Officiating jobs in most sporting events—not just soccer—often look easy to the outside world. However, becoming a soccer referee is harder than becoming a soccer player.
Being a soccer referee is harder than most refereeing jobs in other sports because of the number of players involved in association football in addition to the enormous size of the soccer pitch.
This job entails memorizing the rules of the game, being a keen observer, being physically fit, keeping track of the time, and a whole lot of other demands we shall be discussing as this article unfolds.
Refereeing is a job that expects a lot of things like excellence, dedication, and resilience from an individual because the success or failure of tournaments and championship competitions all rest on your level of professionalism.
In this job, there is little space for errors or misconduct, and rules must be upheld, as well as obeyed at all times. Overseeing the actions and conduct of 22 players on the soccer pitch for 90 minutes and more is not an easy task. It requires a lot of mastery and professionalism.
Perhaps you are already nursing the idea of being a referee—which is why you are probably reading this article.
Our intent is not to scare you out of that idea. Rather, we promise to offer you the best possible answer to this frequently asked question.
- At what age can you become a soccer referee?
- What are the steps to becoming a certified grassroots soccer referee?
- Be fit enough to run for at least six miles
- Meet the minimum required age
- Sign up with your state’s referee association
- Register for the US soccer first-time grassroots referee course
- Finish supplemental learning courses
- Pass a Gold Standard NCSI background check
- Receive the necessary equipment for referees
- Attend a virtual or an in-person training course
- Collect your referee badge, certification, and license
At what age can you become a soccer referee?
Once you are physically fit, meet the required age for refereeing, and pass the relevant courses, you can become a soccer referee. However, our best bet is that you don’t just want to be a referee stuck at the grassroots level.
For many soccer fans, anyone that can memorize the Laws of the Game can pick up a whistle and become a referee—but there is so much more involved. In association football, the job of the referee is centered on interpreting and implementing the Laws of the Game during matches.
The age requirement for a refereeing job isn’t globally static, it is determined by certain factors which we will be looking at shortly.
When it comes to youth soccer, the official minimum age requirement to become a referee in most countries is usually 16 years. The minimum age limit is set at 16 because being a referee goes beyond blowing whistles, giving cards, and raising your arms when passing information to players.
According to The United States Soccer Federation, the expected age limit to becoming a certified youth soccer referee is 13 years of age, although many states in America set theirs at 14.
Most times, referees are expected to be a bit older and more mature than the players they are officiating.
This is because the referee has to maintain control of the game for the entire duration of the game—and it will be harder for an older player to respect a referee that is perceived to be way younger than themselves.
A youth soccer referee must be punctual to games, and they must be in charge of supervision, giving instructions, upholding the rules of the game, and officiating matches.
These referees are always challenged with amicably settling conflicts and also ensuring that sportsmanship is practiced during matches.
Gaining a grassroots certification to practice as a referee is just the beginning of your journey to becoming a professional soccer referee. The USSF has set a five-stage mandatory pathway to take you from grassroots refereeing to the FIFA level.
The mandatory pathway:
After being certified at the age of 13, 14, or 16 to officiate grassroots matches, you are required to go through the stages listed below if you intend to become a professional soccer referee.
- Study and earn the needed qualifications that will certify you a regional referee
- Earn the demanded qualifications that will certify you a national referee
- Wait to be called upon by the Professional Referee Organization (P.R.O.) to serve under the body as a certified professional referee
Before rising to the professional refereeing level, you must be a properly certified U.S. Soccer National referee or an assistant, evaluated, and identified as being competent for promotion by the P.R.O.
Becoming a professional soccer referee usually takes many years of experience and hard work which is why many of them have gone way into their 30s before being able to officiate professional soccer matches.
What are the steps to becoming a certified grassroots soccer referee?
As soccer referees have a huge task on their shoulders to officiate important soccer matches, they are expected to go through a set pathway to become proficient referees. Let’s look at the steps more closely.
Be fit enough to run for at least six miles
Fitness is not only expected from soccer players alone. Referees are also expected to be fit so that they can stay close to the ball at all times and make better judgments.
During soccer matches, referees are expected to run as much as players but they can’t be substituted for any reason while players can be substituted when they get tired.
On average, referees are expected to run as much as 8 miles per soccer match while keenly observing the action and moves of the players and intervening when there is an incident.
Soccer referees also go through extensive training and exercises like other regular players to be able to maintain their pace and stamina without falling to fatigue. You must properly work on your energy levels, stamina, and physical fitness if you intend to become a professional soccer player.
