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American football officials help keep each fast-paced game fair by enforcing the rules through issuing penalties, by making yardage measurements and by controlling other aspects of the game. If you want to become a football official, you will have to be in great physical shape, thoroughly know the rule book and be an excellent communicator. You also can try out each of the positions in which football officials serve, after you become familiar with the various duties of each role.
There are no educational requirements to become a football official. You must be an excellent student of the game, though, and memorize the rule book, from knowing where to place the football at the beginning of each down to what illegal blocks look like to more obscure rules such as tackle-eligible pass plays. Some communities offer classes for learning the role of a football official, and these classes can be a good starting place. Another great way to get experience is by volunteering to officiate children's football games. Simply watching games on television and following the calls also can help you learn the roles of football officials.
In order to become a football official, you likely will have to go through training and testing with the organization for which you want to officiate. When you become a football official, you will need to make decisions quickly, because a penalty can occur in a fraction of a second, and you must throw your flag to note it. You must be in excellent physical shape, because you could spend many plays in each game running to keep up with players. You also will need an excellent memory to recall your knowledge of the rules during the excitement of play.
If you wish to become a football official, you must also know the officials' on-field positions and each one's function. In higher levels of football, there are seven positions in which officials serve. The referee is the head official, is considered the final authority on calls and normally makes the announcements of penalties. The umpire lines up near the ball, usually on the defense's side of the ball, and watches for penalties at the line of scrimmage in addition to recording the scores and penalties. The head linesman, who lines up on the line of scrimmage, primarily makes sure that each team stays on its side of the ball before the ball is snapped and rules on out-of-bounds plays.
The place you probably will begin when you become a football official is as a judge. The line judge, back judge, field judge and side judge have the least amount of responsibility because they assist the main officials with watching players and making calls. This is a great position to help you adjust to the speed of the game and to improve your call-making abilities. Many officials begin by calling youth football games or high school games and can eventually move up to college and professional games.