How to Become A Soccer Referee (Grassroots and Pro)

how to be a soccer referee title over image of referee

Becoming a soccer referee is a fantastic opportunity to enable you to be involved in a sport you’re passionate about while helping manage the flow of a game. You need to follow a specific pathway if you are to fulfill your ambition of being a soccer referee. Let me take you through the process one step at a time.

To become a soccer referee, you will need to complete U.S. Soccer’s referee pathway stages. There are five license levels that take you from being a grassroots level referee all the way to the highest level that helps you become a FIFA level referee.

Whether you aim to become a youth, college, or professional referee, in this article, I will show the pathway you need to take to fulfill your ambition.

I will show you the phases you will go through step by step and what it takes to become a professional referee.

This article will give you a complete overview of how to become a soccer referee.

*If you are hoping to become a high school referee, I recommend you check out my article – Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a High School Soccer Referee – as the pathway of becoming a high school soccer referee is slightly different than it is for other referees. You will probably find that article more helpful for your situation.

Steps to Become a Soccer Referee

As you know, every referee has a significant influence over a soccer game and carries a huge responsibility. Because of this, being a referee can be a hugely rewarding experience.

Becoming a referee isn’t that complicated when you know the appropriate pathway to follow to work your way up to becoming a soccer referee.

There are a few requirements for referees that vary from state to state, but the process I am going to talk about here is the general requirements that aren’t exclusive to any state. 

Before we look at each part in more detail, have a look at the table below, showing all the requirements to become a referee.

Age13 or older
EnrollmentRegistration with State Referee Committee
Previous game experienceN/A
Previous certification experienceN/A
TrainingOnline and on-field experience
Safety and complianceSafeSports Core Course
Safe and healthy playing environments course
Background check
Laws of the game updateOnline-grassroots quiz
Fitness testNot required/Determined by competition
Practical evaluationN/A
Requirements for US Soccer Grassroots Referee License Certification

Let’s take a look at the steps to become a soccer referee now.

1. Be Able to Run for at Least Six Miles

A referee’s physical fitness is as important as any soccer player’s. The first step in becoming a soccer referee is making sure you are fit enough for what is ahead.

In every game, the referee has to run a similar amount to the players, but where a player can be substituted if they get too exhausted, there is no rule for the substitution of a referee. 

A soccer referee has to run six to eight miles throughout a soccer game. They must follow the action in the game at all times and make sure they are close to the ball to observe any incidents. This requires near-constant movement from referees.

Being a soccer referee isn’t a cakewalk.

Referees undergo extensive practice sessions before every game, just like the players, to be able to run up to eight miles during a game.

Without proper physical fitness, officiating in a game can turn out to be extremely difficult, if not impossible.

So, it helps to work on your stamina, energy, and physical fitness in preparation for becoming a referee.

Check out my 30-Day Soccer Fitness Program if you’re looking for a way to give your fitness levels a significant boost.

2. Meet the Minimum Age Requirement

The minimum age for a referee isn’t consistent for all states across the US. Different regions have different rules.

The most commonly seen age requirement in youth soccer is that you must be older than the players you are officiating. 

The United States Soccer Federation demands a minimum of 13 years of age before getting certified. Many states require 14 years.

Silbo, a community dedicated to training soccer officials, requires 13 years.

A few other programs may accept someone younger than that.

Although those are the age requirements for officially participating in a game as a referee, there is a different age requirement for enrolling in an official referee training course. 

3. Register With Your State Referee Association

Now you know you’re fit enough and old enough to be a soccer referee, it’s time to join your state referee committee.

Your state referee committee is the organization that will provide you with certification to referee soccer games within your state.

Here is a list of the contact information of every state’s association provided by the USSF.

You need to find your state, email them, and notify them of your interest in becoming a referee.

They will confirm your individual state’s requirements for referees. 

Every state has the freedom to develop its own recruitment procedures that they require its referees to meet. However, most states throughout the US expect their referees to follow the pathway laid out in this article.

4. Sign up for US Soccer’s First-Time Referee Grassroots Course

Once you’ve confirmed your state’s requirement for referees, you need to join U.S. Soccer’s First-Time Referee Grassroots program. Completion of this course is a requirement for earning your referee’s license.

soccer referee holding ball
Soccer referee holding a ball

To do this, you will need to create a profile on the U.S. Soccer Learning Center.

Once you have signed up and logged in, you can enroll in the First-Time Referee Grassroots Course relevant to your state. You can find the main course page here, and a list of the specific courses available is available on this page.

This course should take around 4.5 hours to complete. 

5. Complete Supplemental Learning Courses

As part of the First-Time Grassroots Referee Course, you will need to complete some supplemental modules.

