Interscholastic Sports Officiating

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Experienced sports officials are indispensable to interscholastic sports programs.

Experienced sports officials are indispensable to interscholastic sports programs. Referees, umpires, and judges may influence the outcome of games, matches and meets, but more importantly, they ensure that players and coaches uphold standards for safety and good sportsmanship.

“High school officials protect the integrity of the games our kids love to play by demonstrating qualities like honesty, objectivity, consistency, courage, and common sense,” according to, a website of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). “They have the opportunity to help teenagers learn life lessons that will benefit them for a lifetime.”

In urging people to consider youth sports officiating, the Florida High School Athletic Association notes that officials have to bring order out of chaos, promote fairness, and encourage sportsmanship.

“A sports official must have the positive characteristics of a police officer, lawyer, judge, accountant, reporter, athlete, and diplomat,” the association says on its website.

Sports officials play a valuable role and athletic administrators should be knowledgeable about recruiting and hiring them. Aspiring athletic administrators can gain the knowledge and skills to make such key hires at masters in athletic administration online programs, such as the one at Ohio University.

Qualifications for Sports Officials

Let us define sports officiating. A sports official is “any person who controls the actual play of a competition by the application of the rules and laws of the sport to make judgments on the rule infringements, performance, time or score,” according to the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries of Western Australia, which is considered a leader in the development and promotion of sports officials.

Knowledgeable officials are vital to interscholastic competition, Karen Yoder and Steve Janski note in “Why the Shortage: How the Athletic Administration can help recruit officials.” The presentation is available on the NFHS website.

Yoder and Janski detail why officials play such a compelling role in sports:

  • On a basic level in the world of athletics, without officials, interscholastic competition would not take place.
  • Sports officials are able to bring control to chaos, understand fairness, promote safety and encourage good sportsmanship.
  • In junior competitions, the officials can be an extension of the coaching staff aimed at teaching and skill development rather than winning.
  • Officials have been known to help in the early learning stages of beginner sports teams making them an influence on the participants’ experience and enjoyment of the sport.

The need for sports officials is projected to grow 8 percent by 2026, with youth and high-school levels having the most openings, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Given the increased demand and potential pool of new officials, athletic directors should understand the importance of finding candidates who will best fit their organization.

For entry-level positions, sports officials typically need at least a high school diploma and skills such as:

  • Critical thinking
  • Decision-making
  • Active listening
  • Speaking abilities

Most sports officials also experience in the sport they want to judge, either as a fan or an athlete. Officials who understand the motor skills associated with a sport are often better able to understand the intricacies of an athlete’s performance and therefore to evaluate actions in a game.

Characteristics of Successful Sports Officials

In addition to the basic qualifications for officiating jobs, certain personal characteristics are likely to contribute to success as a sports official.

People who are in good physical shape are more likely to do well than those who are not. Judges and referees must be able to keep up with the action in the game, often running with the players to see their movement and that of the ball and then make fair decisions about what occurred. Being fit also helps referees withstand the physical demands of standing and the mental demand of concentrating for long periods of time.

Being decisive also serves sports official well. Judges must be able to make split-second decisions with confidence. They must be confident in their evaluation, even when spectators, coaches, or players try to sway their calls.

Sports officials need to be consistent and seek to maintain a balance between ensuring that the game is fair and keeping it moving forward.

Benefits of Officiating

Sports officiating offers a number of benefits, including:

  • Supplemental income. For many interscholastic officials, refereeing games is a second job that allows them to make money while being involved in an activity they love.
  • Flexible schedule. Because of the great need for officials, judges may be able to set their own schedules and work around their job and family commitments.
  • Camaraderie. Being involved in sports can create strong bonds between those involved and lead to friendships that last a lifetime.

What Athletic Directors Can Do

Athletic directors (ADs) are often responsible for locating and scheduling officials for their schools’ competitions. With the current shortage of officials across the country, knowing how to recruit and retain officials is especially important for ADs.

The National Association of Sports Officials is working to combat the shortage by providing ADs with relevant materials online. Its campaign, Say Yes to Officiating, offers tools such as downloadable handouts, customizable presentations and how-to guides. It also showcases recruiting initiatives from across the country, so organizations can get practical advice on strategies that work.

Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration Degree

Ohio University was the first college to offer an academic sports program in the country, and its tradition of innovative excellence continues with its online Master of Athletic Administration (MAA) program. Nationally recognized by U.S. News & World Report as a “Best Business School” and The Princeton Review as a “Best College,” Ohio University specializes in developing interscholastic athletic directors. Its online MAA program offers coaches and educators the skills to run highly successful athletic departments and prepares them to sit for National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) certification.

The program offers classes in sports marketing, risk management, ethics and administration of interscholastic athletic programs in an online environment that complements the busy schedules of working professionals. Ohio University’s Master of Athletic Administration online program is accredited by the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA).


Recommended Reading

The Nationwide Decline in Sports Officials

The Highlights & Pressures of Being A High School Athletic Director or Coach

Meet Online Masters of Athletic Administration student Matthew Welsh





Officiating: Australia’s Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries

“Why the shortage:” NHFS

Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials: United States Department of Labor

Say Yes to Officiating: National Association of Sports Officials

Recruiting, Retaining Officials Challenges State Associations: NFHS

The Importance Of Having Unbiased Officials In Sports: Odyssey