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What is a Sports Referee?

Also known as: Technical Official, Linesman, Sports Official, Umpire, Referee.

A sports referee is someone who presides over competitive athletic or sporting events. During the event, they will detect infractions and decide penalties according to the rules of the game. They work indoors and out, in all types of weather, and must travel to sporting events.

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What does a Sports Referee do?

Referees 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
• Settle claims of infractions or complaints by participants
• Enforce the rules of the game and assess penalties when necessary

In officiating at sporting events, umpires, referees, and sports officials anticipate play and put themselves where they can best see the action, assess the situation, and determine any violations of the rules. Some sports officials, such as boxing referees, may work independently. Others, such as umpires, work in groups. Regardless of the sport, the job is highly stressful because officials often must make split-second decisions, sometimes resulting in strong disagreement expressed by opposing team players, coaches, and spectators.

What is the workplace of a Sports Referee like?

Referees work indoors and out, in all types of weather. Some workers must travel on long bus rides to sporting events. Others, especially officials in professional sports, travel by air. Referees often work irregular hours, including evenings, weekends, and holidays. Those who officiate sports in schools typically work part time; about 19% of referees are self-employed.

Because sports officials must observe play and often make split-second decisions, the work can be filled with pressure. In some instances, strong disagreements may take place between officials and the competitors and coaches, resulting in additional stress.

How can I become a Sports Referee?

Each sport has its own requirements for referees; some require these officials to pass a test of their knowledge of the sport. Referees often begin their careers with a high school diploma and gain needed experience by volunteering to officiate at community and recreational league competitions.

To officiate at high school athletic events, umpires, referees, and other officials must register with the agency that oversees local high school athletics and must pass an exam on the rules of the particular game. For college refereeing, candidates must be certified by an officiating school and be evaluated during a probationary period. Some larger college sports conferences require officials to have certification and other qualifications, such as maintaining a residence in or near the conference boundaries, along with several years of experience officiating at high school, community college, or other college conference games.

For most referees, reaching professional ranks is the biggest advancement. In some sports, such as baseball, umpires may begin their professional career officiating in the minor leagues before moving up to the major leagues.

Standards for umpires and other officials become more stringent as the level of competition advances. Attendance at a local or regional academy may be a requirement for refereeing a school baseball game. Those seeking to officiate at minor or major league games must attend a professional umpire training school. To advance to umpiring in Major League Baseball, umpires usually need 7 to 10 years of experience in various minor leagues before being considered for major league jobs.


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