If you really want to know a sport inside out, what better way is there to learn the rules than to become an official? Sure, fans will yell at you. But you can also gain confidence, stay fit, earn money, and make lifelong friends.
Why would anyone want to be a soccer referee?!
Who would willingly give up their free Saturday mornings to get heckled and yelled at by people who generally don’t understand what they are talking about and should know better?
I decided to take the Grade 8 Entry Level referee class to better handle questions from players in the amateur league I was running at the time: “You’re from England — you must know the rules!”
So, I took the class, passed the exam, got my referee badge, and bought my shirt and equipment. Having learned the theory, I reported to my local recreation complex to put my knowledge into practice. I don’t remember my first game, but suspect I wasn’t very good. I think I got paid $17. But as I worked more games I got better, and in my second year was invited to Memphis to work the Tennessee State Cup. At the time, I was still playing in the same amateur league. Becoming a referee and working youth, and some amateur, games definitely gave me a better understanding of the game, the laws, and an appreciation for officials — what they do and why.
Over time, I moved up, was invited to higher-level tournaments, and got assigned to semi-professional matches. In 2011, I was chosen to referee at the US Youth Soccer National Championships. In 2013, I was promoted to Grade 4 National Referee. I also became an assessor and instructor.
Working games, teaching new and existing referees, and helping others get better was — and is — tremendously rewarding for me. There are many other reasons for becoming a referee and staying with officiating. I’ve listed several below.
FINANCIAL: I always ask students in my Entry Level Referee classes what their motivation is for being there. For many of the youth, it’s money. And this is a fine motivator. Starting wage at the local fast-food restaurant is likely around $8 an hour. Starting pay for an assistant referee on a U7/U8 match, which plays 4 x 12 minute quarters, is also $8. The pay obviously increases as the age and skill level of the players goes up. Work hard and you could find yourself assigned to NCAA matches where you can earn hundreds of dollars per game.
EDUCATION/KNOWLEDGE: Refereeing will make you a better player and vice versa.
CAMARADERIE: I’ve made friends for life through refereeing and not just within officiating circles; I regularly bump into coaches and former players in the community. I’ve been to numerous weddings of fellow officials, one of which took place on a soccer pitch!
HEALTH: Reading social media posts from referees working tournaments this weekend, a few mentioned distance covered during games. Some ran as far as 30 miles! In recent years, more focus has been given to nutrition and recovery. This education is provided at all levels. In addition, how about the environment and working conditions? Outdoors, fresh air, and sunshine. Well, not always sunshine, but sometimes!
SOFT SKILLS: Confidence. Relationship building. Leadership. Responsibility. A referee oversees up to 22 players, coaches, substitutes, trainers, etc. Managing all those emotions while maintaining self-control is true character-building stuff. Learning to manage confrontation is exactly the sort of thing young people need, and what employers desire.
TRAVEL: Soccer has taken me to more states than I can remember.
So, giving up a Saturday morning can yield something useful after all. Some of the benefits listed can help high school students secure acceptance to a great university and earn incredibly valuable scholarship money. Listing a respected head coach or referee assignor as a reference can be a huge plus. Organization and discipline are key requirements for referees on the field and off. They also need to maintain equipment and manage their schedules.