How to Become a Basketball Referee

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Refereeing a basketball game can be a great experience and a great part-time job. You get to see games up close and be active at the same time. Refereeing requires knowledge of the game and the process of becoming a basketball referee is simple. Here’s what you need to know on how to become a basketball referee.

Qualifications for Becoming a Basketball Referee 

In order to become a referee, you should have knowledge about the basic rules of basketball first. You should then gain experience by refereeing local leagues and games. If you want to referee in the big leagues, you have to get a certificate before doing so. 

Basketball referees shaking hands with other league officials

Your “on the field experience” should make it easier for you to acquire a license. If you want to become a basketball referee, you should consider these qualifications first or you’ll end up wasting your efforts.

Before you become a referee, there are qualifications you need to meet. These are:

  • Physically Fit
  • Mentally Fit
  • Proper Training
  • Certification

As a referee, you are the one who enforces the rules of the game. The rules vary depending on what league or organization you’re officiating in. That’s why referees always read different rulebooks or they only participate in games with the same ruleset. 

Requirements of a Basketball Referee

In order to become a basketball referee, you must reach a certain requirement in order to be a competent official. 

Physical resistanceAbility to keep moving back and forward
Ability to not take things personallyGood decisions
Good knowledge of the rulesGood judgments

Physically Fit

As a basketball referee, you are required to be on the move. It would be best if you positioned yourself exactly on the court to be able to make calls properly. A competitive basketball game may require you to run 1 to 4 miles. 

A referee calls the game with a jumpball

Especially in the NBA where the game is at its fastest-paced, you need to be able to finish the whole 48 minutes. There are timeouts and breaks. This means referees also have a chance to rest and stay hydrated. 

Expect to be more active as the league becomes more professional and competitive. You will have an active part-time job and getting fit while enjoying competitive basketball. 

Mentally Fit

Basketball referees are a lot closer to fans and the players. You will constantly hear criticisms and complaints towards you. This is the reason why basketball referees should be mentally fit for officiating a game. You should only focus on officiating the game and ignore outside criticisms. 

A basketball referee holding back a team coach

You’re not the only one refereeing on the court. Basketball games have 2 or 3 referees on the court. They shift roles in between games. You may be assigned as the lead, trailer, or center position. There is only one head referee in every game and it’s unchangeable during the game. 

Just like in other sports, it is important to properly communicate with your team of referees. You control the flow of the game. Teamwork and support for each other results in successful officiating. 

Proper Training

Referees are required to know where to be position in the court and know the rules and regulations by heart. They undergo constant training in order to improve

A referee commencing a basketball game with jump ball

You can start by reading rulebooks and manuals. There are also training camps provided by a local officials association. In training camps, there would be lectures, demonstrations, and actual field exercises to help you become a basketball referee. 

Be prepared to pay fees for training sessions and meetings. Most organizations will require basketball referees to attend a meeting if there’s a change in the rulebook. 

Referees Equipment

You should have your own equipment. Highly competitive leagues like the NBA and NCAA does provide referees with uniforms and equipment. It’s different if you’re starting out on a youth level. 

A whistle with a red lanyard on a basketball court floor

A basketball referee should have:

  1. Black athletic shoes (polished)
  2. Black socks
  3. Black beltless slacks
  4. A striped V-neck shirt with no collar
  5. A whistle with a lanyard

If you’re able to get in good relations with local officials association or veteran referees, they sometimes are willing to give or sell you their spare equipment and gear. 

Additional Qualifications

Some leagues and organizations may have different requirements. Most often organizations require a referee to have these:

  • Degree Level: A referee should have at least a high school diploma and/or a basketball referee training in order to officiate in games. 
  • Experience: Some leagues require referees to have experience in officiating. You can gain this experience by refereeing in kids’ leagues or your local ball club tournaments. 
  • Certification: In order to referee in competitive games like high school, college, and professional leagues, you need state certification. Most often a state will require you to complete training, take a written test, and a field test to be able to get a certification. 

