How to Become an Umpire, Referee, or Other Sports Official
Education and training requirements for umpires, referees, and other sports officials vary by the level and type of sport.
Requirements for umpires, referees, and other sports officials typically vary by state and local sports association. Although some positions have no formal education requirements, others may require a high school diploma. Officiating sports requires extensive knowledge of the rules of the game.
Umpires, referees, and other sports officials typically need a high school diploma, although requirements may vary. Each state and sport association has its own education requirements for umpires, referees, and other sports officials. Some do not require formal education, while others may require umpires, referees, and sports officials to have a high school diploma.
Some sports, such as baseball, have their own professional training schools that prepare aspiring umpires and officials for a career at the minor and major league levels.
For more information on educational requirements, refer to the specific state athletic or activity association.
To attain competency in the occupation, umpires, referees, and other sports officials typically need up to 1 year of on-the-job training. This training may include informational sessions covering topics such as positioning, signaling, and other responsibilities or shadowing an experienced official to help manage competitions.
Umpires, referees, and other sports officials may be required to attend training camps, classes, and seminars before, during, and after the season. These sessions allow officials to learn about rule updates, review and evaluate their own performances, and improve their officiating.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Credentialing requirements vary by competition level. For example, to officiate high school athletic events, umpires, referees, and other officials must typically register with the state or local agency that oversees high school athletics. They also typically need to pass an exam on the rules of the particular sport. Some states and associations require applicants to attend umpiring or refereeing classes before taking the exam or joining the association. Other associations require officials to attend annual training workshops before renewing their officiating credential.
For more information, visit your state’s athletic association website or the National Association of Sports Officials.
Most new umpires, referees, and other sports officials begin by officiating youth sports. After a few years, they may advance to the high school level. Those who wish to advance to the collegiate level must typically officiate at the high school level for many years.
Some umpires, referees, and other officials may advance through the high school and collegiate levels to reach the professional level. Advancement may continue within the professional ranks. For example, baseball umpires begin their professional careers officiating in the minor leagues and typically need 7 to 10 years of experience there before advancing on to the major leagues.
Standards for umpires and other officials become more stringent as the level of competition increases.
Umpires, referees, and other sports officials must have an extensive knowledge of the rules of the sport they are officiating.
Some officials may have gained much of their knowledge through years of playing the sport at some level. However, playing experience is not a requirement for becoming an umpire, referee, or other sports official.
Communication skills. Umpires, referees, and other sports officials must have good communication skills because they inform athletes on a sport's rules, discuss infractions, and settle disputes.
Decision-making skills. Umpires, referees, and other sports officials must observe play, assess situations, and make split-second rulings.
Good vision. Umpires, referees, and other sports officials must have good vision to identify violations during play. In some sports, such as diving or gymnastics, sports officials also must be able to observe an athlete’s form for imperfections.
Physical stamina. Many umpires, referees, and other sports officials are required to run, squat, stand, or walk for long periods during competitions.
Teamwork. Because umpires, referees, and other sports officials may work in groups to officiate a game, they must be able to cooperate and come to a mutual decision.