How to Become a Soccer Referee

An easy-to-read guide on how to start a career as a football referee.

Michael Oliver, the youngest ever Premier League referee

Many kids and youth players realize at an early age that their true calling in football is to become a soccer referee. Therefore, they start fulfilling their dream by training at an early age.

If you are one of the young men or women who want to become a professional referee, this article will walk you through the process in eight steps.

1. Meet the age requirement

Most local football associations in the United States require aspiring referees to be at least 13 years of age. If you are below this age, you may still be able to get a certificate and start your refereeing career by officiating four-and-under (u4) or six-and-under (u6) kids’ soccer.

2. Condition yourself physically

So you are old enough to be a soccer referee. The next step should be undergoing a refereeing course and getting a certificate. But not so fast: you still have to make sure that you are fit enough.

Being a soccer referee involves a lot of running up and down the field, usually in sudden stops and bursts. Distance of run is also another challenge that referees face each game. It is common for a referee officiating an 11-a-side game to run more than five miles.

In getting a referee certification, your local football association will test your physical fitness. Just to give you an idea about the type of physical test that you will go through, here is the fitness test that FIFA gives to referees:

Test of average running speed

Candidates are required to sprint a distance of 40 meters (44 yards) six times, with a maximum recovery period of 90 seconds. The average time for the six runs is computed. Male referees must have an average running time of at most 6.2 seconds while female referees must have 6.6 at most.

High-intensity run

This phase of the physical test is done in ten laps, for a total of four kilometers.  Male referees must run a distance of 150 meters (164 yards) at the maximum time of 30 seconds, followed by 35 seconds’ recovery (during this time they must walk a distance of 50m). The distance is repeated after recovery to complete one lap

Female referees must cover the 150 meters in 35 seconds. They are given 40 seconds to complete the 50m recovery walk. 

Physical tests for referees in amateur or youth level will not be as tough as for international football but that should give you an idea that refereeing is a physical task that requires good fitness. Do not be intimidated. Just a few morning runs can give you the endurance and strength you need to become a referee.

3. Know the rules and the hand signals

Knowing and understanding the fundamental rules of soccer is the foundation of being a referee. Exercise your knowledge of the game laws by refereeing practice games. Of course, you will have to learn the hand signals of soccer referees to be able to officiate matches.

You can also get significant experience by being an assistant official in practice matches. Be sure to know the proper flag signals for soccer referees before you volunteer. Watching football games on television and focusing on what the referee does is another excellent way to learn.

4. Apply for level certification

Now that you are fit enough and sufficiently aware of the soccer rules, it is time to apply for a refereeing certificate. It is during this stage that you will learn from experienced referees how to officiate a match, the equipments that you will need, and your responsibilities as a soccer official.

After a series of training and lectures, you will be given your refereeing/level certificate. This document is your proof that you have undergone the proper training to become a ref.

5. Pass the refereeing exam

After the training, your local football association will give you a written and oral exam. Pass and you will get your certification and referee badge. You are already eligible to officiate games after passing your final test.

6. Get the necessary referee uniform & equipment

Before you can officiate your first match, you must have the necessary equipment for soccer refs. A referee’s kit includes a uniform, whistle, watch, red & yellow cards, and a notebook.

7. Officiate a match

To fully become a referee, you must be able to get games. You can get chances to officiate matches by contacting your local referee assignor. An assignor is a person tasked by the local football board to assign referees to matches. It is your responsibility to contact an assignor, not the otherwise.

Your state’s football association or referee committee has a list of the assignors who can get you a match. Do not be disappointed if you start by refereeing kids’ games because all referees start there.

8. Apply for an advancement

After graduating from your football refereeing course, you will likely be given a grade 9 or 8 certification. To officiate at higher game levels, you must undergo more refereeing courses provided by your local football association or refereeing committee. The following are the grades that you advance to during your career as a referee:

Grade 9 – This level is for very young referees and is for officiating small-sided matches for kids’ soccer games.

Grade 8 – This level is where referees usually start after getting a certification. Grade 8 referees can officiate recreational and amateur matches.

Grade 7 – Soccer referees who achieved grade 7 can officiate most amateur games within state level

Grades 6 & 5 – These levels are the stepping stone towards becoming a referee on the national level

Grades 4 & 3 – Grade 4 referees are qualified to be assistant referees in professional level soccer. Grade 3 referees officiate pro matches such as the Major League Soccer.

Grade 2 – Soccer referees in this grade are eligible to assist in international matches

Grade 1 – International referees, the highest level that soccer officials can achieve