Other leagues or organizations may also have more additional requirements as a standard safety procedure. If you want to become a basketball referee, you should aspire to get a certification so you would have a wide spectrum of games to referee in. 

A referee officiates a high school division basketball game

Governing Organization and Certification

If you want to progress as you become a basketball referee, consider joining the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO). NASO is the only nation-wide support organization for officials in the U.S. 

They offer educational programs and training materials for you to grow as a basketball referee. They also help protect and develop sports officials and give you opportunities to contribute to sports society. 

Aside from basketball, NASO also engages in other sports such as:

  • Baseball
  • Football
  • Soccer
  • Softball
  • Volleyball

NASO also trains you to become a basketball referee. As you get your certification, you get to work on bigger and more competitive leagues. 

Refereeing Options After Acquiring a Certification 

Youth Level

Youth level is the best field to get actual experience of basketball refereeing. You can contact your local community leaders or local association leaders to help you started. 

Your local community might host a youth or adult basketball league which you can start working with. You can also contact schools or other organizations that host basketball leagues to kickstart your basketball referee career. 

Basketball referees chatting before the game

High School 

Getting to officiate a high school game is a strict process. High school basketball games are state-sanctioned. You need registration in the state so that you’re able to prove you’re a competent referee. 

Junior high school games aren’t usually state-sanctioned. You may be able to ask your community leader or school district if you can officiate junior high basketball games. 

Officiating in high school games means you have experience officiating in several games. It also means you are knowledgeable of the rules and regulations. Make sure you are qualified because wrong calls can find you in court. 

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) is in charge of all high school athletics in the U.S. You can check all the requirements you need to be able to register and start officiation at state-sanctioned high school games. 

It’s important you get in contact with local official associations, local school districts, and local associations to get an opportunity to referee basketball games. They sometimes provide training camps and mentoring programs for aspiring sports officials. 

A referee officiating a women's division basketball game


College basketball is more competitive. They will require the most competent referees. You would need more than a year’s experience to be able to referee a college basketball game. 

There are three organizations that govern college sports in the U.S.A:

  • National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA)
  • National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA)
  • National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA)

To start a career in college basketball officiating, you should talk with college officials on how to get into refereeing college basketball games. They can give you the advice and information you need. They can put you in contact with the commissioner and training camps required to start officiating in college basketball games. 

Training camps are really important because most basketball commissioners and officiating supervisors are present in these camps. You can work your way up from refereeing NCAA Division III to national televised major NCAA Division I games.  

Professional League

A ringside view of the best athletes in the world competing is what you get when you start refereeing for NBA/WNBA games. If you want to join the ranks of NBA officials, you must start with the NCAA Division I games. 

Many current and former NBA/WNBA officials work in NCAA Division I conferences. It’s a good opportunity for you to learn from them and gain information on how to start officiating in the NBA. 

Half filled stadium for the eastern conference finals

Related Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about becoming a basketball referee.

Who Was the Youngest NBA Referee?

According to the records, Ed T. Rush was the youngest referee to officiate an NBA game. He was born in 1942 and officiated his first NBA match in 1966, at 24 years of age.

What Do NBA Refs Do After the Game?

After an NBA match is done, the referees must exit the court, go to their room, and start to discuss the game. Afterward, if there was a serious injury or fault, they will need to write a report about it.

Do Refs Get Nervous?

Yes, it is possible for a referee to get nervous before and during a match. After all, referees are human too, and if they need to officiate an important match, the pressure might make them nervous.


The steps to becoming a basketball referee require effort and study. Make sure you get a certification in order to work your way up into the big leagues. 

You should also join an officials association like NASO. The officials association will help develop you to be a better basketball game referee and provide you with training camps and materials. 

Tim Frechette is an avid athlete, having played sports like soccer and basketball his entire life. He brings a wealth of athletic knowledge to his writing.

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