The three extra modules are:

  • Introduction to Safe and Healthy Playing Environments
  • SafeSport core course 
  • And the First Time Grassroots Referee Quiz

The Introduction to Safe and Healthy Playing Environments course takes around 30 minutes. It helps referees prevent, recognize and respond to emergencies.

The SafeSport core course is only required if you are 18 years of age or older. It educates referees about recognizing, preventing, and reporting any abuse within a sport setting.

This course takes around 90 minutes to complete. 

You will need to complete the First Time Grassroots Referee Quiz after completing the First-Time Grassroots Referee Course. This quiz should take about 45 minutes and will test your understanding of the rules of soccer and the role of a referee.

6. Complete a Gold Standard NCSI Background Check

Having a clean record is expected in many jobs, and refereeing is no different. 

Passing a criminal background check is especially important if you are looking to referee youth or high school soccer. You will be spending a lot of time in the proximity of many young aspiring athletes, and your background check needs to be clean. 

If you are over 18, you must complete a U.S. Soccer Federation Gold Standard NCSI Background Check. 

You will need to log in to the U.S. Soccer’s learning center to access it here. It costs $30 unless you have lived outside the United States for six months or longer over the past seven years.

7. Collect the Necessary Equipment for Referees

Until you become a referee at the national or professional level, you will almost always have to provide your own referee’s equipment.

referee equipment
Referee equipment

There are specific items that every referee needs. These include:

  • A Stopwatch
  • A Whistle with a lanyard
  • A Referee’s Uniform
  • Red and yellow cards
  • And a notebook and pen/pencil

If you don’t own all of these, you will find most of this equipment on Amazon by following this link.

8. Attend an in-Person or Virtual Training Course

Having completed all the online learning, you need to attend an in-person referee training session. Some states hold these virtually, but the majority take place face-to-face.

In these sessions, you receive direct coaching and teaching from referees who have been involved in soccer refereeing for many years. You will have the chance to ask questions and learn ways to perform at the standard required for youth soccer.

Each state runs these in-person courses independently of others. You should contact your state’s referee committee to discover where and when you can attend a class near you.

9. Receive Your Referee License, Certification, and Badge

Once you have completed U.S. Soccer’s First-Time Referee Grassroots license, completed a background check, and attended an in-person referee training session, you are eligible to receive your soccer referee certification license and badge.

You are officially a referee and can begin to officiate games at the lowest levels, such as small-sided or youth games, as well as some amateur adult games.

Be aware that referees need to re-register each year with U.S. Soccer.

Below you will find the requirements for recertification.

TrainingOnline only
Safety and complianceSafeSports Core Course
Safe and healthy playing environments
Background check 
Laws of the gameOnline-grassroots quiz
Fitness tasteNot required
/Determined by competition if applicable
Practical evaluationNA
Requirements for US Soccer Grassroots Referee License Re-certification

At this stage, you are ready to go out and officiate a game. If you’re specifically interested in refereeing youth soccer, I recommend checking out my article – How to Become a Youth Soccer Referee. The basics are the same as what we have just covered, but that article has some specific advice for youth soccer that you will find helpful.

The next step in your referee journey is to become a professional referee.

How To Become A Professional Referee 

Grassroots certification is just the first step on the road to a professional referee career.

The USSF mandates a pathway that involves five stages from the grassroots level to FIFA level. Each level has different requirements for certification. 

Let’s look at how you progress from grassroots level referee to professional level referee now.

To become a professional referee, you need to be a certified U.S. Soccer National referee or assistant referee that the Professional Referee Organisation (P.R.O.) has identified and evaluated as suitable to progress to professional-level refereeing.

Becoming a professional referee involves time, experience, and hard work. Still, knowing the steps you need to get there will set you off in the right direction.

There are four steps to becoming a professional referee:

  1. Complete your grassroots-level referee certification
  2. Complete the necessary qualifications to become a regional referee
  3. Complete the necessary qualifications to become a national referee
  4. Receive an invitation from the Professional Referee Organisation (P.R.O.) to become a professional referee.

Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail.

1. Complete Your Grassroots Level Referee Certification

We have already gone over how to become a grassroots-level referee in the first section of this article. 

Becoming a referee at this level is the only way to achieving the goal of being a professional referee.

Professional referees rely on their years of previous experience to perform at the high level they need to as a professional. The time spent officiating youth and amateur soccer games is the foundation for the rest of their career.

If you have the opportunity to officiate grassroots soccer, gain all you can from the experience.

2. Complete the Qualifications to Become a Regional Referee

Once a referee has become capable and confident in refereeing grassroots-level soccer, they can progress to the next level – Regional Referee.

A Regional referee can officiate in regional soccer events, competitive state soccer competitions, and even leagues, including NPSL and U.S.L. League Two.

