Just like the players, a soccer referee must start honing his skills at the youth levels and continue to excel with each rung of competition if he wants to make a living at it someday. Soccer is easily the most popular sport in the world, and even in the United States it leads other team sports in youth participation. That means there are plenty of places to begin your career on the ground floor as a series of certifications, assessments and tryouts await you at the upper levels.
Obtain the initial referee certification through the U.S. Soccer Federation or one of its chapter organizations. Local soccer leagues and state soccer associations may offer certification courses that are affiliated with that organization, so the classroom time and game assessments can be completed in your own community. The lowest level of certification (Grade 8) allows you to referee elementary- and middle-school-age children, though children who want to become referees early can start with a Grade 9 certification that allows them to call modified soccer games for the youngest age groups.
Call games frequently while obtaining certifications for higher grades. Once you're an established referee in recreational leagues, look for assignments calling games in more competitive club or travel leagues as well as for high school games, which require a Grade 7 certification. If you continue to excel after a few years of varsity games, it's time to move up to the college ranks (Grades 5 and 6) Start with junior colleges or Division III programs in your local area, but look for opportunities for Division I games in the broader region. Referees are given maintenance assessments by USSF examiners as they advance to higher grade levels, and referees at Grade 7 or above must pass field assessments and physical-fitness tests annually.
Attend one of the USSF's national referee certification sessions for Grade 4 and above, which is considered the national level. To be eligible for that, you'll need to have called 75 games at the Division I college level or at the highest-level amateur adult soccer clubs. You must be at least 23 years old and need two years of experience at the Grade 5 level. You must complete a written test, field assessments and physical-fitness tests to reach Grade 4, which allows you to referee the lower tiers of professional soccer in the United States, including the A-League and Premier Development League. Grade 3 referees can call MLS games, the highest level of league play in the United States.