Learn How to Become a High School Football Referee

Written by: Rajan Nanavati, Editor and Founder of Hail To The District

High school referee
Referee shortage around the country

If you’re looking to learn how to become a high school football referee, there’s never been a better time to become one.


The United States, for better or for worse, is actually in the midst of an alarming shortage of high school sports officials. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, eight out of 10 referees for high school sports will stop serving as a referee after just two years of doing so. It’s gotten to the point that many varsity sporting events in different states around the country are having to be cancelled because there simply aren’t enough certified officials to preside over the event.


This is obviously a terrible situation for high school athletes. But the “for better” part of this is that this shortage presents a tremendous opportunity for anyone who wants to break in the field, not only reducing the overall barriers to entry into this work but also allowing you the opportunity to quickly advance up the ranks.


There are two major reasons why we’re seeing a decline in the number of high school sports officials around the country. The first reason is that many of them tend to be older — usually associated with the “baby boomer” generation — and as we’re seeing from the demographics of this country as a whole, many of them are retiring from work,


But the other major factor, which has to be considered by anyone who’s looking to become a high school referee, is the behavior of the fans, and even more specifically the parents of the high school athletes. We’ve all seen those stereotypical examples of unruly fans and irrational parents in the stands, and how they mistreat referees simply trying to do their job. Unfortunately, those stereotypes exist for a reason. Many officials say they get out of that line of work because of the in-game — and even sometimes outside of the game — harassment they receive from people. What these individuals fail to realize sometimes, especially when they’re consumed by the passion of sports and the love of their children, is that referees are also human, which means they’re occasionally going to make mistakes. Unfortunately, fans don’t like to hear this, and/or tend to overlook this.


To be clear, that latter fact isn’t meant to deter you from being a referee. Instead, it’s better to understand just what you’re getting yourself into and prepare yourself for it. At the end of the day, if you focus on being the best possible referee you can, the rest should take care of itself.


Of course, there is an upside to all of this, besides just improving the quality of lives of student-athletes, and being involved in a sport you love. Working as even a high school sports official can be a rather lucrative profession or even just a side gig. Some reports indicate that referees can make as much as $1,000 a week for officiating multiple games, and another report stated some high school referees saying they earned upwards of $70,000 per year.


Further, if you’re someone who happens to be young and technology savvy, there’s even a greater opportunity for you to get into officiating work. We’ve seen just how much technology has been intersecting with the game of football, and that trend is only going to grow as technology advances. Older referees of the baby boomer or even “Generation X” era are not quite as apt to adapt to emerging technologies, so officiating organizations are constantly encouraging younger and more tech-savvy individuals to become officials so that they can keep up with the technology needs and the speed of the game in general.


So how do you become a high school football referee?


Referee Training Class

To start, remember that referees are effectively the “custodian of the game,” in the sense that they have to know exactly what’s going on at all times, and be well-versed in all the rules and situations that could apply over the course of a football game. Given that, the most important things are that you fully understand all the rules of football and all the details associated with the operation of the game.


Thankfully, instead of having to figure out ways to study all of these rules and situations, there’s an easy path to accomplishing this. Almost every state in the country has a certification program that you’ll very likely need to complete as your first step towards becoming a high school sports referee. Many certification programs will allow you to choose your sport of preference when you get started, so this would be the time you want to focus your efforts towards gaining mastery of your knowledge of football. Note that, as part of your certification process, you’ll more than likely be required to take a test to complete the program.


Once you receive your certification, you want to look up your state or local officiation organization (depending on where you live). This is essentially a union of high school sports referees, and you want to join them only after you’ve received your certification. However, it actually might be a good idea for you to contact these organizations before you go and obtain your certification because many of these organizations have a regional representative who will recommend certain certification programs or courses that are looked upon favorably by that organization.


From there on, it’s a matter of becoming active within your officiating organization, getting to know the top members of it, and positioning yourself for the opportunities that will become available. As we mentioned in the opening: given the dearth of officials we’re seeing overall, you won’t have to wait long for one of these opportunities, so make sure you’re prepared. Ensure that you’ve paid any/all of the fees required to officially start working games, ask your organization what type of attire is required for purchase to work a game, and make sure you’re in good physical shape to go out and work the game (it’s not just the athletes who have to run up and down the floor!).


Becoming a referee isn’t as difficult as it might seem if you’re doing it for the right reasons: your love of sports, and your desire to make a positive impact in the lives of so many young people.

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