So, you want to become a soccer referee? I guess you’re short on moaning players, loud coaches, and uneducated spectators in your life. Don’t worry, becoming a soccer referee will solve all of those problems!
Yes, those things are part of the game, it’s a sad truth. But, being a referee has some signficant pluses. You actually get paid to get outside and run around, and for the most part, you’re your own boss! Referees tend to be a fraternal bunch, so you’ll always have a supportive, friendly group of people to help you along the way as you learn how to referee. And about the minuses: they very rarely become a big problem.
Before you can referee a game, you have to be certified by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). There are other soccer organizations in the USA, but USSF is by far the largest, so we’re going to speak exclusively to its’ requirements.
USSF, FIFA, CONCACAF, SRC ASAP
A little understanding of the organizational hiearchy will help us understand where need to go from here. The governing body of soccer (football in most places) is the Federation Internationale de Football Association, better known as FIFA. FIFA is divided into continental confederations, then further into national associations. For the USA , our continental confederation is known as CONCACAF. It’s a complicated acronym, so I won’t try to explain it here, but it is the governing body of soccer for North America, Central America and the Carribean. Within CONCACAF, are the national associations, including USSF.
In the United States, adminstration of soccer is further delegated to 55 State Associations. You may be questioning the geographic knowledge of USSF at this point, wondering how there could be 55 “states”. The answer is that some of the larger states, like California, Texas, and a couple of others, are further divided into smaller adminstrative “states”.
Within each of the State Associations there is a body responsible for adminstering the USSF Referee Program for their state. This group is known as the State Referee Committee, or SRC. Among other things, the SRC is responsible for teaching and certifying new referees in their state.
So, the first step to becoming a new referee is to identify your SRC. This is a simple excercise for everyone, unless you live in California, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania or Ohio. Each of these states have two associations. California, Texas and Ohio are divided into North and South associations, while New York and Pennsylviania are divided into East and West.
Your SRC is responsible for conducting classes for new referees, adminstering the test, making sure you are registered with USSF and getting your badge to you. Most of the SRCs maintain a website that lists upcoming referee classes. For a complete list of SRCs and their corresponding websites, visit this page.
The SRCs are allowed a little bit of flexibility in determining the starting level for referees in their states. Referees can be certified and start as either a Grade 9 (R9) or a Grade 8 (R8), depending on the state. R9 referees are limited to being an Assistant Referee on games up to the Select (competitive) U14 age group, and may only be the referee for Recreational (non-competitive) matches up to U14. R8 referees are technically able to be an Assistant Referee or Referee on any match, up through U19, though assignors will typically start you out at the younger age groups.
In my home state of Georgia, referees are required to start at the R9 level and then can move up to R8 after completing one season as an R9 and successful completion of the R9-to-R8 certification class. Other states allow referees to immediately certify as an R8. Your SRCs website probably has the details.
Once you’ve registered for an entry level class (be it R9 or R8), you may be wondering what to expect and how to prepare. You’ll have to attend training that is typically covered over two sessions on two different days. It may be one weeknight and one all day weekend session, or any number of other variations. The bottom line is that you will have to sit through some classroom instruction, along with some practical field excercises, and then pass a written multiple-choice test. There is no physical test requirement for R9 or R8 referees. If you decide to stick with refereeing (and who wouldn’t) you will have to pass a physical test – along with other requirements – to become an R7 referee.