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Have you ever watched a high-stakes game such as the NBA finals or the World Cup and wondered how much the referees get paid? Although most of us will not make it to the big leagues, sports officiating as a side hustle can be a profitable source of active income.
If you're looking for more side hustles, be sure to check out my other posts:
How Much Money Does a Youth Sports Referee Make?
Right off the bat (see what I did there?), let's talk about the profit potential for this sports fan side hustle. When you become a youth sports referee, you will start by officiating lower levels of play. As you learn the skills and earn credibility to officiate higher levels of play, your pay will also increase.
As a referee, you will earn, on average, $15-30 a game for the lower levels of youth sports. High school and collegiate sports can yield a better source of income, averaging $50-150 per game. Some higher level college games might even yield $800 or more!
If you officiate multiple games on a weekend, you could easily turn a Saturday into a $100+ day!
A sports official is usually an independent contractor-type position. You will be responsible for reporting your income for taxes. The benefits of the contractor status, of course, is that you can work just the games, weekends, or seasons that work for your schedule!
How to Become a Youth Sports Referee
Each sport will have its own regulations about who can be a youth sports official. In general, though, you will need to attend a few officiating classes and take a test to prove you have knowledge of the sport and its rules.
Start with a sport that you are already familiar with and that you love (trust me on this one – you couldn't pay me to officiate baseball). This will make remembering all the technicalities much simpler, and you probably already know most of them.
The NASO (National Association of Sports Officials) is a terrific resource for sports officials.
Who is this Side Hustle Best For?
Being a sports official is a relatively straightforward process, but it won't be for everyone. Here are a few additional job responsibilities and characteristics to consider before going all in. You will want to make sure you have the physical ability to keep up with the demands of the sport as well as the mental alertness to make decisions on your feet.
Being a referee or umpire can be physically demanding. In most sports, especially soccer, there will be a lot of running. You will need to demonstrate agility and quick response time when the game changes directions. As a baseball umpire, you will be squatting as well as standing for long periods of time.
Visual acuity and spatial awareness are also required to keep up with the fast pace of sports matches, especially for those activities that have complex movements.
Sports matches (especially at higher levels) require quick decision making. You must know the sport and all the rules well enough that you can make split-second judgments. This is easy when we are on our couches and can watch the replay, but in real life, you only get to see it once.
If you've ever been to a Little League baseball game, you know the competitiveness and criticism from parents and coaches can start early! As a referee, you will need to make decisions on the spot, and yet remain cool-headed in the midst of people yelling at you and disagreeing with your calls.
Along with the physical and mental demands, you may need to officiate during inclement weather. Summer sports can be brutally hot. Fall and winter weather can be unpredictable with rain, heat, and snow all being possibilities, depending on where you live. If you are sensitive to certain weather, choose indoor sports or a seasonal sport that has milder weather.
Some local recreation clubs might pay for your official uniform, but usually this will be at your personal expense. Each sport has its own requirements. There may even be different uniforms depending on whether you are the junior official or the head official. You can expect to pay about $300 for your required uniforms and other equipment such as shoes, whistles, flags, etc. You may be able to find these items second hand as well.
Your local sports clubs and recreation departments might pay for your initial training, but then ask you to pay for any continuing education or the required trainings to officiate the higher levels. This will vary greatly location to location and club to club.
If you are in an in-demand ref, you may find some wiggle room. This means some clubs or organizations will be willing to pay for your trainings. Don't settle for a low-paying club just because you enjoy it, either. This is a side hustle, after all! Finding that perfect combination of “I love this” and “I get paid well for my time” can be difficult to achieve, but it's worth continuing to look for.
Most sports matches take place in the evenings and on weekends. As a sports official, you will need to make sure you have the availability to actually work the games. If you are a teacher, for example, you could umpire baseball games all summer as you would have the availability. This could be a lucrative side gig in that one season when multiple games are played during the week and tournaments take place on the weekends.
What Sports Can I Officiate as a Referee?
It is recommended to become a sports referee for an activity that you are already familiar with or have played previously. Don't be afraid, however, to try officiating for some other, less common sports. Some sports are more straightforward than others, which can be easier to learn – even if you have never played them yourself.
Here is a list of sports to get you started:
- Track and Field
What are the Benefits of Being a Youth Sports Official?
There are many reasons to become a sports official in your local community. If you choose an outdoor sport, you will get your dose of fresh air and exercise while getting paid for it! You will be able to stay in good physical shape and also challenge your mental prowess.
This is a great opportunity to give back to your local community and to stay involved. Youth sports wouldn't happen without the officials, so you will be playing a vital role. You will make social connections and get to know the coaches and players.
At $30 a game on the lower end, this is decent pay for a side hustle.
What are the drawbacks of being a Youth Sports referee?
The biggest cons to this sports side gig are items I've already mentioned above. The weather might be uncooperative. Fans are definitely going to yell at you (maybe some coaches, too). This gig is best for teens who can handle criticism, even when it isn't warranted or asked for. It's character building!
The schedule of evenings and weekends might make it difficult for a consistent schedule. You will have to decide if the pros outweigh the cons here! 🙂
Who Do I Contact about Becoming a Youth Sports Referee?
Locally, you can also contact soccer clubs, intramural sports at colleges, parks and recreation departments, and schools about specific requirements for officiating in your local leagues.
Your local YMCA may also have openings. Ask around in local Facebook groups, church, and friends to get word of mouth referrals.
If you aren't able to identify an organization easily, go to a few of the games or matches and talk to the coaches. They will help you make the connections you need to get started.
Can My Teenager be a Sports Official?
Yes! In fact, this is a great opportunity for your teenager to earn some money, gain confidence, and set themselves up for officiating higher levels of games later in their lives.
Each sport will have different minimum ages for officiating. Most, however, will allow teens to begin reffing games as young as 13 or 14. Teenagers will start off being line judges or assistant referees and work their way up to more complex responsibilities.
Sports fans can knock it out of the park with this side hustle. Pick the sport you'd like to officiate, and contact your local organization about requirements and rate of pay. This can be a profitable active income source while you also work towards more passive income streams.