What I Wish I’d Known as a First Year Ref.



The New Referee’s Shopping List

I promise not to sell you a bill of goods on this one. I’m only going to talk about the stuff I found useful. As you progress in your career, there may be other accessories you want to add, but the basics are:


  • Jersey: Gold should be the first color you buy. Whether your first jersey is short or long sleeve is dependent on your climate. I referee in California, so I opted for short sleeve.
  • Black shorts: They should have pockets in front and back, to store your coin and cards.
  • Socks: Depending on where you referee, either the three-stripe or the USSF logo socks will be acceptable; some leagues care more than others
  • Shoes: I would consider two things when it comes to shoes:
    • Cleats will work on some surfaces, but not all. If you own soccer cleats and are comfortable with them, that’s fine, but, as with other clothing items, the predominant color should be black.
    • Turf shoes are a good bet for short to medium grass, and are ideal for indoor.

Other Miscellaneous Clothing:

  • Compression shirt: Not critical, but nice to have. It wicks the sweat, and provides comfort to your upper body muscles.
  • Compression shorts: Same principle.
  • Sweatpants: You usually won’t wear them during games, but if you had to, it’s good to have black sweats.
  • A long-sleeve black shirt: Something to wear under your referee uniform if needed


  • Whistle with wrist lanyard: You do not want to have your whistle around your neck.
  • Flags: The difference in price is pretty wide, but I’d recommend ones with foam padded handles.
  • Wallet with Cards: Big enough to hold a red card, yellow card, and a game card.
  • Watch: Doesn’t have to be fancy. I have a Casio™ watch which is just fine. It should have a stopwatch and a timer.
  • Bag: Something big enough to hold your flags, a pair of sweats, and an extra pair of shoes. An outer pocket for your keys and your phone would be a nice plus.

Health and Safety:

  • Water jug: I’d recommend a gallon-size, camping-style water jug, especially if you’re going to do multiple games in a day
  • Sunscreen: I would recommend spending extra money on stuff for your face that’s sweat-resistant and stays dry longer.
  • Snacks: Trail mix is a good way to go. It keeps up your energy over a long period, and it doesn’t get squished like a banana will.

The 10-piece Economy Soccer Referee set sold here on the site will get you through your first season pretty well. The extra $9.00 over the 7-piece gets you a bag to carry it all, and flags, so you’re getting a screaming good deal. Good flags will run you at least twice that much, to say nothing of the bag to carry them in.

The Day Before the Game

  • Verify the location of the field. If there’s more than one field at your location, figure out which field is yours. Give yourself extra time to get lost and find parking if you’ve never been there.
  • Check your referee bag to ensure you have everything you need:
    • Flags: If you’re the Center Referee, have them ready for your Assistant Referees; if you’re an Assistant Referee, bring your flags to show your center referee you mean business
    • A towel to wipe your face. Sunscreen in the eyes can be trouble.
    • Handi-wipes : Clean your hands after you put on sunscreen, among other things.
    • A copy of the Laws of the Game
    • A copy of your club’s local Rules, if there are any differences
    • Your cell phone, with your Referee Coordinator’s number programmed in
    • Pack your bag and have it ready to go

30 Minutes Before the Game

  • Inspect your field:
    • Nets
    • Corner Flags
    • Goals
    • Field Lines
  • Introduce yourself to the coaches. A good firm handshake and eye contact go a long way.
  • Figure out where to park your gear, away from either team sideline. Establish your neutrality up front.
  • Do a brisk jog around the field if possible. Anyone seeing you run in uniform will know you mean business.

15 Minutes Before the Game

Check in the players. As a dad, I know that treating kids like adults goes a long way. I got in the habit of addressing the players as “Mr. Jones” and “Miss Smith” when calling their names. It lets the players know that I will respect them; when they ask me a question, I say “yes sir” and “no ma’am” just like I do to their coaches.

10 Minutes Before the Game

Do a quick pre-game with your Assistant Referees. Whether it’s a seasoned team of vets or a couple of newbies like me, my job is to lead the team. My pre-game is usually something like this: “If you see it and I didn’t, flag me down, and tell me what you saw. I’ll make the call, but I will respect your judgment.” I’ve also quizzed my referees on how to handle calls that I’ve seen other people get wrong – what’s the proper restart for a passback to the goalkeeper, who then picks it up? What’s the proper restart for an injury without a foul, and the keeper has possession?

5 Minutes Before the Game

Walk out onto the field as a team with your referees. Do the coin toss between the captains, and set your expectations. A quick, “I expect a clean, fair game today, and I’m here to keep you safe” goes a long way.

1 Minute Before the Game

Why are you still reading this? Go give them your best game ever! See you next time for Part 2.

Categories: GeneralTags:

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: