Becoming a Certified USSF Referee

So, you want to become a soccer referee?  I guess you’re short on moaning players, loud coaches, and uneducated spectators in your life.  Don’t worry, becoming a soccer referee will solve all of those problems!

Yes, those things are part of the game, it’s a sad truth.  But, being a referee has some signficant pluses.  You actually get paid to get outside and run around, and for the most part, you’re your own boss!  Referees tend to be a fraternal bunch, so you’ll always have a supportive, friendly group of people to help you along the way as you learn how to referee.  And about the minuses: they very rarely become a big problem.

Before you can referee a game, you have to be certified by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF).  There are other soccer organizations in the USA, but USSF is by far the largest, so we’re going to speak exclusively to its’ requirements.


A little understanding of the organizational hiearchy will help us understand where need to go from here.  The governing body of soccer (football in most places) is the Federation Internationale de Football Association, better known as FIFA.  FIFA is divided into continental confederations, then further into national associations.  For the USA , our continental confederation is known as CONCACAF.  It’s a complicated acronym, so I won’t try to explain it here, but it is the governing body of soccer for North America, Central America and the Carribean.  Within CONCACAF, are the national associations, including USSF.

In the United States, adminstration of soccer is further delegated to 55 State Associations.  You may be questioning the geographic knowledge of USSF at this point, wondering how there could be 55 “states”.  The answer is that some of the larger states, like California, Texas, and a couple of others, are further divided into smaller adminstrative “states”.

Within each of the State Associations there is a body responsible for adminstering the USSF Referee Program for their state.  This group is known as the State Referee Committee, or SRC.  Among other things, the SRC is responsible for teaching and certifying new referees in their state.

So, the first step to becoming a new referee is to identify your SRC.  This is a simple excercise for everyone, unless you live in California, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania or Ohio.  Each of these states have two associations.  California, Texas and Ohio are divided into North and South associations, while New York and Pennsylviania are divided into East and West.

Your SRC is responsible for conducting classes for new referees, adminstering the test, making sure you are registered with USSF and getting your badge to you.  Most of the SRCs maintain a website that lists upcoming referee classes.  For a complete list of SRCs and their corresponding websites, visit this page.

The SRCs are allowed a little bit of flexibility in determining the starting level for referees in their states.  Referees can be certified and start as either a Grade 9 (R9) or a Grade 8 (R8), depending on the state.  R9 referees are limited to being an Assistant Referee on games up to the Select (competitive) U14 age group, and may only be the referee for Recreational (non-competitive) matches up to U14.  R8 referees are technically able to be an Assistant Referee or Referee on any match, up through U19, though assignors will typically start you out at the younger age groups.

In my home state of Georgia, referees are required to start at the R9 level and then can move up to R8 after completing one season as an R9 and successful completion of the R9-to-R8 certification class.  Other states allow referees to immediately certify as an R8.  Your SRCs website probably has the details.

Once you’ve registered for an entry level class (be it R9 or R8), you may be wondering what to expect and how to prepare.  You’ll have to attend training that is typically covered over two sessions on two different days.  It may be one weeknight and one all day weekend session, or any number of other variations.  The bottom line is that you will have to sit through some classroom instruction, along with some practical field excercises, and then pass a written multiple-choice  test.  There is no physical test requirement for R9 or R8 referees.  If you decide to stick with refereeing (and who wouldn’t) you will have to pass a physical test – along with other requirements – to become an R7 referee.

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

New Refs: Recommended Gear

[box]DISCLOSURE: Referee Resources LLC, the owner of In The Opinion Of The Referee, receives a advertising fee from for products sold through our links. Trust us, it isn’t enough to say something is good if it isn’t. We do not receive referral fees from any other supplier mentioned in this article[/box]

Package Deals

Many of the uniform suppliers offer “Starter Packages” for new referees.  These packages allow you order all of your compulsory gear in one easy step; they typically include a jersey, shorts, socks, whistle, yellow/red card set, and a whistle.  Before you order one of these packages, however, we encourage you to read the reviews below.  Some of the items included in the starter packages are less than ideal, even for new referees.

