top of page

How to Become a Referee

 You've thought about becoming a soccer official and need a place to get started.

Find out about the local officials associations in your area. An officiating association is a group of officials who meet periodically to discuss rules, mechanics and philosophy. They are a great way for new officials to learn from veteran officials.

Attend a game in your area and ask the referees what association they belong to and whom to contact for information. The association will be a valuable pool of resources for training, obtaining games and getting to know the officiating community.

Attend association meetings. At those meetings, some held before the season starts, you can ask questions about rules, mechanics and positioning. Those sessions will be a foundation to get you started properly.


Physical Demands

Expect higher than normal physical demands. As the players ages increase and the competitive levels increase, the physical demands will rise. You will be required to run several miles to properly position yourself. You are often expected to do several games in a day.


Initial training

Approximately 16 hours. Expect lectures, demonstration and exercises on the 17 basic Laws of the Game. If you only want to work smallsided youth games, there are specific training courses which may be shorter. There is a small fee for initial training, usually around $15.


 Initial Equipment

• Polished, black athletic shoes; cleated or flatbottomed.

• Special socks with three white bands.

• Black shorts.

• A specialized black shirt with white collars and cuffs, shortsleeves or longsleeves.

• Referee tools: A watch, whistle, pencil, note paper, coin, red card, yellow card and a set of assistant referee flags.

• Estimated cost: $200 if you have soccer shoes. Sometimes, veteran referees have "handmedowns" that help new referees get started.

There are alternate red and gold jerseys available when colors clash with the competing teams. There are variations in patterns and shades, so discuss your purchase with a veteran referee to ensure you buy an authorized shirt.


Registration & Fees

Talk with referees at a game, contact the athletic department of a local high school or contact your local recreation department. They will be able to give you the name of the state governing body for high school athletics. You will be expected to complete a registration form for affiliation with a national, statewide or local association. Often there will be a fee that must be paid with this registration which goes toward additional officiating training and insurance. Often, with your state association fee, you will be provided rulebooks and other materials. The fees range from $10 - $50.

Game Fees

Many programs offer no pay. The American Youth Soccer Organization prides itself on being an allvolunteer force, however they supply you with some of the equipment needed to start. Game fees in other leagues vary widely based on the players age group, competitive level and the state you officiate in. You can expect the range of $6 for youth games to $45 for competitive high school varsity games. Collegiate games pay from $50 - $150.

Help & Assistance

Ask a respected veteran referee to be your mentor if one is not assigned to you. That mentor will help answer your questions and provide crucial support. Dont be afraid to ask questions about situations and rules. The more you talk about officiating, the more you will learn about it. 

Annual Re-certification

The different organizations have different requirements, but most require at least attendance at a meeting to go over any current rule changes. Additional requirements may be a written test with a minimum passing score, a physical test with distance and sprint elements, payment of fees for the upcoming season and a classroom session for additional inservice training of up to five hours.


Climbing the Ladder

Heres the path for starting and continuing your officiating career:

*The Youth level: Many referees start at that level. Contact your local recreation department leaders. Your local association should also help you make contacts to get games.

United States Soccer Federation (USSF)

1801-1811 South Prairie Avenue

Chicago, IL 60616


fax: 312/808-1301

Soccer Association for Youth (SAY)

4050 Executive Park Drive, Suite 100

Cincinnati, OH 45241


fax: 513/769-0500


Soccer in the Streets (SITS)

149 McDonough Street, Suite 270

Jonesboro, GA 30236


fax: 770/478-1862


American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO)

19750 S. Vermont Ave.  Suite 200

Torrance  CA 90502


fax: 310/525-1155

*Upgrading: After working some games, you may feel you have the skills and confidence to work higher level competition. Many associations will allow upgrading in the middle of the season after you have shown a trained observer you are ready to make the leap. That observation, evaluation or assessment will provide you with valuable feedback.

