USSF Referee Grades Explained
All referees affiliated with FIFA have a designated referee grade. The grade indicates the qualification of the referee to officiate at various levels of local, national and international soccer competition. Beginning in the 2020 registration year, US Soccer condensed the Referee Pathway to include the following levels.
To summarize, new referees join the pathway as a Grassroots Referee. In time, with training and development, a referee can advance to be designated as a Regional Referee. One can continue to progress towards earning a place as a National Referee. A select group will be consider for higher levels. The vast majority of referees in Massachusetts (and in the United States) are Grassroots Referees.
How it Used to Be
Even though the Referee Pathway has changed it is helpful to know how the system had worked. The former grading system is familiar to many and is used as a reference point in explaining the current pathway. Our MSRC database utilizes the former system for our own purposes of differentiating levels of referees. The Massachusetts Referee Honor Roll has many references to the former grading system.
For decades US Soccer designated referee grades numerically. Most referees took an entry level course and earned a Grade 8 badge. For a time (starting in early 2000s) US Soccer had other entry level courses to allow for Grade 11 and Grade 9 badges. In Massachusetts the distribution of Grade 9 badges stopped in 2016. Regardless of the starting badge, the goal was to train and develop to earn the next higher badge.
Grade 1 Referees: Referees who officiate in the World Cup and international matches are designated as Grade 1.
Grade 2 Referees: Assistant Referees to Grade 1 Referees are designated as Grade 2.
Grade 3 and 4 Referees: In the United States, competition at the national level (including professional soccer and MLS) requires Grade 3 or 4. Grade 3 referees are designated as Professional Officials and Grade 4 referees are designated as National Officials. Both Grade 3 and Grade 4 officials select either a Referee or Assistant Referee track.
Grade 5 Referees: Grade 5 referees are assigned the top Adult games in the state, and lower level Professional matches. Grade 5 officials are considered national candidates and select either a Referee or Assistant Referee track.
Grade 6 Referees: The highest level of Adult competition within a state (Division 1 and 2) requires a Grade 6.
Grade 7 Referees: Grade 7 is an experienced referee in the state qualified to officiate all but the highest levels of amateur soccer.
Grade 8 Referees: Grade 8 is the entry level for new referees aged 14 and older. Once certified, these referees can expect to be working competitive or recreational games in Youth or Adult Leagues and Tournaments depending on the age of the referee.
Grade 9 Referees: Grade 9 certification is no longer offered in Massachusetts.
Emeritus Referees (Grades 13, 14, 15, 16): Those retired from the highest level the referee had attained while still remaining active at lower level games.
Honorary Referees (Grade 17): Those who have retired from refereeing completely and are no longer certified to officiate in any match.
As referees advanced to higher grades they were required to demonstrate their continued qualification through "maintenance" assessments and sustained high level competition experience. Each referee at Grade 6 or higher was also required to successfully pass a physical fitness field examination which included distance, agility and speed tests. In rare circumstances referees who fail to maintain their qualifications were "downgraded" by the MSRC. For many years approximately 90% of all referees in Massachusetts were Grade 8, 7% are Grade 7 and the rest were Grade 6 or higher.