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Sports Officiating is a Side Hustle Requiring Personal Development

Sports officials are in demand across the country and they get up close with the action. But take a closer look to see if it’s a side hustle for you.


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Don Simkovich

4 months ago | 4 min read
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Good money waits if you learn the game and manage the people

Officiating high school or club youth sports and adult leagues is a side hustle that can cover your car payment each year, add to your savings account, and serve as a nice second income.

Sports officials are in demand across the country and they get up close with the action. But take a closer look to see if it’s a side hustle for you.

The Need

Sports officials at all levels of sports are needed across the country.

Why?

Covid worries have caused complications, and shortages exist “in large part due to unsportsmanlike behavior by parents and other adult fans,” according to this editorial by the executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS.org).

Don’t let the threat of anger from fans or coaches hold you back. You can learn to manage them and become confident in the process.

How I Started Refereeing

My son started playing AYSO soccer when he was five and by age 10, parents had to volunteer in some capacity.

No one chose reffing, so I signed up for it. Our region had committed referees who made learning and developing a fun and worthwhile hobby. We took pride even though we were volunteers.

He played soccer in high school and after he graduated I decided it was time to earn money by officiating and not just volunteer. I had some job flexibility so I could take games in the San Gabriel Valley and some Los Angeles City schools.

Several years later, I decided to sharpen my skills and earn more and finally referee competitive youth and adult leagues. It was different, and what I earned was significant.

Good officials don’t just show up in uniform with a whistle ready to blow so they collect cash or a check.

Officiating is a side hustle that takes preparation and requires decision-making and leadership skills. Without knowing the laws of the game, or the rules, you’re going to wilt under pressure from coaches, players and fans.

That’s a challenge I accepted, and I’ve grown as a result.

Here’s how I’ve improved as a soccer referee, but you can apply the lessons to any sport.

Know the Laws of the Game

Reading a rule book is like reading a computer manual, but you’ve got to memorize and talk the laws through with other officials to learn them. For soccer, I memorized the 17 laws by asking questions.

What’s the first thing needed to play? The field. Law 1 is the Field of Play. Laws 1–6 have a logical order. How do you determine a winner? Law 10.

This is on your own time without pay so it’s unpaid prep time.

Applying the Laws of the Game

This is key to becoming the best official and making this a profitable side hustle. When you learn how to interpret the laws, are confident in your split-second decision making, and show experienced officials or assignors your abilities then you’ll get consistent assignments and enjoy the authority you earn.

I joined a referee association and we met almost every Friday night to review laws and interpret them. It was a commitment that paid off by giving me confidence to do matches that paid well.

Referring any sport is a craft and trade. Knowing the laws and being confident in your decision-making will help you manage players, coaches and fans. You’ll develop mental titanium.

How to Get Started

You can volunteer through rec leagues to learn and develop your abilities, or you can apply to the governing bodies for your sport.

For soccer, check U.S. Soccer, Referee, Resource Center for a listing of the 55 referee associations. Insurance coverage is explained here and through local associations. My suggestion is don’t just ref on your own without any insurance coverage because injuries occur to players and you don’t want exposure to liability.

Learn about officiating any high school sport by logging on to the NFHS.org.

Get involved with college sports by networking through your high school associations or regional sports associations as you gain experience.

Your Expenses

In soccer, you’ll have the following expenses that I write off on my taxes:

Jersey — $40 per jersey and soccer officials typically have 10 jerseys available (5 short-sleeve and 5 long-sleeve in five different colors). You might invest up to $400 for jerseys that will last three years or longer.

Shoes — $50 appx.

Whistle, watch, match report plus cards (the book) — $50 to $ 90 depending on buying back-ups.

How Much Do You Get Paid?

High school football pays well and so do college sports. From my experience, pay per game varies widely — and wildly.

During an all-day soccer tournament you might only earn at the rate of about $15 per hour once you account for driving to and from your home.

Local 50-minute club soccer games using one ref in Southern California will pay about $ 50 per game.

Adult leagues will pay from $40 to $80 per match depending if you’re a center referee, assistant referee, or you’re officiating a 7v7 match.

College sports will pay in the low triple digits per match.

Like so many trades you’ve got to enjoy the game, be willing to grow personally, and become confident to make officiating an on-going side hustle.

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