Some suppliers, including OSI and Score, offer two versions of the referee jerseys: an entry level line, often called “Economy” and a line with more features, usually called “Pro” or “Elite”. The entry level line of jerseys typically features a collarless, v-neck style and breast pockets without flaps. We recommend you avoid these jerseys. For about the same price as an OSI Economy jersey, you can buy a pro/elite version from another supplier, like Score or Kwik Goal. Pockets without flap closures just aren’t all that useful, as items are always falling out.

iTOOTR has completed thorough reviews of the OSI, Kwik Goal, and Score jerseys.  If you want a deep dive into the particulars of each jersey, along with our recommendations, click here.

Shorts may be available in two different lines as well. Typically, the more expensive shorts have deeper pockets, an inner elastic waistband that helps keep your jersey tucked in, and, most importantly, velcro flaps on the back pockets. If you get a jersey with flaps on the pockets, you can probably do with the cheaper shorts. The reverse is also true, i.e., if you get the jersey without pocket flaps, you’ll really need the more expensive shorts with the pocket flaps.

OSI is the only supplier that offers different lines of socks, with the more expensive being softer and/or better made. I choose to wear thin runners socks as a base layer on my feet, so it doesn’t really matter to me which sock I use. For new referees, I recommend getting the least expensive sock. Be sure, though, to check your local requirements to determine if referees wear the 2-stripe or 3-stripe variety.

Your Non-Uniform Gear (Everything Else)

Whistles and Lanyards

iTOOTR has conducted a review of the most popular whistles, which you can find here. Most whistles tend to be simply a matter of personal preference, but there are a couple of guidelines to heed. The first is that almost no one uses the old style “pea” whistle anymore. This style of whistle has a little cork ball in the chamber that vibrates when you blow the whistle, resulting in the modulated pitch. Technology has come to whistles too, and now almost all sports officials use pealess whistles. These offer the advantage that the pea won’t get stuck in cold weather (your saliva gets inside the whistle chamber and can freeze the pea against the inside of the whistle). So, get yourself a pealess whistle. The most popular models, by far, are made by Fox 40 and are available from all of the suppliers mentioned in this article.

One consideration that would be easy to overlook is how you are going to carry your whistle. Some referees choose to not use a whistle lanyard at all and simply carry the whistle in their hand. I don’t recommend this for new referees, simply because of the risk of dropping your whistle. When you’re new, you’re going to bit a little nervous in your first few matches, so no reason to add to stress because you’re looking for your whistle while the game is underway. There are many styles of whistle lanyard to choose from, including finger, wrist, and neck. One point to make clear, however: soccer referees never wear whistles around their necks. There’s no prohibition against, this, it’s just a commonly accepted practice. Some referees choose to use a long neck lanyard and wrap the rope around their whistle hand to hold the whistle in place. If you choose to do this, just make sure you aren’t tempted to use the lanyard to twirl your whistle during a particularly boring game; it looks unprofessional. Most refereesuse a wrist lanyard. There are two popular models, one from OSI, which is reviewed here, and one from Fox 40, which is available with a whistle through, here.

Yellow and Red Cards

You’ll need a yellow and red card set, which some suppliers may refer to as “Disciplinary Cards”, and a method for writing down the recordable events that happen during a game, like goals and misconduct. There are many options for recording your game information available, ranging from a blank index card to write-on cards which require a permanent marker. All of this is a bit much for a new referee, so my recommendation is to simply start with a plastic data wallet that typically includes a yellow and red card. These plastic wallets aren’t particularly durable, and won’t last more than a couple of seasons at most, but they’re cheap and they’ll give you an opportunity to experiement with other methods of recording game info without spending a lot of money up front. These wallets usually come with a pad of pre-printed forms for use inside the wallet. You just tear one off of the pad, and stick it inside the inner flaps of the wallet. Pad refills are cheap and can be found from any of the gear suppliers.


For new referees, a watch needn’t be a new purchase. If you already have a simple, black digital watch that includes a timer, this will do nicely. If you don’t own one of these, they can be had for a little amount of money at Walmart, or online at Amazon. If you have to buy a watch, you might consider a referee-specific watch from Casio, reviewed here, that runs about $20 on Amazon. A backup watch is ideal, but not required. For your first season, I wouldn’t worry about it unless you already own an extra.


Veteran referees get really excited about Assistant Referee flags. I know, it seems a bit silly. But, believe it or not, you can spend anywhere from about $10 on a set of flags to as much as $500 for set of radio flags like MLS referees use. For new referees, I always recommend spending the least amount of money possible. You can always upgrade your flags later, once you’ve earned some game fees. There are some minor differences in flags from the different suppliers, but not enough difference at the entry level to worry about.

