Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials Do[About this section] [To Top]

Umpires, referees, and other sports officials preside over competitive athletic or sporting events to help maintain standards of play. They detect infractions and decide penalties according to the rules of the game.

Duties of Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials

Umpires, referees, and other sports officials typically do the following:

  • Officiate sporting events, games, and competitions
  • Judge performances in sporting competitions to determine a winner
  • Inspect sports equipment and examine all participants to ensure safety
  • Keep track of event times, starting or stopping play when necessary
  • Signal participants and other officials when infractions occur or to regulate play or competition
  • Settle claims of infractions or complaints by participants
  • Enforce the rules of the game and assess penalties when necessary

While officiating at sporting events, umpires, referees, and other sports officials must anticipate play and position themselves where they can best see the action, assess the situation, and determine any violations of the rules.

Sports officials typically rely on their judgment to rule on infractions and penalties. Officials in some sports may use video replay to help make the correct call.

Some sports officials, such as boxing referees, may work independently. Others, such as baseball or softball umpires, work in groups. Each official working in a group may have different responsibilities. For example, in baseball, one umpire is responsible for signaling balls and strikes while others are responsible for signaling fair and foul balls out in the field.

Regardless of the sport, the job is highly stressful because officials often must make split-second rulings. These rulings sometimes result in strong disagreement expressed by players, coaches, and spectators.

Many umpires, referees, and other sports officials are primarily employed in other occupations and supplement their income by officiating part time.

Work Environment for Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials[About this section] [To Top]

Umpires, referees, and other sports officials held about 19,800 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most umpires, referees, and other sports officials were as follows:

State and local government, excluding education and hospitals 30%
Amusement, gambling, and recreation industries 23
Educational services; state, local, and private 13
Performing arts, spectator sports, and related industries 11

Umpires, referees, and other sports officials work indoors and outdoors. Officials working outdoors will be exposed to all types of weather conditions. Some workers must travel on long bus rides to sporting events. Others, especially officials in professional sports, travel by air.

Some sports require officials to run, sprint, or jog for an extended period of time.

Because sports officials must observe play and often make split-second rulings, the work can be filled with pressure. Strong disagreements and criticism from athletes, coaches, and fans can result in additional stress.

Umpire, Referee, and Other Sports Official Work Schedules

Umpires, referees, and other sports officials often work irregular hours, including evenings, weekends, and holidays. Many work part time.

How to Become an Umpire, Referee, or Other Sports Official[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials near you!

Educational requirements vary by state and are sometimes determined by the local sports association. Although some states have no formal education requirements, other states require umpires, referees, and other sports officials to have a high school diploma. Training requirements also vary by state and the level and type of sport. All sports, however, require extensive knowledge of the rules of the game.

Umpire, Referee, and Other Sports Official Education and Training

Each state and sport association has its own education requirements for umpires, referees, and other sports officials. Some states do not require formal education, while others require sports officials to have a high school diploma.

For more information on educational requirements by state, refer to the specific state athletic or activity association.

Umpires, referees, and other sports officials may be required to attend training sessions and seminars before, during, and after the season. These sessions allow officials to learn about rule changes, review and evaluate their own performances, and improve their officiating.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

To officiate at high school athletic events, umpires, referees, and other officials must typically register with the state or local agency that oversees high school athletics. They also typically need to pass an exam on the rules of the particular game. Some states and associations may require applicants to attend umpiring or refereeing classes before taking the exam or joining an association.

Some local associations may require officials to attend monthly association meetings.

Other associations require officials to attend annual training workshops before renewing their officiating license.

For more information on licensing and certification requirements, visit your state’s high school athletic association website or the National Association of Sports Officials.

Advancement for Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials

Most new umpires, referees, and other sports officials begin by officiating youth or freshmen high school sports. After a few years, they may advance to the junior varsity or varsity levels. Those who wish to advance to the collegiate level must typically officiate at the varsity high school level for many years.

For some umpires, referees, and other sports officials, working in professional sports is the biggest advancement. Some officials may advance through the high school and collegiate levels to reach the professional level. Some sports, such as baseball, have their own professional training schools that prepare aspiring umpires and officials for a career at the minor and major league levels. In this system, umpires begin their professional career officiating in the minor leagues and typically need 7 to 10 years of experience before moving up into the major leagues.

Standards for umpires and other officials become more stringent as the level of competition advances.

Other Experience for Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials

Umpires, referees, and other sports official must have immense knowledge of the rules of the game they are officiating. Many officials gain the knowledge of the game by attending training sessions or camps that teach the important rules and regulations of the sport.

Some officials may also have gained this knowledge through years of playing the sport at some level. However, previous playing experience is not a requirement to become an umpire, referee, or other sports officials.

Important Qualities for Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials

Communication skills. Umpires, referees, and other sports officials must have good communication skills because they inform athletes on the rules of the game and settle disputes between competing players. Some sports officials also must communicate violations and infractions to opposing team players, coaches, and spectators.

Decisionmaking skills. Umpires, referees, and other sports officials must observe play, assess various situations, and often make split-second decisions.

Good vision. Umpires, referees, and other sports officials must have good vision to view infractions and determine any violations during play. In some sports, such as diving or gymnastics, sports officials must also be able to clearly observe an athlete’s form for imperfections.

Stamina. Many umpires, referees, and other sports officials are required to stand, walk, run, or squat for long periods during games and events.

Teamwork. Because many umpires, referees, and other sports officials work in teams to officiate a game, the ability to cooperate and come to a mutual decision is essential.

Umpire, Referee, and Other Sports Official Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for umpires, referees, and other sports officials was $24,870 in May 2015. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $17,890, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $57,750.

In May 2015, the median annual wages for umpires, referees, and other sports officials in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Performing arts, spectator sports, and related industries $28,460
State and local government, excluding education and hospitals 27,470
Educational services; state, local, and private 26,010
Amusement, gambling, and recreation industries 22,940

Most umpires, referees, and other sports officials, however, are paid on a per-game basis. Pay typically rises as the level of competition increases.

Umpires, referees, and other sports officials often work irregular hours, including evenings, weekends, and holidays. Many work part time.

Job Outlook for Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of umpires, referees, and other sports officials is projected to grow 5 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Demand for umpires, referees, and other sports officials is projected to grow as population growth increases the overall number of people participating in organized sports.

High school enrollment is projected to increase over the next decade, which could result in a rise in the number of student-athletes. As schools offer more athletic programs and more students participate in sports, the demand for umpires, referees, and other sports officials may increase.

However, funding for athletic programs often is cut first when budgets become tight. Still, the popularity of interscholastic sports sometimes enables shortfalls to be offset with assistance from fundraisers, booster clubs, and parents.

Participation in college sports is also projected to increase over the next decade, particularly at smaller colleges and in women’s sports. Many small, Division III colleges are expanding their sports programs and adding new teams to help promote the school and recruit students.

However, new rules allowing an increase in the scholarship payments to student-athletes may result in funding cuts to smaller collegiate sports programs. This could negatively affect the employment of umpires, referees, and officials if enough programs are eliminated.

Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials Job Prospects

Overall job prospects for umpires, referees, and other sports officials are expected to be good at the youth and high school levels. Those with prior officiating experience will have the best job opportunities.

However, competition is expected to be very strong for the college and professional levels. Many people are attracted to working in sports, and the collegiate and professional levels typically have few job openings and low turnover.

Employment projections data for Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Umpires, referees, and other sports officials 19,800 20,700 5 1,000


*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

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