Make It, Official: The steps you need to begin officiating football — or any sport

“Since I would like to officiate in the NFL someday, I am wondering what steps I need to take.”

Since Tony says most states currently need officials in all sports, I asked him how to get started with officiating. According to Tony,

“Everyone starts out the same.”

Working midget, community, and middle school games is not glamorous. However, those games are invaluable in that they yield on-the-field experience with teams and coaches, as well as fans in the stands.

Before an official can advance to Friday night varsity football games, they need two years of experience working sub-varsity games. After officiating high school varsity games for four or five years (somewhere between 150 to 200 lower level games), officials may get a shot at working small college games. They may even be able to advance higher, depending on their performance.

Having a healthy fitness level helps increase the odds of advancement. Out-of-shape officials tend to have a more difficult time moving up through the ranks, likely because of the age-old advice: “Never get beat to the end-zone.”

Knowing the rules is essential in order to be an official.

Equally important is understanding the mechanics of the game. Knowing where each official must stand during the game as well as when they should stand there. Officials must also know their “key,” meaning what player(s) and section of the field they should focus on.

An important characteristics of a competent official is teachability.

A prospective official must learn to listen to — and apply — sound advice.

And of course, working as many games as possible is the best way to gain experience. According to Tony, “It’s all about seeing as many different situations and plays as you can.”

The process is not quick or easy. But it’s worth it.

But according to Tony, the work is worthwhile. “At a high school game on a Friday night, it’s the smell of the grass, the National Anthem, the high school kids in the stands, super charged up.”

“At a college game on a Saturday afternoon, when you can’t hear a thing over the crowd noise of 70,000+ people, that atmosphere is magical.”

“When you work a major night game, possibly on national television, and 100,000 people are booing you, but you are certain you made the right call, that feels amazing.”

There are downsides to officiating to consider.

Harder still, especially on new officials, is the cruelty of parents, coaches, and rude fans. The insults they hurl at novice officials, who don’t have enough experience to be confident.

What helps in adverse situations is the support of one’s crew, the camaraderie among officials.

The fellowship continues long after the National Championship game has been played. At spring games and scrimmages. During the mid-summer mandatory officials’ clinic. With the email and text atta-boys regarding bowl assignments.

These men pray over ailing family members. They mail sympathy cards and send donations to memorial funds. They open their homes to each other for lodging.

In that long-ago article in the Dallas Cowboys Weekly that prompted my husband to become an official, the writer said,

“If you love the game of football and want to stay involved long after you quit playing, officiating is the way to go.”

My husband and son in their stripes before a middle school game during our son’s first year of officiating.

For more information on becoming a sports official, email me here and I’ll forward your questions to Tony.

Howdy-hey from Almost Heaven, West Virginia! Here in my 110-year-old Sears kit-house, I drink coffee, write many words, snuggle soft mammals, repeat.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store