Optional Gear That Really Isn’t Optional

You need a flipping coin for the coin toss before the game. Although specialty flip coins are available, a quarter works just fine. Just make sure you have one, because the old “how many fingers do I have behind my back” trick just makes you look unprepared.

writing implement is obviously essential. If your uniform doesn’t have any pocket flaps on it, then you’ll have to get a pen or pencil with a clip so it will stay in your pocket. Some referees use the small golf pencils because they fit nicely into your front shorts pocket (OSI even makes a “referee pencil”). Whatever implement you choose, make sure you keep a spare in your bag.

Speaking of bags, you’ll need something to carry all of your gear in. Again, as a first year referee, you don’t need to go out and buy something referee specific unless you just want to. An old school backpack will work just fine for your first season or two. After you’ve earned a little money, and decided you want to stick with refereeing, then you can upgrade to something nicer. Make sure you keep a new lawn & leaf sized plastic bag in your ref bag. When it rains, you’ll put your ref bag inside the plastic bag so that the bag (and all of its’ contents) don’t get soaked or muddy or both.


Now that we’ve plowed through all of the details, let’s get down to brass tacks and make some specific recommendations.

Two important notes about these recommendations:

  • The package sets do not include shoes or a watch
  • The packages below include three-stripe socks, unless otherwise noted.  If your club/assignor/association requires two-stripe socks, Official Sports is the only place you can purchase them
  • Some packages include a whistle.  These are pea whistles and while they work just fine, a pealess whistle is a better choice.

Best for One Stop Shoppers

If you just want to make a few clicks and be done, we recommend the Score 10 piece soccer referee uniform set from  Total cost: about $70, including shipping.  This package includes one short-sleeved jersey in your choice of color and size, shorts, three-stripe socks, a whistle/lanyard (though not a recommended model), a yellow/red card set, a game information pad and wallet, assistant referee flags, and a referee bag.  Total cost: about $70, including shipping.

Best for Amazon Prime Members

If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you get free two-day shipping on everything you order (that is Prime eligible).  Amazon sells Kwik Goal brand gear, which is certainly fine for new referees.  Kwik Goal doesn’t offer a package, per se, but we’ve gathered everything you need on this list.  This list includes a short-sleeve jersey, shorts, socks, flags, yellow/red card set, whistle, lanyard, game information pad and wallet.  Total cost: about $84, with free two-day shipping for Prime members.

Best for A Tight Budget

If you’re looking for the absolute lowest total price, we offer two lukewarm recommendations.  Our recommendations are lukewarm because the price difference between these options and the far superior Score 10 piece Pro set mentioned above is only $14.  The Pro jersey in the Score 10 pc set is preferred over either choice below because it features velcro closures on the pockets.

First is the Score 7 piece Economy soccer referee uniform set.  This set includes a Score Economy jersey (which we don’t recommend because it doesn’t have pocket closures), shorts, socks, flags, a whistle, yellow/red card set, and a flipping coin.  It does not include a game information pad, referee wallet or flags.  Total cost: about $47 with shipping.  Total cost including flags (and assuming you’ll use an index card to record game information): about $58

Second is the OSI 7 piece Economy starter kit.  This set includes an OSI Economy jersey (which we don’t recommend because it doesn’t have pocket closures), shorts, socks, flags, a whistle, yellow/red card set, and a velcro patch for your badge.  It does not include a game information pad, referee wallet or flags.  Total cost: about $44 with shipping.  Total cost including flags: about $56.

Best for The Best

If cost isn’t a primary concern, and you know that refereeing is going to be something you’ll stick with for at least a few years, we have recommendations for you.  Be aware that this recommendation requires you to order from two different suppliers.

Item Supplier Price Links
 OSI Pro Raglan Jersey  Official Sports  $47  Buy Review
 OSI Pro Shorts  Official Sports  $33  Buy
 OSI Pro Socks  Official Sports  $13  Buy
 OSI Basic Swivel Flags  Official Sports  $30  Buy
 Leather Referee Wallet  $11  Buy  Review
 Fox 40 Classic Whistle  $6  Buy  Review
 Game Information Pad  $2  Buy
 Velcro patch for Referee badge  Official Sports  $1  Buy
 Est. Shipping  $17
TOTAL  $157

Prices are current as of 15 January 2013 and are stated in US Dollars.  Shipping estimates are based on shipping within the United States.


