Pickleball Referee Guide: Certification, Duties, and Salary

Est. Reading: 7 minutes

Pickleball may be unique in many ways compared to other paddle sports. But indeed, all sports tournaments have one thing in common - a referee. So, if you love pickleball but don’t want to be a pro player, why not become a referee? 

This comprehensive guide will teach you how to become a certified pickleball referee, the different levels and requirements, duties and responsibilities, and salary. Read carefully.

What are the Different Pickleball Referee Levels?

To become a certified referee in pickleball, you should first undergo the four levels - Newcomer, Level 1, Level 2, and Certified Referee. The Newcomer level is a prerequisite for Level 1, which you must complete before entering Level 2. After completing Level 2, you should meet the referee certification requirements to become a certified pickleball referee.

Pickleball Referee Requirements


Organizations such as USA Pickleball offer training and certification programs for pickleball referees and other officials. But first, you should be at least 16 years old to become a certified pickleball referee. Other than that, here are the simple steps you must follow as a newcomer.:

  • If you choose the USA Pickleball Association, you should sign up on their official website at USAPickleball.org. There are three different member plans to choose from. As of posting, the annual fee is $35/year for one year, $95/year for three years, and $150/year for five years.
  • Read and study the USA Pickleball Officiating Handbook, even if you have played in tournaments. If you’re unfamiliar with the sport, study the USA Pickleball Official Rulebook.
  • Take the online Player Test. You may skip this part if you have been playing pickleball in tournaments. 
  • Sign up for a pickleball referee training class. Although you can self-train, it would be better to be trained by a USA Pickleball-registered referee trainer.
  • Officiate at a non-sanctioned local tournament, which should be under instruction and authorized by a Tournament Director. Here, you can practice what you have learned from the initial training and gain experience.

Level 1

Once you pass the Newcomer level, prepare yourself to upgrade to become a Level 1 pickleball referee. Consider this as the intermediate level for pickleball referees. After completion, you will gain minimum basic skills to officiate matches at sanctioned tournaments. To do so, simply follow the steps below:

  • Continue studying the official rules and officiating handbook.
  • You can now practice your skills as a pickleball referee and line judge with your friends and at non-sanctioned events. You will need sample score sheets, a clipboard, a numbered clip, and a stopwatch.
  • Take the online Referee Test, Line Judge Test, and Player Test.
  • Fill out the Visual Acuity Examination Form signed by a medical professional and submit it to an authorized Assessor of USA Pickleball. This form proves that you have a visual acuity of 20/30 or better using both eyes, with or without corrective lenses.
  • Contact a Certified Pickleball Referee or your trainer to arrange an assessment of your refereeing skills.
  • Complete the Level 1 requirements on the Tiered Referee Rating (TRR) form, which is the same form for Level 2 referees. A regional Referee Training Coordinator (RTC) will assess your skills and coordinate with registered trainers or other Certified Referees to help arrange the assessment.

Level 2 

As a Level 2 pickleball referee, you’re expected to have proficient knowledge of pickleball rules and can handle various on-court situations. Therefore, it requires a higher level of commitment since you can now officiate both sanctioned and non-sanctioned tournaments. Below are the requirements:

  • Continue mastering the official rules and working with a trainer.
  • Officiate as many pickleball matches as you can. 
  • Contact a Certified Pickleball Referee or your trainer to arrange an assessment of your refereeing skills.
  • Complete the Level 2 requirements on the TRR form. Again, a regional RTC will assess your skills.

Certified Pickleball Referee

The final stage of becoming a certified pickleball referee is the most important and exciting part. After reaching this level, you can now officiate all levels of matches at sanctioned tournaments, including matches for professional players. The requirements are pretty challenging, so you better prepare for them. Here they are:

  • Gain more experience by officiating more pickleball tournament matches.
  • Contact your Certified Referee Coordinator (CRC) to arrange a mentor who can help you prepare for certification. Here is the current list of CRCs of USA Pickleball.
  • Complete an Advanced Training Session (ATS). Read our Pickleball Referees ATS Guide.
  • Pass the CRC interview, which usually lasts about an hour. In addition to the Official Rulebook and the Referee Handbook, the CRC shall ask unique questions to test the Referee’s depth of knowledge about the pickleball rules.
  • Pass the online Referee Test and Line Judge Test. The passing rate for both tests is 90%.
  • Submit an application for Referee Certification and the completed Visual Acuity Examination Form. Then, pay for the evaluation fee.
  • You will be scheduled for an evaluation of your refereeing skills at a sanctioned tournament. Once you pass, you will be awarded a USA Pickleball referee certification valid for three years. Read our Pickleball Referee Certification Renewal Guide.

What are the Duties and Responsibilities of a Pickleball Referee?

