How to Become a Certified Soccer Referee

I walked into our local YMCA. Local soccer leagues were starting and they were going to pay people who were willing to work as referees at local games. Major League Soccer was only a couple of years old at the time and one of my co-workers was spending his weekends going to matches all over the country.

Who could turn down some extra cash?

Becoming a referee seemed like a good idea at the time, but little did I know the complexities of what it would take to become a certified soccer referee.

Anyone can become a soccer referee, including minors. Each referee is assigned a grade based on their skill level. These referee grades do change from year to year, but there are 9 grades that remain relatively the same.

Most starting referees are going to enter the classification system at Grade 8. This allows you to be able to referee a competitive youth game. If you are going to referee U6-U8 soccer, you might prefer a Grade 9 certification, which is for recreational youth games.

Each nation has their own guidelines regarding referee grading and classification. Here is the list of additional grades that are available under the administration of US Soccer.

  • Grade 1: FIFA Referee
  • Grade 2: FIFA Assistant Referee
  • Grade 3: National Referee
  • Grade 4: National Assistant Referee
  • Grades 5-6: State Referee
  • Grade 7: Amateur Adult Referee

There are additional soccer grades that are available for futsal, beach soccer, and indoor soccer.

Each state is responsible for developing a referee network which meets the needs of the State Referee Association for where you live in the US. You will need to coordinate with your State Referee Administrator and your State Youth Referee Administrator.

You will also need to be able to meet all of the current referee certification requirements.

What Are the Requirements to Become a Soccer Referee?

When I first started the process of becoming a soccer referee at the YMCA, I was stuck in a stuffy classroom with a group of like-minded people who loved soccer and a Grade 4 referee teaching the course. We went over the rules to the beautiful game, took plenty of tests, and I ended up needing to buy a pack of pens because I inadvertently pocketed the teacher’s pen one evening and he demanded a replacement.

I had the option of certifying at any grade I wished, but with the understanding that I would be evaluated in game-time situations to keep my preferred certification level. Today is a little different. Most entry-level referees are going to either be Grade 8 or Grade 9.

To become certified, you will need to pass a test regarding the laws of the game. There is also a fitness test that must be passed and you will be given a practical evaluation on the ability you have to maintain a safe, competitive game environment. Many youth referees are working on their own without assistants, so being able to judge lineouts and offside calls is part of the process as well.

Some states may require previous game experience or previous grading experience as part of the certification process as well.

To move up to Grade 6, you will need 50 games as a referee and/or 25 games as an assistant referee. You must also have worked a minimum of 1 year as a Grade 7 referee and pass all grade-specific testing and fitness requirements.

Grade 5 referees must have a minimum of 1-year experience as a Grade 6 referee in order to move up. There must be a minimum of 3 passing assessments and all Grade 5 exams must be successfully passed, including sprint and interval testing. Additional annual recertification requirements may also apply, depending on the State Referee Association.

What About Becoming a National Level or FIFA Referee?

Many soccer referees are satisfied with staying at Grades 7, 8, or 9. It allows them to work youth games or amateur adult recreational league games, earn some spare cash, and be active on the weekends.

If you find that there is a passion for working as a soccer referee, then you may wish to pursue national certification at some point. You might even decide to become a FIFA referee one day.

Grade 4 referees and above are national-level referees. This means every referee at this level must be directly certified by US Soccer instead of the State Referee Association. Any referee who has achieved Grade 6 or above and is able to meet the minimum assessment that are in place.

There is no application process that is required to achieve Grade 3 or Grade 4 status. All referees that meet the minimum assessment requirements are evaluated on an annual basis for promotion. Those who have been selected will be notified of their status.

Changes in 2017: US Soccer has determined that Grade 2 referees are now professional referees, taking away that status for Grade 3 officials. Grade 5 referees are no longer selected by US Soccer, with this responsibility now being deferred to state organizations.

To achieve Grade 3 or Grade 4 status, you must pass FIFA fitness testing. You must also attend a national training camp, be a US citizen or Permanent Resident, and typically have 1 year of experience at your previous grading level. A national background check is also required and there must be at least 3 passing evaluations from national assessors.

Further requirements to achieve the higher grading levels for national-level work can be found here:

To achieve FIFA selection and certification, you must be selected by US Soccer and certify directly with the organization. Only FIFA names who will work international matches for any given calendar year or event. Evaluations at this level can be quite variable, so the current standards must always be reviewed.

This link will help you find the PDF files for all referee certification requirements that are currently available through US Soccer at any given time.

What Are the Requirements of Being a Soccer Referee?

US Soccer has instituted a mandated commitment to health and safety for all participants in the beautiful game. Although the following are recommendations instead of requirements, it is strongly suggested that all referees practice the following guidelines.

  • Wear sunscreen products every day on any area of exposed skin.
  • Use an SPF 30 product at least 15 minutes before being exposed to sunlight.
  • Reapply any sunscreen every 2 hours or more frequently if necessary, especially during halftime.
  • Wear long-sleeved uniforms during high sun exposure times.
  • Consider wearing a cap as long it doesn’t endanger the safety of the official or players and matches the referee uniform standards without any commercial marks or logos.

Referees must wear a uniform that does not conflict with the uniforms from either team. This is why you’ll often see referees wearing bright yellow, green, or blue shirts and black shorts. Black uniform tops are also common. This allows every player to recognize each person who happens to be on the pitch at any given time.

Do Soccer Referees Need to Buy Their Own Supplies?

Yes and no. There are certain supplies that a referee must purchase, especially at the lower grades. This includes their uniform, the infraction cards, a game notebook, soccer cleats, and a whistle.

You can find a standard referee shirt in various colors here: Click here to look at the price on Amazon and find the best deal.

Referees are also asked to keep the official time on the field. This rule is in place even though there may be a scoreboard available that keeps the time. This watch by Spintso makes timekeeping much easier than manually noting any stoppage time that may need to be added: Click here to look at the price on Amazon and find the best deal.

If you are working a line as an assistant referee, then you’re going to need a flag to use. We like this option from Champion Sports so you’re not stuck with the need to purchase a set: Click here to look at the price on Amazon and find the best deal.

You’re also going to need warning cards as a soccer referee if you are going to be in charge of competitive matches. This FIFA-approved wallet is an excellent value purchase that is guaranteed to fit inside of your uniform shirt or shorts pocket: Click here to look at the price on Amazon and find the best deal.

One of the new inventions that has been added to the game lately for referees has been the “vanishing spray.” If you’ve watched a professional or international match, you may have seen a referee mark the placement of a ball after a foul and then walk off the 10 yards to create a line that the defense must stay behind. This makes it easier to enforce the restart rules. It is also a product that must be provided by the affiliated competition

Knowing how to become a certified soccer referee begins by contacting your local state association. From there, you can begin the process of testing and fitness so that you can step out onto the pitch and referee your first match in the beautiful game.

Just remember to give back any pens that you are given and you’ll do well.

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