New Refs: Understanding The Required Gear

Part of being “ready for assignments” is having all of your gear ready to go. Most game assignors don’t want to hear from you until you have all of your gear and ready to be assigned.

There are only a few items that are mandated by the US Soccer Federation, but there are several other items you’ll want to have. We’ll review those here.

These are the items you’ll need before you can referee a game:

  • referee uniform that conforms to USSF specifications (more on that in a moment)
  • watch
  • set of disciplinary cards (red and yellow cards)
  • whistle
  • set of Assistant Referee’s flags
  • writing instrument
  • paper or something else to record game information on (goals, yellow/red cards, etc.)
  • coin for the coin toss
  • bag to carry your referee gear

Optional items you should consider:

  • spare whistle
  • spare writing instruments and paper
  • spare watch
  • sun block
  • water or sports drink
  • energy bars or other non/semi-perishable snacks
  • a new, large lawn & leaf size garbage bag (to put your ref bag inside in case of rain)

Understanding the Uniform Requirements

First, you should understand that there are several different organizations that oversee soccer competitions in the USA. By far the largest are those conducted by the United States Soccer Federation. Most youth matches in the USA are under the auspices of the USSF. But, there are several other large organizations that conduct soccer competitions, including the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS, through its’ state member organizations), and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA; referees are managed and assigned by the National Intercollegiate Soccer Officials Organization, NISOA). This is important because each of these organizations have their own requirements for referee uniforms and they tend to be different.  In other words, don’t buy a NISOA jersey for the purpose of refereeing USSF games.

For the vast majority of readers of this space, USSF will be the governing body of competitions that you will referee, so that’s what we will focus on here.

Referees in USSF competitions are administered by the USSF Referee Program. The program sets standards for performance, administers testing and sets standards for referee uniforms.

The jersey is the most important part of the uniform, and it must conform to very detailed specifications. Fortunately, you don’t need to know those specs; you need only purchase a jersey that “meets the requirements of the US Soccer Federation’s Referee Program.” All legitimate manufacturers will include language similar to this either on a paper tag attached to the shirt, on their website, or both.

Believe it or not, there are 10 (ten) different variations of referee jerseys. The good news is that you don’t need all of them now. In fact, for most first season referees, one jersey is usually sufficient. The ten variations result from there being 5 different colors, available in short and long-sleeved versions.

5 Jersey ColorsThe primary color for all referees is gold (some people refer to it as ‘yellow’). The only time this would not be the first color you purchase is if gold/yellow is the primary color of the club where you will referee. The referee assignor at your local club can confirm this for you if needed. The five colors, in order of typical (but not required) usage are gold, black, red, blue, and green.  You don’t need to buy all five colors in your first season. Most clubs and referee associations tell new referees that one gold jersey, and, sometimes, one alternate color jersey is sufficient for first-time referees. If you stick with refereeing, you’ll want to add the other colors as you go along. I recommend starting with the short-sleeved shirt because you can layer a long-sleeved t-shirt underneath it (as long as it meets standards; more on that below).

Shorts are rather simple: they must be all black, save for a manufacturer’s logo. New referees should take special note that player shorts are NOT permissible for use as a referee. Player shorts typically have white or other colored piping either around the bottom and/or up the seams on the thigh. The point of our uniform, remember, is to make us look different from the players, so that we don’t cause confusion for the players or spectators. NO PLAYER SHORTS.


Socks come in two approved varieties. Veteran referees refer to these two versions as the “three-stripe” and “two-stripe” socks. The three-stripe sock is just that: an all black sock with three simple white rings at the top. Note that only logos that can appear on the socks are those of “Official Technical Partners” of theUSSF. In other words, the adidas player socks that are black, with three white rings at the top and the adidas logo on the front are NOT acceptable for use as referee socks. Two-stripe socks are available only from one supplier: Official Sports International. In some states, the three stripe sock is the standard, while in others, the 2-stripe is de rigeur. Some states, like Georgia, allow either, as long as the referee crew all wears the same style. If you aren’t sure, check with your Instructor, Assignor, Referee Association, or State Referee Committee.

An undershirt beneath your jersey is completely optional. What is not optional is the color. The shirt must be black or the same color as the jersey. White t-shirts are not allowed. Most referees wear a black Under Armour or similar moisture wicking shirt underneath their jerseys. It is acceptable, especially for new referees, to wear a long-sleeve t-shirt underneath your short-sleeve jersey. The same color restrictions apply.

Finally, there is footwear. The main point here, again, is that we want our footwear to look different from the players. Players spend a lot of time looking down at the ground and need to be able to tell who is not a player at a glance by looking at their footwear and socks. The footwear should be all black, with the exception of a white manufacturer’s logo. Some discretion is allowed in determining appropriate footwear. We recognize that cleats and turf shoes are expensive and don’t want to burden new referees with excessive cost. But, those flashy lime green boots you bought as a player definitely won’t do as a referee.

Referee Uniform Suppliers

The most widely known supplier of referee uniforms is Official Sports International (OSI). OSI is an official “Technical Partner” of the USSF, which really means that they are a sponsor. If you’ve already been to your certification class, you may have received a flyer from the instructors in the class featuring a package deal from OSI for new referees. While this option is perfectly acceptable, it is important to know that there other (and indeed, better) alternatives. OSI is the only uniform supplier allowed to place the USSF Referee Program logo on their items. This, among other things, makes OSI the far and away leader in referee uniform sales. That said, new referees shouldn’t feel pressured to purchase OSI gear. There is a large price difference between the OSI Pro and Economy lines, and we don’t recommend the Economy line, for reasons you’ll read about below.

Kwik Goal is also an official Technical Partner of USSF. Kwik Goal is perhaps better known as a manufacturer of soccer goals, corner flags, and benches, but they also sell a line of referee gear that is perfectly acceptable.

Score Sports sells player uniforms, balls, and coaching gear, as well as referee gear. Their uniforms meet all USSF standards.

There are several other suppliers, including Law Five, Final Decision, and Epic Sports. These six suppliers account for the vast majority of referee uniform sales.

How To Buy Your Gear

While it is possible to find referee gear at retail (and some of the suppliers offer retail store finders on their websites), selection is usually quite limited and the number of stores offering referee gear even more so. The best way to get your referee gear is online ordering. Ordering it this way ensures you’ll get the sizes and colors you need, without a lot of driving around.

All of the manufacturers sell directly to the public from their websites; in the cases of Kwik Goal and Score Sports, you can get better deals by buying through an online retailer. Kwik Goal is available through (this is convienient if you are an Amazon Prime member; see Disclosure immediately below). Score is available through, a company run by referees that has a particularly referee-friendly return policy.


Continue Reading–> Gear Recommendations for New Referees

2 responses to “New Refs: Understanding The Required Gear”

    • My comments about uniforms apply only to games played under the jurisdiction of the U.S. soccer Federation, and then only to youth and adult amateur leagues. Professional level games may have their own uniform requirements, as can games played under high school or college rules.


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