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5 Key Benefits of Becoming a Youth Sports Referee/Umpire

By Paul Langhorst on 12/9/2015

youth sports umpire shortageThis article offers 5 key benefits of becoming a referee/umpire and is designed to motivate parents, coaches, guardians and others across the country to encourage teens and young adults to consider becoming a youth sports referee/umpire.  Recent press suggests there is growing shortage of youth sports referees/umpires, so it is vitally important to the future of youth sports that teens and young adults are encouraged to become umpires and referees.

To help craft this article, we spoke with Matt Killiany, umpire coordinator for the Kirkwood, Missouri Athletic Association to gain his personal insights into why teens should consider becoming umpires and the benefit they receive from doing so. 

Referee/umpiring builds character.

Becoming a referee/umpire is a huge responsibility.  It requires dedication, commitment, and it is demanding both physically and emotionally.  Completing just one season behind the plate or on the field creates a mountain of situational experience.  For young people preparing to enter the work force, they could not ask for better resume-building material.  In his article, Still Wanted and Can’t Be Found, Bob Cook wrote how he discouraged his daughter from becoming a referee to avoid all the parent-coach grief.  While I know this will sound like tough love, that type of confrontational training is exactly what young people need and what employers seek.  “Character building, I think, is one of the biggest benefits,” commented Killiany, “As an umpire, you have to be in charge and keep a clear head in pressure situations. That's a skill that can be a huge benefit in life beyond the baseball diamond.”

Referee/umpiring creates valuable contacts.

Benefits of becoming a referee/umpire

As a young referee/umpire, you are thrust into the world of adults. You are typically managed by the referee/umpire/umpire coordinator, and through games get to know coaches and their staff. You will attend training and other courses placing you into an environment where there is time to network and get to know others working towards similar goals. One can never have enough contacts, especially at an early age.  What better reference to put on your college application than the head of your athletic association?

Referee/umpiring keeps teens active and involved.

A typical referee/umpire schedule will require working multiple games on a given day, sometimes back-to-back or with downtime in between and often multiple days per week.  While a referee/umpires schedule can be demanding at times, at the youth sports level there is ample time for school work, working other jobs and time for friends and family.  Before a referee/umpire takes the field for the first time, there are several weeks of classroom and field training, plus self-study of rules and regulations. All of this is time well spent, and time building skills and character vs binge watching Netflix®

Staying active and involved does not just apply to teens. “Refereeing/umpiring is a great way to stay involved in the sport beyond one's playing days,” said Killiany, “Some people get to play in high school and an even smaller number continue playing in college or professionally, but the shelf life of an umpire is significantly longer.”  If a teen loved a sport, encourage them to stay involved as an umpire or referee and use the skills and knowledge they have gained to benefit others.

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Referee/umpiring is appeals to men and women.

Referee/umpiring and umpiring can be done equally well by men or women and therefore all the above benefits apply equally well to both sexes.  Management experience can be hard to come by at an early age and the responsibilities and rigors of refereeing/umpiring can be very beneficial to both boys and girls.  Girls may especially benefit because refereeing/umpiring can provide them with an early position of authority, acting as a foundation for more demanding positions in the future.  I think most college admission counselors would value experience calling balls and strikes over baby sitting on a college entrance application.  

Referee/umpiring is financially rewarding

For a teen, earning their own pay can be rewarding and motivating. A teen starting out in a rec league or local athletic association, typically works their way up from the young age groups to the older age groups with per-game earning increasing along the way.  “A rookie umpire would make $20/game and the more experienced umpires earn $40 or more per game,” said Killiany.  “Some umpires work as much as they can, while other only work a few days per month.”  Some referees and umpires fall in love with the work and chose to make a career of it, working in the minor leagues and college circuits while waiting for a spot to open in the “show.” According to CelebrityNetworth.com, the average NFL referee/umpire salary in 2014 was $145,000 and by 2019 it will increase to $205,000. 


Becoming a referee or umpire at an early age can act as a foundation for greater responsibilities in the future.  The work is challenging, rewarding and can keep a person involved in a sport they love well beyond their playing years.  For some, it becomes a lifelong passion and calling to wear the referee/umpire uniform. For all those who dust off the plate, call "foul," pull out a red card, or signal “touchdown,” those in youth sports should be forever grateful for there would be no games and legitimacy without them.

Paul Langhorst

Co-Founder and Chief Technologist for Engage Sports, providing sports league websites, online registration and league management. Over the years, Rich has coached football, basketball, baseball and fastpitch softball. He has also severed as a board member for football and lacrosse organizations in the St. Louis area.


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