Sports Referee: what they do, how to become one, and where to study

ProfGuide Updated 
Sports Referee: what they do, how to become one, and where to study

A sports referee, sometimes referred to as an official, is a critical part of any competitive athletic event. Referees uphold the rules of the game, ensure fair play, and help to maintain the spirit of sportsmanship amongst players. They are the arbitrators of disputes, interpreters of rules, and, often, the bearers of bad news. Yet, without them, organized sports would descend into chaos. By the way, recently the ProfGuide career guidance center has developed a precise career orientation test, which will tell you which professions are suitable for you, provide a conclusion about your personality type and intelligence.



Sports referees can specialize in a specific sport such as football, basketball, hockey, boxing, or tennis, among others. Each sport has its unique set of rules, regulations, and style of play, hence, the need for specialization. Some officials may cross over into different sports, but they usually start by mastering one game at a time.

Tasks and Responsibilities

  1. Enforcing rules and regulations of the game.
  2. Making judgment calls on penalties.
  3. Ensuring the safety of players.
  4. Managing game timing and scheduling.
  5. Resolving disputes among players or coaches.

Pros and Cons


  1. Being part of the action in a beloved sport.
  2. Helps build excellent communication and leadership skills.
  3. Flexibility in schedule, particularly for part-time referees.


  1. High pressure and stress during matches.
  2. Regular physical fitness is a must.
  3. Exposure to unsportsmanlike conduct or criticism from fans.


The demand for sports referees varies between countries and is influenced by the popularity of different sports. In the USA, Canada, GB, and Australia, sports such as football, hockey, rugby, and basketball are prevalent, leading to a high demand for referees. Moreover, the rise of youth and amateur leagues in these countries also increases the need for certified referees.

Salary Ranges

  • USA: $18,000 - $60,000 per year
  • Canada: CAD 20,000 - CAD 65,000 per year
  • GB: £16,000 - £55,000 per year
  • Australia: AUD 25,000 - AUD 70,000 per year

Where Do Sports Referees Work?

Sports referees are required wherever a game is played, whether that's in professional arenas, high school gymnasiums, or even open fields for youth leagues. They are essential to ensure that the game is fair, safe, and enjoyable, whether it's a local community game or a high-stakes professional match.

Important Qualities of a Successful Sports Referee

  1. Excellent knowledge of the game.
  2. Physical fitness and agility.
  3. Effective communication skills.
  4. Ability to make quick, decisive judgments.
  5. High level of integrity and impartiality.
  6. Patience and excellent conflict resolution skills.

People who lack patience, have trouble making decisions under pressure, or have physical constraints may not be suitable for this profession.

Step-by-step Career Path

  1. Obtain a high school diploma or equivalent.
  2. Gain experience in the sport you're interested in, either as a player or a keen observer.
  3. Take a referee training course specific to your sport.
  4. Pass any required certification exams.
  5. Start with lower level games (like youth or high school) to gain experience.
  6. Network with other referees and leagues to find job opportunities.
  7. Continue your education and attend professional development courses to advance your career.

How to Become a Sports Referee

In the USA, a higher education degree is not usually necessary to become a sports referee. Most officials start their journey in high school or after, often having been players themselves. The most crucial step is taking and passing the necessary certification course for their chosen sport, which can take a few weeks to a few months. Residency or graduate programs are not typically required.

Where to Become a Sports Referee


  1. United States Soccer Federation
  2. National Association of Sports Officials
  3. USA Basketball
  4. USA Hockey
  5. Pro Umpire Camp


  1. Canada Soccer
  2. Hockey Canada
  3. Canada Basketball
  4. Baseball Canada
  5. Boxing Canada

Great Britain:

  1. The Football Association
  2. England Rugby
  3. Basketball England
  4. England Boxing
  5. British Baseball Federation


  1. Football Australia
  2. Basketball Australia
  3. Australian Rugby Union
  4. Boxing Australia
  5. Baseball Australia

Can You Enter the Profession with a Different Degree?

Yes, you can enter the profession with a different degree. The most important aspects are a deep understanding of the sport, the ability to pass the certification exam, and physical fitness. Many referees come from a wide range of backgrounds and use refereeing as a part-time job or a way to stay connected to the sport they love.

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