Continue Reading –> Getting Assigned to Matches

New Refs: Getting Assigned To Matches

Assignments generally work one of two ways: each club uses the service of an individual assignor, typically as an independent contractor (rather than as a club employee), or there is a Referee Association responsible for assigning referees to matches across all (or most) clubs in a given area. There is no formula to determine which model is used in your area. You can ask your course instructor or the SRC in your state.

If your area uses the independent assignor model, you’ll need to contact the assignors at each club where you’d like to referee and ask to be added to their referee list.

Many independent assignors and Referee Associations use web based systems to manage their assignments. The two most popular systems in use are Game Officials and ArbiterOne. Both are free to referees, though both offer optional premium services for a small fee.

Tips for Building A Good Relationship with Your Assignor

Assignors have a very difficult job. They have to get the right referee crews assigned to the right games while taking into account the ability, preferences and availability of each referee. At some larger clubs, the number of games that have to be assigned each week are in the hundreds. Throw into the mix referees who get sick, don’t turn up, or who are late and you’ve got a series case for self-medication. These tips should help you get along with your assignor, who’s the closest person to a boss you’ll have as a ref.

The main point to remember is that your assignor probably handles a lot of referees.  So your goal, at least at first, is to avoid standing out for the wrong reasons.  This is fairly straightforward:

  • Accept your assignments quickly after you receive them
  • Don’t turn back assignments unless it is truly unavoidable (sickness, family emergency, etc.)
  • Show up on time (early) and ready to referee
  • Don’t be picky about your assignments; you’re likely to get a lot of U-littles for your first few assignments and maybe even for the duration of your first season.

A good relationship with your assignor will go a long way towards making your refereeing experience enjoyable and rewarding.


Continue Reading –> Preparing For Your First Match

New Refs: Preparing For Your First Match

Now that you have your badge, your gear, and your first assignment, you’re ready to start preparing for your first match.  Beyond the obvious recommendations of reviewing the Laws of the Game and the Guide to Procedures, we can offer some practical advice about what to expect and how to be prepared.

Our friends at the Watch and Whistle have prepared an extensive primer of practical advice to assist referees in preparing for their first few matches.  Rather than try to re-create this content, we highly recommend you read it before your first game.

Additionally, USSF has prepared a video series for new referees you may find helpful.

Continue Reading –> Referees Are Athletes

New Refs: Referees Are Athletes

Referees are athletes.

This statement may seem counterintuitive at first, but consider this: in higher level games, referees will run as much as a midfielder does. I keep a pedometer in my pocket when I referee and in a 90 minute match I will run anywhere from 3 to 6 miles depending on the game and level of competition.

Add in environmental factors like the air temperature, humidity level, and radiant heat from the sun, and you’ve got a recipe for trouble if you don’t take care of yourself.  In many areas of the country, referees are in short supply, so you may find yourself doing multiple games per day. While this is good for the wallet, it’s hard on the body, even when you’re young. I am constantly surprised at the number of young referees – most of whom are also players – who show up to referee three or more games on a hot day and don’t bring any water or sports drink with them. (This has become such a problem that I usually bring an extra quart size bottle of sports drink to give to a forgetful referee on my crew. The investment of $1 has paid dividends many times over.) And even in U10 matches, which is where many of you will be starting, it doesn’t take much excercise at a heat index of 90 F (or higher) to deplete your body of fluids. Have I made my point? YOU MUST STAY HYDRATED. Ideally, you should bring a refillable jug to the field so you can drink as much water as your body needs.

If you want specific hydration guidelines, these recommendations from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association may prove useful.

Along the same lines, it’s always a good idea to keep a non-perishable snack in your bag, like a PowerBar or something similar. Some assignors may not give you a break between games, so you’ll end up doing three in a row. The scheduling of these matches is such that you won’t have time to sit and eat a sack lunch. But a quick munch on an energy bar before a game or at halftime can help stave off the hunger pangs until your work day is done.

Finally, don’t forget the sunscreen and lip balm. Referees are out in direct sunlight for many hours straight and it’s just good common sense to make sure you are protected from sunburn.