US SoccerUS Soccer

Open Letter to Referee Community

The U.S. Soccer Federation Referee Program has recently released three new courses for Referees Grades 9, 8 and 7.  In addition, U.S. Soccer has also changed the administrative requirements for each of these grade levels.

Given the significant impact these updates are intended to produce for the program, it is important that all components of membership have a clear understanding of U.S. Soccer’s objectives behind the changes.  

First, the administrative changes directly support the new referee coursework by providing improved and targeted training materials – one of U.S. Soccer’s most important initiatives to support the referee community.  These changes will better prepare referees for the following levels of competition: 

  • Grade 9 Referees – Small-sided and recreational youth soccer
  • Grade 8 Referees – Competitive youth soccer
  • Grade 7 Referees – Amateur adult soccer

The more U.S. Soccer and the State Referee Associations can emphasize preparatory training, the better we can collectively prepare officials for success in the levels of competitions outlined above. 

Second, these administrative changes will assist with recruitment and retention. Removing requirements related to fitness tests and formal assessments will result in there being more Grade 7 Referees to service the amateur adult game.  Replacing set hours of classroom in-service training with online recertification options will increase the number of teenage officials who are the officiating foundation of the small-sided and recreational youth game. 

These changes will also allow the U.S. Soccer Federation Referee Program to become more inclusive by making it:

  • Easier to become a referee
  • Easier to stay a referee
  • Easier to service the game at a level comparable with training

Referees are just as important to the game of soccer as players and coaches, and having more referees, who are better trained, is an important part of holistically developing the game at all levels. 

Third, these changes are intended to redefine the program’s referee population.  For example, not all State Referee Associations currently utilize Grade 9 Referees to service the small-sided and recreational youth game, but U.S. Soccer recommends that this practice change immediately.  

The same objective holds true for Grade 7 Referees and the amateur adult game.  Moving forward, State Referee Associations are charged with better servicing local amateur adult competitions by producing more officials at this grade level and this can be achieved by focusing on targeted training instead of fitness and assessment requirements. 

Making these changes to grades 9 and 7 should result in a dramatic redistribution of the existing Grade 8 Referee population.  Note that this does not necessarily involve downgrading current Grade 8 Referees.  Because the program currently loses upwards of 35,000 referees at this level each year, U.S. Soccer recommends that they be replaced by officials entering the program as new Grade 9 Referees.  At the same time, State Referee Associations are encouraged to upgrade those Grade 8 Referees who are currently servicing the amateur adult game by making them Grade 7 Referees. 

To this end, here are the current and projected registration numbers (approximate) to illustrate and quantify the type of impact U.S. Soccer is working with the State Referee Associations to make happen. 

2013 Registration:

  • Grade 9 Referees – 30,000
  • Grade 8 Referees – 110,000
  • Grade 7 Referees – 5,000
  • Total – 145,000

2016 Projected Registration:

  • Grade 9 Referees – 80,000
  • Grade 8 Referees – 60,000
  • Grade 7 Referees – 20,000
  • Total – 160,000

It also allows the State Referee Associations and U.S. Soccer to better identify those officials who are serious about development and willing to meet advanced fitness and assessment requirements to become Grade 6 State Referees and above. 

As referenced in the objectives above, having success and seeing the full impact of the changes relies on support and execution from the State Referee Associations. To this end, the U.S. Soccer Referee Department will continue to work collaboratively with referee administrators and with State Association presidents and executive directors to ensure these changes take hold in the program. 

U.S. Soccer asks that the referee community remain patient with their local leadership while State Referee Associations begin to implement these initiatives and the entire referee community should keep the objectives outlined in this letter in mind as change begins to take hold at the state level and nationally.