Becoming a referee can become a difficult process to navigate. Sometimes, it can feel like the hurdles to jump through aren’t even worth your time and effort. With this resource, we hope to simplify the process, listing out everything you need to know in easy and understandable instructions.

Why Should I Become A Referee?

There are a multitude of reasons to become a referee, some of which we laid out last fall. If I had to give a concise answer to this question, it would be to capture that competitive edge that can leave you if you leave the game. Chances are, every one of our playing days are limited. So many people find themselves graduating high school and phased out of the sport. Even among the talented few that find themselves playing Collegiately, very few end up playing competitively past their school days. Yes, you might join an adult recreational or amatuer team, but that feeling of raw competitiveness just isn’t the same.

With refereeing, you get to be in the heart of the action again. And while you’re not competing against another team, you’re competing against yourself to be the best referee you can be. After every game you can identify areas of improvement for yourself to work on, and over time you can feel your game elevate to new levels.

How Does the Referee System Work?

In the United States, all club referee certifications are handled by U.S. Soccer, which operates under the International Football Association Board (IFAB), and teaches their Laws of the Game. U.S. Soccer sets up a clear pathway for referees to climb all the way to becoming a FIFA-certified referee, the highest level that allows referees to officiate international games.

To enter the referee ranks, all beginners must start at the Grassroots level. Don’t be mistaken, even though Grassroots is the lowest level available, the designation provides you with the ability to referee a vast majority of competitive youth competitions, adult amatuer matches and recreational matches. The assignments you’ll be able to receive under a Grassroots license will certainly hold you over for at least a couple of years as you develop your skills to move your way towards a Regional certification if later desired.

What Qualifications Do I Need to Become a Referee in Northern California?

  1. Be 13 years of age or older.
  2. The ability to understand and comprehend the Laws of the Game.
  3. Strong communication skills to work with assignors, fellow referees, coaches and players.
  4. The ability to pass a U.S. Soccer Federation Gold Standard NCSI Background Check (18+).
  5. A level of fitness that allows you to keep up with the pace of play. You don’t have to be a physical specimen, but if you have trouble running without gasping for breath, refereeing may not be the best option for you at the moment.

How Do I Become a Grassroots Referee in Northern California?

1. Create an Account in the U.S. Soccer Learning Center

To register for a class in California North, you need to head to the U.S. Soccer Learning Center and create an account.

2. Register for a Class

Once you’ve signed up for your account, you need to register for a class. When you go to the registration page, U.S. Soccer will automatically show you classes for the location you’re currently located in, so if you’re registering from out-of-state, select California from the location drop-down menu. Since California South uses a wholly different system for their registration, all classes listed under California are for California North.

Select a ‘Grassroots New Referee’ course and sign up. Look for a time and location that works best for you. It’ll cost you $75 up-front, and once you’ve paid, you’ll be registered and allowed to complete your background check information.

3. Complete a Background Check (18+)

If you’re over the age of 18, you will need to complete an NCSI Background Check to work as a referee in California. With an additional $30, you will register to receive this two-year license through the US Soccer Learning Center. In Northern California, you will not be allowed to complete your online training until you pass your background check, which can take anywhere from 7-10 days to complete. It is highly recommended that you register for your background check immediately after registering for your course.

If you are under the age of 18 you can skip immediately to step 5.

4. Complete SafeSport Training (18+)

Aspiring referees 18 and older must also complete the hour-long SafeSport clinic, a fairly new governmentally-required training designed to help all officials involved in youth sports identify and report abusive behaviors to help keep our young athletes safe.

5. Complete Online Modules through the U.S. Soccer Learning Center

When you’ve signed up for the class, completed your background check and dealt with the SafeSport, you will receive access to two modules, the “Introduction to Safe and Healthy Playing Environments” and “Online Grassroots Referee Course”. In total, this takes about 4.5 hours to complete, but you aren’t required to complete the entire course in one sitting.

This course contains all the basic information on the Laws of the Game and how to enforce them. If you want to be as prepared as possible for your first day on the job, it’s important that you take this step very seriously and pay close attention. Note-taking is recommended as you will have a quiz to test your knowledge upon conclusion.

