Umpires and Referees


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Learn as much as you can about sports and their rules. You will also want to get in the physical shape necessary to keep up with the athletes during an event. The best way to accomplish these goals is to participate in school sports.

Take classes in English grammar and also other languages if you are interested in working as a baseball umpire or hockey official. Speech, debate, or theater courses will build your self-confidence and teach you the diction skills you need to be understood clearly.

Finally, sports bring together many kinds of people, and as an umpire or referee you must be diplomatic with all of them. Classes in sociology, history, and psychology can help you learn about the different cultures and ways of thinking of people from all parts of the world. Taking a foreign language such as Spanish or Japanese will help you to communicate with players from foreign countries. 

Postsecondary Training

Umpires and referees are not required to attend four-year colleges or universities, but many do have college degrees. Often sports officials are former college athletes who decided to pursue a career in sports in a nonperformance capacity. Attending college and participating in college athletics is an excellent way to reinforce knowledge of a sport and its rules while receiving a solid education.

The International Association of Approved Basketball Officials has several schools that run each summer in different places in the United States. There, referees learn rules and work games at the players' camps that are held in conjunction with the schools. Officials for the National Football League (NFL) may attend the NFL Officiating Academy to hone their skills. 

In almost all cases, officials must attend special training schools or courses. These can vary from schools, such as the Wendelstedt Umpire School, endorsed by Major League Baseball's Umpire Development Program all the way to the training courses offered to officials in amateur softball. These schools and training courses can be contacted through professional and amateur leagues, college athletic conferences, and state interscholastic commissions. These organizations can also inform you of minimum age requirements (usually 18 and out of high school) and other criteria that vary between leagues and sports.

Other Education or Training

The National Association of Sports Officials offers continuing education seminars at its annual Sports Officiating Summit. Past seminars included "Player Safety Rules and Enforcements: Are They Working?," "It’s Your Game: Sport-By-Sport Interactive Clinics," and "Calls Worth Talking About." The International Association of Approved Basketball Officials and associations at the local and state levels also provide continuing education classes.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

The special training programs that umpires and referees attend act as their certification. Without these, they are not eligible to officiate. These courses may vary, ranging from those in the official training schools of professional umpires to courses taken through a state interscholastic athletic commission for middle school volleyball officials.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Previous experience as a sports official is highly recommended. Experience is gained by working as an umpire, referee, or other type of sports official in high school and other amateur leagues. Many umpires and referees obtain knowledge of the rules of their particular sport by competing in that sport at the professional and/or amateur levels.

Different sports have different physical requirements. For example, hockey officials need to be accomplished skaters and should be in excellent health. General physical requirements include good vision, to some extent good hearing, and good physical health.

Sports officials must have good communication skills and the ability to make split-second decisions. Many calls that an official makes will be unpopular, so they need courage to make the correct call and confidence to stand behind their judgment. An easily intimidated official won't last long in any league, which is why the ability to remain cool under pressure is important. Often, games are played in front of large crowds, and fans can be vocal in their criticism of players, coaches, and especially sports officials.

Umpires and referees must also have a thorough understanding of the sport they officiate. They need to be informed about changes to the rules. Sports officials keep informed by attending clinics and seminars sponsored by professional associations.