Becoming a soccer referee is a whole lot easier than you think. Staying a soccer referee once you have crazy parents and even crazier coaches scream at you over a soccer match full of 5-year olds is the hard part. Seriously, I was a baseball umpire when I was younger and I have had nephews referee organized soccer, and refereeing games is not that bad, if you love the game. In fact, it’s a great way for teenagers to make extra money and be around the game and the type of people they enjoy.
How do you become a soccer referee if you’re a teenager?
First of all, to be a soccer referee, you have to be at least 13 years old in most locations. If you meet that qualification, you’ll need to get certified to officiate games. Soccer officials generally need to study the soccer referee manual in preparation for a written test for certification. This isn’t hard, especially if you already know most of the rules of soccer. You’ll go over some of the harder rules to enforce (like offside) and the more obscure rules, and then you’ll be refereeing soccer games in a short period of time.
Younger soccer referees will start out as an assistant referee calling lines (or a linesman). This job requires you know a few basic hand or flag signals, as well as the basic soccer rules for throwing the ball in from out-of-bounds and the aforementioned off side rules. Soccer referee assistants will be assigned one side of the side and one end of the field.
Soccer Refereeing Skills
It’s human nature that most soccer people won’t be able to watch a game in an unbiased way. Eventually, you’ll get comments and shouts in your direction after a particularly pivotal call. You have to have a thick skin and not worry about comments from the stands. These people are reacting in an emotional instead of rational fashion, so it’s best you keep your cool and stay rational. (Someone has to be reasonable.) Don’t let reactions from adults damage your confidence in your soccer refereeing skills. You’ll know you made the right call. Eventually, if you behave professionally, you’ll get the respect of your peers and any reasonable observers. You won’t be able to please everyone, because every game has a losing team.
Remember, though, the youngest and newest referees will start out in the youngest leagues, where the competition isn’t nearly as fierce. You’ll get seasoning before you’re calling select soccer matches.
The important thing is you hustle, stay in position, know the rules and know the signals. If you do this, you’re going to look competent and gain the trust and (sometimes grudging) respect of both sides. If you look like you aren’t trying hard or that you’re confused, people will sense that and make your job a lot harder.
Don’t lose your cool if you miss a call, either. The best veteran referees miss calls. Sometimes, soccer referees (or officials in other sports) make a bad call and then get flustered and try to make a “make-up call”. This leads to a series of calls made not on their merits, but in a desire to “balance out” bad calls. This is only going to make fans louder, because they’ll start to perceive you don’t know what you’re looking at or don’t know what you’re doing. So if you blow a call, stay in the flow of the game and do your best on the next call. These things will balance out in the long run without you needing to manipulate them.
Sometimes, you’ll have to red card players or throw a coach or parent off the field. Be sparing in your use of this power, but don’t be too sparing. This is one of the hardest jobs of the soccer referee. When a player is endangering other players, deliberately attempting to hurt an opponent or is verbally abusive to someone else (including you), you have not only the right, but the responsibility, to red card them. All of these actions keep dangerous situations of retaliation and escalation from happening.
Also, if you feel a coach or parent is trying to physically intimidate you (or makes contact with you in any way) or has disrupted a game with repeated abusive shouts or threats, or is stoking his or her team to play dirty or escalate a tense situation, you have the responsibility to take command of the situation by throwing the parent off the field. If a coach or parent is singling you out, talk to the other soccer referees on your officiating crew and decide whether they need to go. If they will not leave the field, let them know you are going to inform the league commissioner and your supervisor among the officials about their conduct, and you will call the police if they do not get off the field (in 30 seconds). It’s hard for a teenager to remember this when an authority figure like a coach or parent gets out of line on the soccer pitch, but you are the authority figure when it comes to officiating the game, and therefore you have to establish that authority if an adult gets out of line.
Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t going to happen every time you step on the field, but young or inexperienced soccer referees need advice on how to handle these situations in the rare case they do arise. Most of the time, losing teams might grumble a bit, but they will respect your role as game official. Also, you don’t need to abuse your authority by handing out too many yellow cards or red cards or by showing up the teams by being abusive or derisive yourself. In the end, the less said or heard about a soccer referee, the better of a job they are doing.
Something which was touched on in brief, but needs to be elaborated on, is that you’ll earn respect if you hustle. Stay in shape and run enough to be in the right spot to make good calls. Teams lose respect when they see you make an offside call and you’re lagging behind the play, for example, so running along with the play is very important. Also, don’t rush your calls. Sometimes, newer referees will make a call a split second before a play happens, which can look bad. You need to see the play, take the play in and then make the call. Obviously, you can’t wait to make the call before a split second, because you’ll look indecisive, so a good soccer referee has good timing. (In baseball, the taught you to take a split-second, like counting “thousand-one”, then making the call and making the call in a decisive fashion with a decisive, decided gesture. I’m not sure if the split-second rule applies in soccer officiating, since soccer is more fluid and happens at a more rapid pace, but I think you get the idea what I’m talking about when I use the word “timing”.)
Ultimately, if you are seen working hard and you show a command of the rules of soccer, people will be satisfied with your soccer officiating.
Who do you contact?
If you want to become a soccer referee, contact your local soccer leagues or look up soccer officiating in the yellow pages. Either way, you’ll be able to contact the head of officials in your area and begin working towards becoming an accredited soccer referee.