Generally speaking, a pickleball referee's main responsibility is to make judgment calls during a match based on the sport's official rules. To be more specific, here are the duties of a pickleball referee before and during the match, based on Section 13.C of the USA Pickleball Rulebook.

Before the Match

  • Check if the pickleball court is clean and ready. It includes checking the court's cleanliness and ensuring no hazards during the match. The referee should also check for proper lighting, court markings, and correct net height.
  • Brief the players and line judges, if applicable.
  • Check if all the necessary materials for the match are available and suitable. It includes the balls, score sheets, pencils, and the stopwatch.
  • Inspect if the players’ paddles follow the requirements and have no irregularities.
  • Report abnormalities found and request for repair or replacement of materials that can potentially disrupt the game or injure a player.
  • Remind the players about the duties of the referee, line judges, and players.
  • Use any fair method, such as coin toss, to determine the initial selection of serve, receive, end, or defer.
  • Make sure that the starting servers wear the official identification determined by the Tournament Director.
  • Ensure that the officiating team, including the line judges, are ready.

During the Match

  • Check the net height and position every time the ball or a player touches the net.
  • Call the score to inform the players that a rally is ready to start.
  • Stop the play before the return of serve if the wrong score is called, and correct the score.
  • Call “point” after each is awarded to a player or team.
  • Annotate the score sheet properly after each rally is completed or when a time-out is called.
  • In doubles, call “second serve” (or “second server”) after the first server’s team loses the rally.
  • Call violation of the non-volley-zone and a player’s fault.
  • Call “side out” to indicate that the opposing player or team is the one to serve.
  • Enforce time-out rules and procedures. Read our Pickleball Time Out Rules Guide.
  • Call technical warnings and fouls. Here’s the complete list of a player's actions that can lead to a technical warning and foul.
  • Call for replacement of line judges who don’t perform based on standards.
  • Not allow players and spectators to interact with line judges.
  • Forfeit a game or match based on a defined combination of technical warnings and/or fouls.
  • Recommend an unprofessional player to the Tournament Director for ejection from the game.

Note: If a referee cannot make the call, they can approach the remaining officiating team to assist in making the call.

Pickleball Rules on Line Judges

Line judges are not required.in pickleball, but highly recommended. With that, the Tournament Director shall determine the medal matches that will use line judges. If a match has a line judge, here are the following rules:

  • Line judges shall make the assigned line and foot fault calls within their jurisdiction. They should make the call loud enough and show the “out” signal by outstretching their arm and pointing in the out-of-bounds direction.
  • If a line judge covers their eyes with both hands, it signifies the “blocked/blinded” signal. Then, the referee can immediately make the call if they clearly saw the ball land.

Pickleball Rules on Making an Appeal

  • Appeals to the referee regarding judgment calls shall be decided by the referee. Nevertheless, the referee may consult the line judges or players to decide the result of the appeal.
  • A player or team may appeal to the referee at any time before the next serve regarding judgment calls by a line judge. 
  • If a referee overrules a line judge’s “out” call as “in,” a replay should occur. 
  • If there are no line judges and a player appeals a line call to the referee, the referee shall make a call if they clearly saw the ball land “in” or “out.”
  • The original call will remain if there are no line judges and the referee cannot make the call. But if no call was made, the ball will be considered “in.” 
  • If a player disagrees with a line judge’s “out” call that is an advantage to their team, the player may overrule the “out” call as “in.” Hence, a replay shall occur. 

Can the Referee Remove or Replace a Pickleball Line Judge?

Yes. The referee can remove or replace a pickleball line judge if there’s a valid reason. The referee’s decision can be based on their own observation or that of the players and is final. Likewise, a line judge can also be replaced upon the petition from all the players. If the referee disagrees, they should consult with the Tournament Director, who will replace the line judge if necessary.

Can a Pickleball Referee be Removed and Replaced?

Yes. A pickleball referee can be removed after all players agree to a petition. The Tournament Director will make the final decision and appoint a replacement. If a player or team challenges the referee’s decision and the Tournament Director finds out that the referee’s ruling is correct, that player or team will be given a technical warning and lose a time-out. If there’s no time-out left, a technical foul will be given instead.

How Much is the Salary of Pickleball Referees?

Not all pickleball referees receive pay, especially the newcomers and those in Level 1. On the other hand, certified referees receive a salary of around $10 per tournament, along with complete meals. However, the exact amount depends on the location, the tournament size, and the referee’s experience. Nonetheless, pickleball referees in national tournaments receive a higher pay than those officiating in regional and local matches.

Final Thoughts

Being a pickleball referee is fun and challenging. However, as we have realized in other sports, the referee can be the most hated person on the court. Therefore, you should be ready for any misbehavior, not only from the players but also from the fans. 

On the positive side, being a referee allows you to meet new people, give back to the sport, and improve your games. In short, it is a rewarding experience and an honorable job.

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