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How to Become a Sports Referee in the US

Sports referees supervise games to ensure that they are played fairly and without undue incident. The referee monitors the conduct of the players during the game and calls out foul plays. He also starts, stops and interrupts the game in accordance with the rules of play. To be successful in this career, you have to cultivate a reputation of being scrupulously fair because games can be won or lost on your decision.

What Does a Sports Referee Do?

Sports referees are concerned with maintaining good sportsmanship in all the games they preside over.

Their specific duties are to:

  • Check pitch markings before the start of the game to ensure that all the boundaries are clearly demarcated
  • Preside over games, signaling when it is time to start, pause or stop the game
  • Maintain a close scrutiny of the game to award points and call out any foul plays
  • Determine the penalties to be issued to players who are not playing according to the rules
  • Confer with other sports officials in the game to ensure uniform rules across the sport and to discuss any challenges that they have met while officiating
  • Inspect sporting equipment to ensure it complies with prescribed standards
  • Verify scores before winners are announced and subsequently compile scores and other records
  • Report to sports associations regarding sporting activities, actions, disciplinary matters and any controversial incidents


An academic degree is not a pre-requisite to becoming a referee. Nevertheless, you will need to be thoroughly conversant with the specific rules and practices of the games you are officiating. Most people who decide to become referees are former players. However, you can undertake a basic training course in a college or sports organization to learn about:

  • Interpreting the rules of a given sport
  • Promoting good sportsmanship
  • Dealing with coaches players
  • Maintaining ethical standards and practices

Additional qualifications are:

  • Registration with the state authority that regulates sports organizations in your state or area and certification to work as a referee
  • In some states, you will also need to be licensed before you can start officiating games
  • Membership of the local, state or national sports association for continuous professional development, performance evaluation and networking opportunities
  • Demonstrable past experience especially to referee state and national championships


You will also need the following competencies to conduct your job effectively:

  • Integrity
  • Keen observation skills
  • Confidence in your decision-making and excellent judgment capabilities
  • Ability to stand by your decision regardless of the impact


Referees are not highly paid. However, this is because their jobs are seasonal, depending on the sports calendar. Furthermore, they are usually hired on a game-by-game basis and paid per game. It is only at professional and semi-professionals levels that they are hired on contract and earn a salary. The per annum salary range is:

Entry level






Senior level



Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics  


Work Environment

Referees spend most of their time on the pitch, field or other venue for the game. They occasionally have to deal with aggressive players, coaches and managers, which may lead to a conflict situation. Referees arrive before the game starts to inspect the venue and confer with the sports managers to go over the line-up and any other relevant details. The rest of the time is spent in continuous professional development learning how to improve their skills. At the amateur and local levels, referees only work weekends when these games are played but at higher levels, you will be called to work whenever and wherever the teams are playing. This usually involves travel and working weekdays.

Career Prospects

Referees are an indispensable part of all competitive games. Therefore, there will always be a market for their services. This profession is projected to grow at the standard average rate of 8% between 2012 and 2022. To enhance your career prospects from refereeing amateur leagues and local games to state and national championships, you will need to build on your experience. This involves taking up every opportunity that comes by when you start out then selectively taking on those that will enhance your visibility and open up opportunities at the professional level. The pay goes up as you rise up the ranks.

 If you are a sports enthusiasts who wants to do more than just watch sports from your homes or the sidelines and are willing to take the time to get intimately familiar with the rules of the game while working your way up then this is the job for you.

Image Source: BBC

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