6. Take the Grassroots Online Test

You will capstone your online training with a test to check your knowledge. This test must be completed by at least 6pm the day of your digital field session, but try not to procrastinate. In reality, the best way to complete the training is by blocking off a 5-hour window to complete the modules and take the online test in one sitting.

7. Attend Your Digital Field Session

While Grassroots Training is normally concluded through an in-person session with an instructor, the California North Referee Administration (CNRA) has gone fully virtual during the pandemic. Currently, any referee who has completed all of the prior steps can register for a “Digital Field Session” hosted via Zoom. All digital sessions are taking place at 7pm PST, and are being hosted on a bi-weekly basis through the end of April (and possibly beyond).

8. Receive Your Badge

Congratulations! Once you’ve fully completed all the previous steps, you will receive your badge, either at the in-person session or later through the mail. Contact some assignors and get working!

Finding and Contacting Assignors in California North

So you got your badge, now what? Without access to game assignments, you’ve just wasted a couple hundred dollars on a referee course and equipment.

The most important relationships you will have in your tenure as a referee is with your assignors. Thankfully, CNRA provides a very helpful list of their assignors on their website, sorted by the area they cover. Once you’re a registered referee, head over to their page and search for an assignor close to where you plan on officiating. The CNRA list conveniently adds a list of the clubs and tournaments each assignor handles, so if you have a specific event or league in mind, reach out to the specific assignors who can give you those games.

When you’ve found an assignor(s) in your area, send them a friendly email introducing yourself, including your age and level of experience. In most cases, assignors are desperate for any help they can get and will gladly welcome you aboard, assigning you to work with veteran referees who can help you with your first experience. In some cases, assignors will only have games available that will be above your skill level as a first-year referee. Under those circumstances, an assignor will most likely connect you with another local assignor who can help you get those first games.

Frequently Asked Questions?

Q: Which part of the state counts as “California North”?

A: While there is no set boundary, the assignors in California North start in the suburbs of Fresno and go all the way up the state. If you live in the Bakersfield area (or south of that), you should check out our article “How to Become a Referee in Southern California”.

Q: What equipment will I need? How much will it cost?

A: To referee your first game you will need a full jersey set, which includes at least the yellow referee jersey (ideally get both yellow and green to start), referee shorts, referee socks, cards, flags and a whistle. You can find a package from Official Sports, the exclusive USSF uniform supplier, that includes everything you need to start day one for as little as $50.95 plus shipping and handling. Additionally, everything you buy as a part of your refereeing career is considered a work expense, making it tax deductible at the end of the year.

Q: How much money can I earn?

A: The amount you can earn varies depending on a multitude of factors, including the age of the players you are refereeing, the leagues and tournaments in which you plan to officiate and what type of event you are officiating. For example, league games tend to pay more per game, but have longer game lengths while tournaments generally pay less on a per game basis, but have truncated game lengths that allow referees to work more in a given day. While this shouldn’t be treated as gospel, a good rule of thumb for youth games is that for every minute of game length, an assistant referee makes about $0.50, while a center referee makes around $0.70-$1.00. That would mean in a standard 90-minute game each assistant would make $45 while the center would make $63-$90.

Q: How do I get paid? And how often?

A: Different assignors and competitions have different forms of payment, which come with differing payment speeds. A select few leagues offer cash payment directly to the referee on the field, but most competitions pay the assignor who then pays the money to referees either via direct deposit through assigning applications, or through cumulative checks sent to home addresses.

Q: What’s the best way to practice and improve quickly?

A: The best way to practice is to work your own games! You can spend as much time as you like thinking about refereeing in theory, but until you’re out there, on the pitch, making your own calls, you won’t be able to understand what refereeing is truly like. Let your assignors know your skill level and the level of competition you feel comfortable with, and they can help get you some games that will help improve your skills. Also, be receptive to constructive criticism from your teammates. When you’re a fresher referee, your assignors will generally try to place you with some veterans who have worked hundreds, if not thousands of games. They will have great advice for you as you begin your journey in the referee world.