How Do I Become a Professional Referee?

Explore the career requirements for professional referees. Get the facts about training, job duties, and salary to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Education - Sports Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Professional Referee?

Professional referees monitor and enforce the rules of sporting activities, such as baseball, football and hockey. Responsibilities often include starting or stopping play whenever necessary and settling infringements of game standards. Prior to a game, they may inspect equipment to make sure that it adheres to game regulations and safety standards. While some serve as the only official for a game, others work in teams with line judges and other officials. Unlike volunteer referees, professional referees are paid for their work.

See the table below for information about training, salary, and job outlook for this career.

Education Required High school diploma or equivalent often required
Training Required Dependent on the state and/or sport association
Job Growth (2014-2024) 5%* (for all umpires, referees, and other sports officials)
Average Salary (May 2015) $33,990* (for all umpires, referees, and other sports officials)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

How Do I Enter the Arena of Professional Sports as a Referee?

As with sports professionals, professional referees usually start in local leagues and progress to the high school and collegiate levels before going pro. Though not required, many referees and officials have played their respective sport at high levels and/or for long periods of time, giving them exhaustive knowledge of the standards of the sport. Each sport often has different requirements for becoming a professional referee, though most follow similar tracks.

In baseball, prospects first enroll in a professional umpire training school accredited by the Professional Baseball Umpire Corp, of which there are only three. Upon completion of the program, you may undergo a further evaluation. Depending on available openings, only the best students get to become minor league umpires, who then work their way up to the majors. Granting further high-quality performance, umpires usually make the big leagues in under a decade.

While hockey, soccer and football have similar courses for aspiring referees, there is a higher emphasis on time spent officiating prior to completing. These sports demand that you have stronger experiential knowledge before you can move up the ranks for professional consideration. Often local, statewide or national referee organizations, like the Cedar Rapids Athletic Officials Association and the Professional Soccer Referees Association, are a great way for already practicing referees to move up from the high school to collegiate and from the post-collegiate to the highest level of officiating.

What Skills and Traits Should I Have?

A referee is far more than a human rulebook. You must have a feel for the game, an ability to be where the call will be made, a commanding presence and a resounding voice. You must also keep your emotions in check when the thousands of people around you are screaming or jeering. Similarly, you must gauge player emotions and further the game along smoothly after controversial calls. Personal tact, unbiased judgment, professional conduct, a healthy physique and great eyesight will lead you towards the professional ranks.

Personal Fouls: What Are Some Things to Watch Out for as a Referee?

Umpires and referees are no strangers to a few blue words, and you must also be prepared for passionate sports fans threatening physical violence. Big games can lead to controversial calls that put you right at the center of a tussle, brawl or riot. You must be able to extricate yourself from these situations so that they don't result in a long-term suspension or firing.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Another related job option is a position as a recreation worker. In this job, you would work at parks, recreation centers, camps and other community settings to teach particular leisure activities, including sports and fitness classes. You usually need to have a high school diploma to get a job as a recreation worker. Alternatively, if you have expertise in a particular sport, you might be interested in becoming a professional athlete yourself. Although no formal education is required, you need to have excellent skills for a successful professional career.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:
The schools in the listing below are not free and may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users. Tuition and costs will vary across programs and locations. Be sure to always request tuition information before starting a program.

Popular Schools

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. Next »