Here are the requirements necessary to become a certified regional referee:

Age18 year or more
Previous game experience50 games as a referee
and 25 games as an assistant referee at the adult amateur level
Previous certification experienceMinimum of 3 consecutive years as a grassroots referee
TrainingRegional referee courses and on-field experience
Safety and complianceSafeSports trained
Safe and healthy playing environments
Background check 
Laws of the game update and testOnline-national test
Fitness test Sprint/interval test
(FIFA women’s referee test)
Male-category 1
Female- category 3
Practical evaluationMinimum of 3 passing evaluations as a referee.
2 at the adult amateur level.
1 at the highest youth level.
The evaluation must be done by 3 different referee coaches.
Requirements for US Soccer Regional Referee License Certification

As you can see, the most significant differences in achieving this level of certification are:

  • experience on the field,
  • fitness tests,
  • and passing three evaluations.

A Repeated Sprint Ability test (RSA) is the most common fitness test for referees, which tests sprint ability. The second is an interval test. Some optional tests you may encounter are the dynamic yo-yo test and intermittent yo-yo test.

3. Complete the Qualifications to Become a National Referee

After a minimum of two years as a regional referee, you may qualify to become a National Referee.

National referees can officiate national and professional games in the USL Championship, the NWSL, and any other league except MLS.

Here are the requirements necessary to become a certified national referee:

EnrollmentSelected by the U.S. Soccer national selection committee
Previous experienceMinimum of 2 consecutive years as regional referee
Previous certification experienceMinimum of 2 consecutive years as a regional referee
TrainingAttend and complete national camp
Safety and complianceSafeSports trained
Safe and healthy playing environments
Background check
Laws of the game update and testOnline-national test
Fitness testFIFA fitness test
(referee or AR gender-specific)
Category 1
Practical evaluationMinimum of 3 passing national evaluation as referee or AR
Requirements for US Soccer National Referee License Certification

The most significant difference between the previous step and this one is that the U.S. Soccer national selection committee will invite a Regional referee to become a National referee.

The selection committee will invite a Regional referee to attend a National Camp. On successful completion of this camp, along with completing:

  • A National Match Official Video Test
  • A National Match Official Written Test  
  • A Fitness Test 
  • And Practical Evaluations,

a referee will become a qualified National referee.

Being a national referee is the final step before becoming a professional referee.

4. Receive an Invitation from the PRO To Become a Professional Referee.

After a minimum of two years as a National referee, a referee is eligible to be invited to become a professional referee.

Professional soccer referees can officiate games in any domestic competition, including M.L.S. They can also officiate a selection of international games.

Here are the requirements necessary to become a certified professional referee:

EnrollmentSelected by PRO
Previous experience50 games as a referee
or 50 games as AR
Previous certification experienceMinimum of 2 years as national referee
TrainingP.R.O. pre-season camp
Safety and complianceSafeSports trained
Safe and healthy playing environments
Background check
Laws of the game update and testOnline-national test
Fitness testFIFA fitness test
Practical evaluationPassing P.R.O. assessment criteria
Requirements for Professional Soccer Referee Certification

The most interesting part about this final stage in becoming a professional referee is that professional referees are managed by an independent company –Professional Referee Organization (PRO).

Up until this stage, U.S. Soccer has administered all referee’s licenses. But professional referees in North America are managed by the PRO.

The PRO will invite specific candidates to become professional referees. A referee’s selection is based on their performance and aptitude as a National Referee.

5. Receive a recommendation to become a FIFA referee

To become a FIFA referee, a referee must have proven their ability over a number of years, have the required level of fitness to pass a fitness test, and be nominated by their national referee committee. The FIFA Referees Committee will then assess the referee, who will decide if the applicant has been successful.

There are five steps on the pathway of being a referee: 

  • Grassroots, 
  • Regional, 
  • National, 
  • PRO, 
  • And FIFA

Once a professional referee has proven themselves over several years, the National Referee Committee may recommend they become a FIFA-level referee.

Becoming a FIFA-level referee takes time, patience, hard-work, and dedication to the profession.

Next Steps

Being a soccer referee can be a tough job, but it can also be very satisfying if you have the passion and proper training.

If you follow these steps will be on the road to fulfilling your dream of being a soccer referee in next to no time at all.

For more information about the role of a soccer referee, check out my article – A Soccer Referee: Role, Salary, and Assistants.

For more information about the rules of soccer, have a look at one of my following articles:

Ben Clayfield

Hi! My name's Ben. I've played, watched, read about, and enjoyed soccer throughout my life. I really enjoy finding out more about the game I love and sharing it with you all. Find out more about me here - Ben Clayfield

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