The following information is a summary of the criteria for the United States Soccer Federation Assessors. It is intended to serve as a guide for use in evaluating and reporting on referees and assistant referees who seek performance improvement and upgrading.

Dress and Appearance

All referees and assistant referees must wear the uniform prescribed by FIFA and the United States Soccer Federation.

To be assessed, the official must be currently registered and wear a current badge of the appropriate level during the match being assessed.

Under appearance, assessors will be concerned that the official presents a neat, proper, and professional appearance. They are instructed not to “nitpick” such things as hair style, beards, and other subjective factors.

Pre-Game Organization

A well officiated game starts with, and is aided by, careful attention to pre-game procedures. The assessor is instructed to observe, without intruding, the following items:

  • Arrival: Officials are expected to arrive a minimum of thirty minutes prior to the match for routine league matches. For United States Soccer Federation Cup Games and other major tournaments, one hour prior to the match, or earlier if directed.
  • Field Inspection: All three officials should inspect the field. Inspection should include examination of all marking and dimensions. Special attention should be given to critical markings like the penalty-area, penalty-mark, and goal- and touch lines. Goals and nets should be checked, and corner flags checked for proper height and location. Dangerous objects on the field should be examined and dealt with as necessary.
  • Personal Equipment: All three officials should have two watches, two pens or pencils and notebook, assistant referee’s flags, coin, red and yellow cards, and two whistles. They should also have access to supplementary equipment such as a ball pump, inflation needle, and other items.
  • Instructions to Assistant Referees: Instructions to neutral assistant referees should include designation of one of them as senior, positions at the kick-off, goal kick, corner kick, penalty kick, and free kicks near the goal. The referee should indicate the direction of the diagonal to be used and the functions of the assistant referees on set plays and at the scoring of a goal. The referee should emphasize their roles in dealing with offside infractions and how they should deal with fouls in their vicinity and away from the referee’s field of vision (including fouls by defenders in their own penalty-areas).
  • Players’ equipment and Identification: A formal check should be made of team colors, especially goalkeepers and players’ equipment. Nothing dangerous should be permitted. Footwear should conform to the Laws of the Game. Player passes should be checked where they are in use by the league or competition; it is expected that the referee be aware of the requirements for the particular competition.
  • Game Ball: The game balls and reserve balls must be inspected to insure they meet the requirements of Law 2, Laws of the Game.
  • Starting Time. The referee should never be the cause of a delayed kick-off, but many other factors may play a part – absence of a team, shortage of players, and so on. The referee should make every reasonable effort to start on time. Similarly, there should be no unnecessary delay after half-time.


United States Soccer Federation referees at specified grades are required to take an annual fitness test to be recorded by the SRA. However, during the course of a match, an individual’s level of fitness may fluctuate, thereby affecting his performance on the field.

In evaluating the referee’s fitness, the assessor considers age and experience (an “old hand” may do far less unnecessary running than would a beginner). The assessor evaluates such things as: Was play held up because the referee could not keep up? Was the referee noticeably slower at the end of the game? Was the referee capable of sprinting when necessary? How well was the field of play covered? (Some items will be considered under “Positioning” and may have nothing to do with fitness, but with lack of good mechanics.)

Attitude Toward Players Coaches, Spectators, and Other Officials

Good officials are expected to be firm but fair, authoritative but courteous, responsible yet cooperative. Referees will gain the most respect if approachable, even when that approachability may be misused by some who choose to express dissent. The assessor is careful to recognize the difference between permissiveness (a weakness) and approachability, which when combined with firmness, can be a great strength.

Referees should be tolerant and supportive of fellow officials, even when disagreements about decisions arise.

The courtesy extended to other participants in a game should not lead to much fraternizing with the players, coaches, or other officials. Such actions can lead to a compromise of the referee’s principles.

Positioning and Mechanics of Officiating

The assessor, after watching the game, will answer such questions as these about the referee’s positioning and mechanics.

  • Was the referee generally in good position on set plays such as goal kicks, corner kicks, throw-ins, penalty kicks, and free kicks near the goal?
  • Was the referee generally in good position at other times; free kicks in midfield, offside situations, during attacks, and during counter-attacks? Was he close to play, but not so close that he hindered it?
  • Did the referee run a basic diagonal – but departing from it when necessary – keeping assistant referees and play in view at most times? Did the referee ever duplicate responsibility with the assistant referees? Did they work as a team?
  • How good was cooperation between referee and assistant referees? Did the referee accept information (flags) from the assistant referees, or did the referee choose to ignore them – even when they were in the better position? When necessary to overrule assistant referees did the referee handle it in a professional manner, and did the assistant referees accept it without rancor or obvious disagreement?

