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

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 identify 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 employed primarily in other occupations and supplement their income by officiating part time.

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Work Environment

Umpires, referees, and other sports officials held about 22,000 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of umpires, referees, and other sports officials were as follows:

Amusement, gambling, and recreation industries 19%
Performing arts, spectator sports, and related industries                               13
Civic, social, professional, and similar organizations 13
Educational services; state, local, and private 9
Self-employed workers 9

Umpires, referees, and other sports officials work indoors and outdoors. Those working outdoors will be exposed to all types of weather conditions. Some officials 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.

Work Schedules

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

Education and Training

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. Officiating sports requires extensive knowledge of the rules of the game.

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. 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

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 level. Those who wish to advance to the collegiate level must typically officiate at the varsity high school level for many years.

Some umpires, referees, and other 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. Baseball umpires begin their professional careers officiating in the minor leagues and typically need 7 to 10 years of experience there before moving on to the major leagues.

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

Other Experience

Umpires, referees, and other sports officials must have an extensive 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 have gained much of their knowledge through years of playing the sport at some level. However, previous playing experience is not a requirement for becoming an umpire, referee, or other sports official.

Personality and Interests

Umpires, referees, and other sports officials typically have an interest in the Building, Persuading and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Persuading or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as an umpire, referee, and other sports officials, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Umpires, referees, and other sports officials should also possess the following specific qualities:

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.

Decision-making 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 sports officials are required to stand, walk, run, or squat for long periods during games and events.

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

Pay

The median annual wage for umpires, referees, and other sports officials was $28,550 in May 2019. 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 $18,310, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $62,490.

In May 2019, 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                        $37,400
Civic, social, professional, and similar organizations 31,260
Amusement, gambling, and recreation industries 27,150
Educational services; state, local, and private 24,680

Most umpires, referees, and other sports officials 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

Employment of umpires, referees, and other sports officials is projected to grow 6 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations. As the population grows, so will 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 as more students participate in sports, the demand for umpires, referees, and other sports officials may increase.

However, funding for athletic programs often is the first thing to be cut 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 also is 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 scholarship payments to student athletes may result in funding cuts to smaller collegiate sports programs. The latter cuts could curtail the employment of umpires, referees, and officials if enough programs are eliminated.

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 collegiate 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.

For More Information

For more information about umpires, referees, and other sports officials, visit

National Association of Sports Officials

For more information on umpires, referees, and other sports officials, refer to the organization that represents the sport and the locality.

Related BLS articles

Career Outlook: “Interview with a Baseball Umpire

CareerOneStop

For a career video on umpires, referees, and other sports officials, visit

Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials

FAQ

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The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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