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How To Become a Soccer Referee

Soccer referees are needed at every level to ensure that the match is played fairly. While it might not be the profession for everyone, plenty of people out there have what it takes to become a soccer referee.

How does someone become licensed to referee a match? How much practice is needed to move up the ranks? From casual leagues to the professional ranks, this is how to become a soccer referee and make the most out of an opportunity.

Referee Training Courses

One of the first steps that any person needs to take to be a referee in soccer is to take a training course. Every country handles training courses differently, but a referee hoping to make money at any level needs to pass an exam. It is pretty straightforward and relatively easy to pass as long as a person is willing to put in some initial studying and work.

In the United States, there is a Referee Grade 8 and Recreational Referee Grade 9 option for people to go through. The Referee Grade 8 is the most popular option, and it gets a person’s foot in the door in general.

After passing the course and registering, referees will receive their badge that will go with any referee gear they purchase. The first set of gear for referees almost always comes out of pocket, but the good news is that the equipment does not cost as much as one might think.

Moving Up The Ranks As a Soccer Referee

Virtually every soccer referee has very humble beginnings when it comes to calling games. Even those at the highest level at one time were calling soccer matches that might have had less than 10 fans in the stands. It is all about building a reputation and calling games at the highest level possible before getting the opportunity to move up.

It is fairly easy for those who look at refereeing as a part-time job to move up the ranks. Most of the time, referees are only looking at local clubs or high school level matches at most.

There is always a need for referees since there is so much turnover, so keep applying and jump on the first opportunity to build experience. There are still different tiers at this level that can change the pay per game.

Becoming a high-ranking official for top leagues and tournaments comes with a lot of competition. After all, these are fairly lucrative jobs, so everyone is trying to compete with each other.

A lot of the selection process is based on performance at lower levels, showing everyone watching that a bigger stage is manageable. Not only do the stakes get bigger, but more people are constantly vying for those spots.

Responsibilities of The Different Soccer Referees

Soccer matches can be refereed by just one person, or up to four. It depends on the level of play and the budget the league has to make officiating as fair as possible. There is a lot of work involved if there is just one referee, but usually the stakes are lower.

A head referee is the one in charge if there are a group of officials. They can also be referred to as the center or middle referee. They are the ones keeping track of time, calling the majority of penalties, stopping play in case of an injury, and more. They also write a match report after the game if played at a high level.

Assistant referees are also referred to as linesmen in the game. They are responsible for making calls such as who touched the ball last when it goes out of bounds and an offsides infraction. With a three referee setup, one assistant takes each touch line. They use flags as equipment, and that helps to signal calls quickly and efficiently.

If the league has enough money, they will introduce a fourth official. They are mostly assistants to the other referees, helping with some of the more tedious tasks such as substitutions, equipment monitoring, etc. While it may not seem like they have the craziest job in the world, it helps to make everything run smoothly.

Necessary Equipment To Become a Soccer Referee

To become a soccer referee, there is some necessary equipment that every single person needs. There is a standard look for every referee at any level. To be as versatile as possible to take a new job on, here are the essentials.


Referee jerseys are not always one standard color, as teams will switch up their own colors quite a bit. It is recommended to have at least a few different colors to be as adaptable as possible.

The most standard referee colors are gold, black, green, red, and blue. Referees need to be in sync with others they are working with to be easy to identify on the pitch.


Soccer referees need their own set of flags to use when they are making calls. The look of these is pretty standard, as everyone is looking for the same type of colors to be easily identified. There is a little bit of a change as far as design is concerned, and it is mainly left up to each referee to pick the one they want.

Flags are either checkered, diamond, or solid. Some leagues might have a preference, so check with them first before purchasing.


Every single referee has their own favorite type of whistle that they count on for every match. Top brands for whistles include the likes of Fox and Sonik. There is a classic whistle design that many traditionalists like, while some opt for the finger grip. It is best to have two whistles at all times, just for emergencies.


Every single soccer referee needs a watch so that they can properly track not just the time of the game, but how much added time is necessary. It does not have to be anything too fancy, but a stop and start function must be available. If every referee keeps track of time, that helps fix any issues if one watch malfunctions.

Brands like Casio, Champion, and Spintso all produce high-quality referee watches. They can offer tailored options that give referees an edge and makes life a little bit simpler overall.

Can a Person Make a Career Out of Being a Soccer Referee?

Like in any sport, those who make it to the top of the profession will have a chance to make a career as a soccer referee. It is going to be very difficult for referees at the recreational, high school, college, or even low-level pro leagues to make enough money to support themselves without doing something else.

Referees at the youth level really should not expect too much more than around $50 per game. This is still some decent money for a side job but likely not going to support a family. Moving into the professional ranks is when referees can earn thousands of dollars per game.

In fact, in the top leagues in Europe, referees can sometimes earn over $5000 per game depending on the importance of the game, the referee’s experience, and a few other factors.

Since refereeing and soccer is a pretty physically demanding job, referees can’t stay around forever. For a long time, FIFA had a maximum age limit of 45. FIFA dropped that in 2016, but they still sometimes test all the referees to ensure they are in tiptop performance shape.

Even at lower levels, very few referees can keep up with the game past the age of 50. You can read more about how much referees make in this post.

A Final Overview of Becoming a Referee In Soccer

It is not the easiest profession to jump into, but those willing to put in the time and effort can have quite a bit of success as a soccer referee. Everyone has different aspirations when they start, and they can be a great way to stay around the game while earning at the same time.

The younger a person gets certified and starts, the better off they will be. However, there are many cases where individuals will wait until their 30s or even 40s to get certified, and they still find plenty of jobs once they are all set. It is not always the most glorifying job in the world since fans and players can get very frustrated, but it is just one way to play a part in soccer.