Game Control

The assessor will look for answers to questions like these:

  • How well did the referee control the game overall? Was the referee able, by use of personality, to command respect and have authority? Was the referee “picky”, stopping the game for trifling offenses, rather than letting it flow?
  • Were decisions hesitant and late, or were they clear, firm and prompt? Was constant dissent by players or by bench personnel permitted?
  • How well did the referee deal with serious infractions or persistent misconduct? Was a free kick simply given or could the referee be seen to warn first, then use the yellow card? When players were cautioned or sent off, were correct procedures followed? Was it clear who the offender was? Was the player informed firmly – but tactfully – as to what action was being taken?
  • Was the referee able to spot “off-the-ball” infractions and were the offenders punished?

The assessor looks for an official’s knowledge of the Laws, correct interpretation of their letter and spirit, and his courage to apply them and take stern action when necessary.


There are three forms of signals used by officials; the whistle, the flag, and the hand. The correct use of approved signals forms an important part of the referee’s performance.

The Whistle: Two messages are conveyed by the sound of the whistle: Stop Play! and Play! The intensity with which the whistle is blown forms an important part of the message.

  • Does the referee understand this and are the principles of “hard” and “soft” whistles applied during the game?
  • Is the whistle only used when necessary, to not command undue attention?

Courage, Character, And Consistency

Formally referred to as “impartiality”, this section of the assessment form has been renamed to reflect more accurately the meaning of this section of assessment criteria. The assessor assesses the real ability of a referee when encountering adversity, since the strength of his or her personality is brought to the fore.

  • How well does the referee stay “cool under fire”? Are there indications that there is personal strength to measure up to the demands of the situation?
  • Does the referee continue to enforce the Laws of the Game without bias, amid the boos and displeasure of irate fans? Or, is the referee consistently “late” in making decisions, responding to appeals made by players, coaches and spectators? (The assessor is reminded, however, that it can be a sound technique to make “a late decision right” rather than one “too soon and wrong.”)

The assessor is looking for consistency. If the referee’s calls are consistently late and consistently in accord with player (and others’) appeals, the assessor will doubt his fortitude and record it negatively.

Accuracy of Decisions

There are two aspects to this section of the criteria: Did the referee accurately identify the infraction? And, was the correct punishment meted out? In identifying the infraction, the assessor is reminded to be aware that the referee is much closer to play, and may have a better angle of view. The assessor has no such ambiguity when evaluating the correctness of the punishment, however.

  • Does the referee distinguish between intentional hand-balls and those other instances when the ball accidentally strikes hand or arm ?
  • Can the referee spot the player who climbs on an opponent to head the ball and correctly spot the player who “backs under” an opponent who is heading the ball?
  • Does the referee correctly identify the culprit when a player is obstructed and, as a result, pushes the opponent in the back?
  • Does the referee allow good sliding tackles when the dispossessed player falls over the outstretched leg, and does he or she penalize the defender who intentionally slides in to take both player and the ball?
  • Can the referee identify so-called “professional fouls” aimed at the Achilles tendon, the back of the knee, or the ankle by going “over the ball”?

The correctness of the punishment is judged when a particular infraction warrants more than a free kick. In these cases, does the referee caution or dismiss a player? Is the referee’s decision accurate and sufficient for the task?

Use of advantage: The use of the advantage clause, and the ability to identify “trifling” or “dubious” infractions are trademarks of the master of the refereeing profession. These same skills can cause problems for officials, however, because decisions to apply or not apply these two parts of the Laws can affect control of the game.

The Assessor considers these factors:

  • Is the referee consistent? For similar infractions committed by players on opposing teams at different times during the game, is advantage allowed where it applies?
  • Having applied advantage, does the referee nevertheless notify the player who committed the infraction?
  • In a “tight” game, does the referee restrict the use of advantage to attacking portions of the field, using it sparingly, to maintain control?
  • Does the referee always allow advantage where the infraction does not involve physical contact between players?

The assessor considers the nature of the game. What is considered “trifling” at the professional level would be more serious in youth soccer, for instance. In competitive leagues, players often expect a certain amount of “illegal contact as part of the game”.