Why You Should Become a Hockey Referee
Let’s face it — most hockey playing kids don’t grow up wanting to become referees. A kid doesn’t go to bed at night dreaming about calling that critical tripping penalty in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. I was the same way. As a hockey player I always had dreams of making it as a player, of being the one that scores the goals and gets to lift the cup.
Well, according to the book Selling the Dream: How Hockey Parents and Their Kids are Paying the Price for Our National Obsession, only 0.02 percent of hockey playing boys in Ontario will make a career out of playing hockey. So, like the other 99.98 percent of players, my career too came to an end. For me, that was after one glorious year of Junior B hockey.
I decided that I was going to try being a referee. It seemed like a good way to stay involved with the game, stay in shape, but most of all make some extra cash. Little did I know how rewarding the experience would be, and where the road would take me. Several short years later, I was able to skate on the ice with some of the best players in the world and get to be a part of some big games.
In this article, I want to give you some reasons why you too should consider becoming a referee, and maybe, just maybe you’ll think about joining the team in stripes.
1. Great Part-Time Job
For a lot of younger kids, particularly teenagers, it can be tough to find good part-time jobs that they enjoy and stick with. Becoming a referee will give you a great source of income while providing you a ton of scheduling flexibility. As a referee, you simply tell your assignors which times you are free, whether it be weekdays or weekends, and they will give you games based on your availability. This ensures that you can be sure that refereeing doesn’t get in the way of school or even as with your team schedule if you are still playing hockey. Even when I was in university, refereeing hockey helped pay most of my monthly bills.
For beginner level games you can expect to get paid between $10-$20 per game usually, with pay jumps at each level you move up. Once you reach levels like junior, you can easily make between $60-$120 dollars per game depending on the level and whether you are a referee or a linesman. Even as a beginner if you work 4 or 5 games a week, pretty quickly that adds up to an extra $500 a month.
One of the best parts about this part-time job is that it allows you to stay in shape! I know when I was in university, sometimes it was tough to maintain a healthy lifestyle between classes and social life. Having that ability to work as a referee forced me to get some great exercise regularly (and might even save you that $50 a month for a gym membership).
2. Chance to Join a Tight-Knit Group
When I try to tell my hockey playing friends just how close referees are to one-another, often they don’t really believe me. But honestly, when I started refereeing, it was odd just how close everyone seems. Whether it’s a referee that works novice, or a referee that works in the NHL, referees have an undeniable closeness with each other.
I think a big part is we’ve all been there and know the difficulties that referees confront. We all have had coaches berate us, or parents shout at us as we’re leaving the ice (even if it doesn’t happen that often). It’s one of those things where you put on the striped jersey and you join the brotherhood, or sisterhood, of referees.
When I’ve gotten the chance to talk with retired NHL referees, it’s amazing how they say that they still stay in close contact with referees they started their careers with and often have referee friends in each town they go to. Even at the junior levels, referees don’t just see each other on the ice, but are often very close friends off the ice. When you become a referee — you’ll see how quickly you can become a member of our family.
3. Ability to Work High-Level Games
Here’s a secret. You don’t need to be an NHL level player to be able to referee an NHL game. Okay so maybe not that big of a secret. But in all honestly, I played junior B, and was able to get to work junior A, university hockey, and even professional hockey. If you want to reach the highest levels — but don’t think you can crack it as a player, refereeing might provide that route for you. Sure, we don’t get the glory of being able to lift the Stanley Cup, but I can tell you that when you skate on that ice before a big game in front of thousands of cheering fans, it feels just as incredible. Even if we’re not playing you feel the energy and intensity just as much.
A lot of NHL referees were players, but you’d be surprised that for most of them the highest they got to was college hockey or Junior A. But even if you don’t make the NHL — there’s tons of options like NCAA or Major Junior, or even refereeing in Europe! And guess what — you can referee up until your 40’s or 50’s and can make a career of it.
As I once heard a former professional referee say “I got to travel around the world on someone else’s dime, what more could you want?”.
4. Most Importantly — It Builds Character
For me, this is by far the most important reason why you should become a referee. I won’t lie, refereeing games you will face a lot of adversity. Coaches will yell, players will “chirp”, and fans will boo. At sometimes it will seem like you’re standing on an island alone. There’s games where you will struggle and think about long after the game is over thinking “could I have done better” and “did I make the right call?”.
But guess what. It builds your character.
Standing up to adversity will strengthen your integrity. It will give you the confidence to take challenges straight on. It will provide you the courage of convictions — especially in situations where you need to fight for what you know to be right.
Think of a 15 year-old kid facing off against a 40 year-old coach and standing his ground.
I guarantee you that it will be tough at the time. But looking back at it — that kid will be proud of the fact that he was able to demonstrate strength in the face of immense pressure. That kid will have skills that will serve him or her later in life. Whether it’s standing up to bullies, or facing pressure at work, to being a parent, these lessons learned in refereeing will pay off in the long run.
What are You Waiting For?
Sure, it might be tough starting out. There will be a learning curve. But looking back you will be proud you faced the challenge. And guess what, you’ll join a tight-knit family, make some extra money, and have some fun along the way. There are associations in almost every part of North America. They are a quick Google search away. So what are you waiting for?