Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials


Quick Facts: Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials
2017 Median Pay $26,800 per year
Typical Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Moderate-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2016 21,100
Job Outlook, 2016-26 8% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 1,600

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Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials Career, Salary and Education Information

What Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials Do

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.

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sports officiating

Duties of umpires, referees, and other sports officials

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.


Work Environment for Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials

Umpires, referees, and other sports officials held about 21,100 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of umpires, referees, and other sports officials were as follows:

Amusement, gambling, and recreation industries: 23%

Civic, social, professional, and similar organizations: 12%

Performing arts, spectator sports, and related industries: 9%

Self-employed workers: 9%

Educational services; state, local, and private: 8%

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 for Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials

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


How to Become an Umpire, Referee, and Other Sports Officials

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.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Umpires, referees, and other sports officials must have good communication skills because they inform athletes on the rules of the game, discuss infractions, and settle disputes.

Decisionmaking 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 identify any violations during play. In some sports, such as diving or gymnastics, sports officials must also be able to observe an athlete’s form for imperfections.

Physical stamina. Many umpires, referees, and other sports officials are required to stand, walk, run, or squat for long periods during games and events.

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


salaries for Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials

The median annual wage for umpires, referees, and other sports officials was $26,800 in May 2017. 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 $18,360, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $56,100.

 

In May 2017, 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: $30,990

Civic, social, professional, and similar organizations: $27,430

Educational services; state, local, and private: $24,900

Amusement, gambling, and recreation industries: $23,840

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 for Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials

Employment of umpires, referees, and other sports officials is projected to grow 8 percent from 2016 to 2026, 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 for Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials

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.

Employment projections data for Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials, 2016-26

Employment, 2016: 21,100

Projected Employment, 2026: 22,700

Change, 2016-2026: +8%, +1,600


Careers Related to Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials

Athletes and Sports Competitors

Athletes and sports competitors participate in organized, officiated sporting events to entertain spectators.

Coaches and Scouts

Coaches teach amateur or professional athletes the skills they need to succeed at their sport. Scouts look for new players and evaluate their skills and likelihood for success at the college, amateur, or professional level. Many coaches also are involved in scouting.

OccupationENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION2017 MEDIAN PAY
Athletes and Sports CompetitorsNo formal educational credential$51,370
Coaches and ScoutsBachelor's degree$32,270

Citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/entertainment-and-sports/umpires-referees-and-other-sports-officials.htm