Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials

Career, Salary and Education Information

What They Do: Umpires, referees, and other sports officials preside over competitive athletic or sporting events to help maintain standards of play.

Work Environment: Umpires, referees, and other sports officials work indoors and outdoors. They often work irregular hours, including evenings, weekends, and holidays. Officials working outdoors are exposed to all types of weather conditions.

How to Become One: Educational requirements vary by state and 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.

   Salary: The median annual wage for umpires, referees, and other sports officials is $35,860.

Job Outlook: Employment of umpires, referees, and other sports officials is projected to grow 32 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of umpires, referees, and other sports officials with similar occupations.

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What Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials Do[About this section] [To Top]

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 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[About this section] [To Top]

Umpires, referees, and other sports officials hold about 13,200 jobs. The largest employers of umpires, referees, and other sports officials are as follows:

Self-employed workers 21%
Performing arts, spectator sports, and related industries 15%
Amusement, gambling, and recreation industries 15%
Educational services; state, local, and private 9%
Civic, social, professional, and similar organizations 3%

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.

Umpire, Referee, and Other Sports Official Work Schedules

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, or Other Sports Official[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials near you!

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 for Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials

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 for Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials

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 for Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials

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 for Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials

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 for Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials

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.

Umpire, Referee, or Other Sports Official Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for umpires, referees, and other sports officials is $35,860. 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 $19,170, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $81,620.

The median annual wages for umpires, referees, and other sports officials in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Performing arts, spectator sports, and related industries $46,900
Educational services; state, local, and private $30,510
Amusement, gambling, and recreation industries $30,500
Civic, social, professional, and similar organizations $23,380

Most umpires, referees, and other sports officials are paid on a per-game basis. Pay typically rises as the level of competition increases.

Seasonal work is common for umpires, referees, and other sports officials. Schedules may vary and often include evenings, weekends, and holidays.

Many umpires, referees, and other sports officials are employed primarily in other occupations and supplement their income by officiating part time.

Job Outlook for Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of umpires, referees, and other sports officials is projected to grow 32 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations.

About 3,600 openings for umpires, referees, and other sports officials are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment of Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials

Much of the projected employment growth in this occupation is due to recovery from the COVID-19 recession that began in 2020 and is likely to occur early in the decade as organized sports resume activities.

The demand for umpires, referees, and other sports officials may increase with a growing interest in college sports, professional sports, and sports recreation and with more athletes participating in sports. Geographic shifts in population may lead to an increase in the number of professional sports teams. Some professional sports leagues may expand to new cities in the United States, forming new teams and potential job opportunities for umpires, referees, and other sports officials.

While funding for school athletic programs may be cut when budgets become tight, the popularity of interscholastic sports sometimes enables shortfalls to be offset with assistance from fundraisers, booster clubs, and parents.

Employment projections data for Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials, 2021-31
Occupational Title Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31
Percent Numeric
Umpires, referees, and other sports officials 13,200 17,400 32 4,200


A portion of the information on this page is used by permission of the U.S. Department of Labor.


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