league games.

Get fit mentally and physically. Referees must have a judicious mindset to properly do their jobs. Sports, such as basketball or soccer, require referees who are physically fit, since they must run the length of the court or field to keep up with the fast-paced action of the game.

Step 3: Complete State Registration

To referee high school, state registration is typically necessary. Every state and sport has different requirements when it comes to the registration process. However, most require completion of a written exam, and some may require formal training classes prior to the exam. A field test may be necessary as well. Some states require that those who wish to referee high school games register with the agency that oversees high school athletics.

Step 4: Gain Experience to Move Up in the Field

Career advancement for referees typically comes only after several years' experience. In some cases, sports leagues or conferences may have specific training, evaluation or experience requirements that must be met. Working closely with a local office or chapter of a sports organization can keep referees in the loop with regard to the necessary steps for advancement. For some sports, there are several amateur leagues where referees can gain the skills and status to qualify for professional sports refereeing.

Step 5: Become Certified to Further Career Advancement

Depending on the state and type of sport, referees can become a certified official by attending training clinics. For example, the Southern California chapter of the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) of America lets umpires earn certification through their mechanics clinic program or with a participating provider.

To become a professional referee, you'll need to be familiar with your chosen sport, gain experience in the sport and complete referee training. You may also have to complete state registration.

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