Welcome to the world of referees

The Man in Uniform: Referee

What’s the big deal about the man in stripes?

referee shirt

Referee Uniform

Aside from wearing a black and white referee uniform, whistling and giving out penalty cards, what do you really know about these individuals?  While it’s easy to look down at the profession and think that what they are doing is relatively easy but is it really so?

The job of a referee is definitely not a glamorous one unless you are involved in a high-profile game like the NBA Finals, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup or the Wimbledon.  A referee is a sport official responsible for presiding over games from an unbiased point of view and making quick decisions to enforce the guidelines set for the sport or game. Now depending on the sport, a referee can be known by a different name like an umpire, linesman or arbiter.

Now unlike other professions, you don’t need to wait until college to pursue your ambition.  If you are aspiring to be a referee, you can start young and build your career as you grow old.  So how do you start when you don’t have a referee diploma?


ref in action

There is actually no such thing as a referee diploma. You can start by learning as much as you can about a certain sport.  Although it is possible to referee different sports, it is important to learn as much as you can about one before moving on to another.  This is a good way to ensure that you don’t mix up the rules and guidelines during this stage of your learning.

If you are looking into going into being a referee in a professional capacity, it is important to take communication, motivation and leadership classes whenever available.  Refs are leaders in their respective sports and it is important to be able to assert yourself and your decision.  Moreover, it is also important that you can communicate these decisions well when you supervise any sports.



There are a number of organizations that facilitate a formal referee training for teenagers and adults alike. Most of these organizations require the applicants to be reasonably healthy with good eyesight.  Now once you have qualified to undergo training, the length of your study will vary depending on the program but generally, the topics that will be covered is pretty much streamlined.

Of course the training would start with the fundamental course of reviewing the rules and guidelines of the game.  Everyone in the program would be learning the same sport-specific rules and guidelines.  What does that mean? It simply means that if you are in a program for a basketball referee training, all of you are learning to be basketball refs. You won’t find anybody in that program that is studying to be a baseball referee or a wrestling referee.

Now the most important part of your training would be its practical application.  There will be actual interactive games and video clips for class discussion.  Sure, you’d think that practical application is easy since you have been studying the rules and guidelines. This training will teach you that it might not be as easy as it look because being put on the spot and making those actual important decisions can be a little unnerving.  There will be times that you will second guess your decision because of what you think you see or what you think you didn’t see.

basketball ref

basketball ref

Your referee training won’t be complete without some sort of assessment.  In most programs, there’s the written examination, video analysis and field assessment.  Now, having completed referee training doesn’t give you the opportunity to done on the referee uniform and apply to referee for the Super Bowl.

You’d still be undergoing a probation period wherein you need work side-by-side with a Referee Coach or an Instructor. You will then be assessed based on your competencies and a positive evaluation of your performance will grant you the opportunity for a step closer into that big professional referee position.

Now, I am sure you are interested to know how much these refs earn.  The salary would depend on the specific sport that you would be getting into.  Studies show that refs for the National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Hockey Association (NHA) are among the highest paid refs in the country however; the refs for the other sport don’t pay half bad either.

money ref

referees make a lot of money

So let’s find out what the bottom line is then. The refs for the Major League Baseball earn a minimum of $120,000 a year and on top of that, you get to fly first class with hotel accommodation and clothing allowance.  It is definitely not bad especially since you won’t be able to make any other commitments as the league pretty much got your whole year booked.

Now the refs for the NBA may not earn as much as the players do but for a season of only half 82 games, you get to earn as little as $100,000 to as much as $300,000.  It is definitely not bad considering that’s only half the number of games for the Major League Baseball.

ref pic

referee blowing his whistle

The refs for the NHL also earn a pretty decent salary that ranges from $110,000 to $255,000 while a linesman for hockey can earn at least $70,000 to $162,000. In case you are wondering, a linesman is an assistant referee that is typically seen also in football and soccer.

The NFL refs, on the other hand, earn around $25,000 to $70,000 which might seen measly compared to the other leagues but you need to take into consideration that the NFL refs only work on Sundays.  This allows for them to be able to take on other professions like doctors, dentists, lawyers, teachers and businessmen on weekdays.

After all that you have learned about the man or woman in uniform, doesn’t that raise the level of respect you have for the profession?  Being a referee is definitely not for everyone and it takes time, skills and wit. You might want to keep that in mind the next time you think about cursing the referee at your next basketball game.