After you have worked the minimum number of games, you can apply for upgrading. The higher level will allow you to work more competitive games and earn higher fees. Important note: You are responsible for monitoring the number of games you have worked in the past. You will need to show some documentation when you apply for the upgrade, so keep accurate records: game date, opposing teams, referee partners, age bracket, etc.

*Upgrading to high school: The requirements vary state by state. You may have to keep a record of your games, earning points for each game whistled. You may automatically move up if you attend a rules meeting and submit a written test. Contact your state association for registration information.

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) is the nations governing body for high school athletics. Contact the NFHS for rulebooks, rule changes and information on your state association.


P.O. Box 690

Indianapolis, IN 46204


High school athletic directors, association assigners and other officials will help you get games. Attend local officiating camps and clinics. They are focused on helping umpires learn and improve.

*Upgrading to college: There are two categories: referee and national referee. Advancement within each category is based on the league or conference. When first trying to enter a particular college conference, talk with referees who are currently in the conference. They can give you valuable information, such as the conference commissioner and officiating camps to attend. College athletic directors or sports information directors can also be helpful.

The National Intercollegiate Soccer Officials Association (NISOA) is the primary association of collegiate soccer officiating. It is the organization responsible for improving the quality of college officiating in the U.S. NISOA represents around 5,500 officials and provides officials for most college conferences. Click here for more information about  NISOA.

You may start your career in the NAIA, work an NCAA Division III conference, advance to a Division II schedule, then on to a smaller Division I conference and culminate with a major Division I schedule. Attendance at the NISOA camp in Elizabeth, Pa., is a requirement to upgrade to become a National Referee, after a recommendation by your local chapter.

National Intercollegiate Soccer Officials Association (NISOA)

1030 Ohio Ave.

Cape May, NJ 08204

National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)

P.O. Box 6222

Indianapolis, IN 46206-6222


National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA)

23500 W. 105th Street

P.O. Box 1325

Olathe, KS 66051-1325


National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA)

P.O. Box 7305

Colorado Springs, CO 80933- 7305


*Professional league: All referees affiliated with FIFA have a designated referee grade. The grade indicates the qualification of the referee to officiate at various levels of local, national and international soccer competition. There is a common misconception that these grades are related to elementary or secondary school grades - they're not, they are assigned by USSF.

Grade 1 Referees: Referees who officiate in the World Cup and international matches are designated as Grade 1.

Grade 2 Referees: Assistant Referees to Grade 1 Referees are designated as Grade 2.

Grade 3 and 4 Referees: In the United States competition at the national level (including professional soccer and MLS) requires Grade 3 or 4. Grade 3 indicates the referee's readiness to be considered for international service.

Grade 5 and 6 Referees: The highest level of competition within a state (amateur leagues beyond youth) requires a Grade 5 or 6 where Grade 5 indicates the referee's readiness to be considered for national service.

Grade 7 Referees: Grade 7 is an experienced referee in the state qualified to officiate all but the highest levels of amateur soccer.

Grade 8 Referees: Most referees begin their careers as Grade 8 having taken the entry training course.

Grade 9 Referees: Very young aspirants to refereeing may take an abbreviated training course and be registered as Grade 9 which qualifies them only for very young "small sided" matches (usually seven and eight year old players in six per team matches)

As referees advance to higher grades they are required to demonstrate their continued qualification for their grade through "maintenance" assessments and sustained high level competition experience. Each referee at Grade 7 or higher is also required to successfully pass a physical fitness field examination which includes distance, agility and speed tests (as set out in the Referee Administrative handbook). The results of this testing are recorded to fulfill part of the annual registration / recertification qualifications. In rare circumstances referees who fail to maintain their qualifications are "down graded" by the MSRC and this is reflected on their next registration.


United States Soccer Federation (USSF)

1801 - 1811 South Prairie Avenue

Chicago, IL 60616


fax: 312/8081301

bottom of page