Meet the minimum required age
Different regions in the US have different rules concerning the minimum age requirement for soccer referees. You are often expected to be a lot older than the players on the teams you are officiating when working as a referee in American youth soccer.
If you want to be a grassroots soccer referee, you will need to be at least 13 or 14 years old before you can be certified to officiate in grassroots youth soccer. To enroll in some referee training courses, you must attain the age of 16 years.
Sign up with your state’s referee association
If you are fit and have successfully met the age requirement, you can now go forward and join the referee committee in your state.
The state referee committee is the authorized body that can assign you a certification that will allow you to referee games in your state. Contacting your state referee committee mustn’t be physical, you can either put a call through or email them regarding your interest to become a soccer referee.
When they get your mail, they will confirm your request and send you a suitable reply. States have the freedom to create their recruitment procedures concerning what they need from referees.
Register for the US soccer first-time grassroots referee course
Before joining the U.S. soccer first-time grassroots referee course, you must have met your state’s requirements for soccer referees.
Consequently, you must enroll in the grassroots referee course. You must complete this course to be able to earn your refereeing license.
Creating a profile on the U.S. Soccer Learning Center is the first thing you must do before being able to access this course. After signing in and logging in on their platform, you can enroll in the course.
Finish supplemental learning courses
Endeavor to complete all supplemental modules after enrolling in the course. There are usually 3 supplemental modules that you should complete and they are an introduction to a healthy and safe playing environment, a first-time grassroots referee quiz, and a SafeSport core course.
To access the SafeSport core course, you must be 18 years or older. These three courses will take around four hours to complete if you are fast enough.
Pass a Gold Standard NCSI background check
Most jobs in America usually perform a background check on potential employees before granting them jobs—and refereeing is not an exception. To be able to referee high school or youth soccer matches, you must successfully pass a criminal background check.
Appropriate authorities will thoroughly scrutinize your background to make sure that you can properly handle players on the pitch without wrongly influencing them. Potential referees above the age of 18 must pass a U.S. Soccer Federation Gold Standard NCSI background check.
Receive the necessary equipment for referees
Soccer referees at other levels of refereeing aside from national or professional levels must purchase their own referee equipment.
Soccer referees require basic equipment such as a notebook and pen, a stopwatch, red and yellow cards, a whistle with a lanyard, and most importantly, a referee’s uniform. Thankfully, referee equipment is readily available online.
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Attend a virtual or an in-person training course
After completing your learning online, you are mandated to attend an in-person or virtual training session for soccer referees depending on whichever is more convenient for you.
When you attend these sessions, you will be mentored personally by well-experienced soccer referees involved in the job for many years. Endeavor to ask relevant questions in this gathering when the time comes—never leave any idea to assumptions.
Individual states usually run these face-to-face courses independently. You must enquire from your state’s referee committee to know the exact time and venue such classes will commence in your state.
Collect your referee badge, certification, and license
Upon completing the U.S. Soccer First-Time Referee Grassroots license, the background check, and virtual or face-to-face referee training session, you can receive your badge and referee certification license.
At this point, you are an officially certified referee and can fully officiate grassroots games like other qualified grassroots soccer referees out there.
In faraway Zambia, there is a soccer referee named Raphael Mbotela. He is a courageous young referee who officiated the semi-finals of a COSAFA under-17 region 5 youth tournament match between Namibia and Botswana while he was still 17 years old.
Raphael is acclaimed to be the world’s youngest professional referee in the history of soccer. He has been recognized by CAF which means he has bigger games to officiate in the African continent and probably outside the continent as well.
Although still in school, Mbotela has managed to achieve what most people his age would find extremely difficult or even impossible to accomplish.
The age at which you can become a soccer referee solely depends on your country’s soccer association rules—which usually varies by country.
Not too far back in the history of the United States, individuals as young as 11 years old were certified to officiate grassroots soccer matches before it was reviewed to a minimum age of 13 years old.
Young teenagers with an affinity for officiating in soccer are usually scouted for and merged with more experienced referees in Regional, State, and Tournaments or National cups where they will further develop the skill as they grow.
Potential teenage referees don’t usually get actual opportunities at making refereeing their “career” until they turn 18. Some people start chasing a career in refereeing from their university days so that they can at least attain a regional level status before turning 22 or 23.
When you attain regional-level status, you will be allowed to officiate semi-final adult amateur matches. Referees below 18 are not allowed to officiate adult matches because officiating adult matches require a lot of experience which must be accumulated over time.
Hi there, I’m Jay.
Soccer is everything in my life! My friends and I have created this blog with all our enthusiasm, passion, and understanding after years of playing pro soccer. Hope you will enjoy it!