Sports Official  What They Do

Just the Facts

Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials Career Video

Insider Info

dotSports officials ensure the rules of the game are followed to the letter in a sporting event.

"Sports officials are the 'third team' on the field, trying to make sure neither competitor gains an unfair advantage, interpreting the rules, and administering rules and decisions," says Steven Rosenblatt, a football referee in Phoenix.

dot"Some sports have referees, some have umpires, some are called linesmen, back judges or line judges. But we're all officials," says sports official Jim Mantle.

dotReferees control a game by making rulings in all kinds of situations. They do so based on the official rules. Sports officials may also be called upon to discipline players or coaches, and may file a report once a game is completed.

"I'm there to make sure that everyone plays by the rules, and if there's a question regarding the rules I use my best judgment and common sense to adjudicate them," says Craig Friedley. He is an umpire -- a sports official in baseball and other similar games.

dotThis is a good career for people who are decisive, alert and confident. In fact, it takes a lot of confidence for a person to stand in front of 100,000 fans and make calls on fast-moving plays.

"To me, the most important thing is consistency -- trying to be fair with the teams and the players," says Diana Drury, a soccer official. "Also, an official needs to be assertive, as opposed to aggressive."

dotSports officials are needed at all kinds of competitions. For example, umpires and referees are needed at Little League games all the way to the professional leagues.

Those who call themselves officials usually work for semi-pro or professional sports leagues. Referees can work themselves up to the pro leagues with experience, training and seniority.

dotOnly a very small portion consider themselves officials by occupation.

"Very few individuals are full-time officials who make their living doing this. The other 99.999 percent of them officiate because they choose to," says Mantle.

dotProfessional officials are usually hired by sports leagues. They are usually contracted to officiate a certain number of games. Officials can expect to work anywhere from four to seven months of the year, depending on the league. Since employment is seasonal, most officials have an off-season job.

"This isn't a full-time job, and it's rare when someone can support themselves with officiating fees alone," says Rosenblatt.

dotDuring the season, sports officials spend most of their time on the road, attending out-of-town games. Living out of a suitcase and adjusting to different time zones are part of a career in sports officiating.

dotA sports official needs to be fit to keep up with all this traveling. Officials also need to stay fit in order to keep up with the athletes they are officiating! Plus, staying fit helps them deal with the mental stress of their jobs.

This job is more work than it appears, says one softball umpire. "You might think, 'Oh, he's not working, he just stands there,' but in reality you have to be in top mental and relatively good physical condition to be on top of the game," says Sidney Baker.

dotA sports official's working hours are dictated by the game they officiate. Referees and umpires may work evenings, early mornings or midday. Their schedules can be affected by overtime, playoffs and weather conditions.

dotTraditionally, officials have been men. These days, there are lots of opportunities for women. There are more sporting events than ever, and an increase in the number of women's sports programs, says Bob Still of the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO).

"Officiating is a genderless opportunity," he says. In other words, men can officiate women's games and women can officiate men's games.

At a Glance

Keep sports games fun and fair by making sure the rules are followed

  • Few people have full-time jobs as officials
  • A sports official's working hours are dictated by the game they officiate
  • You need to know a game inside out and have credentials to work in this field