How To Become a Tennis Umpire

Even though tennis is a game mostly between two people, a lot goes on around the business of tennis. There are many ways to work in the tennis world without playing at a professional level. 

If you love tennis, consider becoming a tennis umpire. This is an excellent option for people looking to make a little bit of money locally or to make a career traveling to various tournaments and moving up within the ranks.

How to become a tennis umpire:

  • Follow the certification procedures for your national tennis association.
  • Consider attending the ITF Officiating School or submitting an application to be considered based on your national experience.
  • In general, training includes tennis knowledge, extensive knowledge of the rules and regulations, and on-court time. 

What Is a Tennis Umpire?

Before deciding if you want to become a tennis umpire, it’s critical to understand what a tennis umpire does.

According to the ITF, there are four main kinds of umpires in tennis, all of whom have varying responsibilities. Depending on the size of the tournament or event that you’re working on, only some types of umpires might be present.

The 4 different umpires in tennis are the following:

  • Line Umpire
  • Chair Umpire
  • Referee
  • Chief Umpire

The ITF created a Joint Certification Programme for Officials in 1999. They worked with both the ATP and the WTA to standardize the education and advancement of tennis officials.

The three organizations came together to decide on how officials would be vetted and come to an agreement where all three organizations would recognize and honor the certifications of the other organizations.

Line Umpire

Consider this the entry-level position on the tennis court. Line umpires can start working in their teenage years and quickly rise through the ranks if they choose.

This is the person assigned to see if the ball or player is in bounds. There are usually multiple line judges on the court, and they’re assigned to a specific line or a position, depending on how many line umpires are present. 

The line umpire watches the ball and yells, “Out!” or “Fault!” when appropriate. You’ve probably heard them whenever you watch significant matches on television.

Line umpires also call foot faults when a player is serving to ensure that the player stays where they’re supposed to during the serve.

Depending on the tournament, line umpires may get help from an electronic line judge, which is a system of sensors on and around the court that help determine if a ball is in or out of bounds. This technology is also used to generate the animated replays that you see on television when a player challenges a call.

Chair Umpire

The chair umpire is more senior than the line umpires and assures that the competition is fair and played under the rules. They also oversee the coin toss to determine who serves first, and they have the right to overrule a line umpire’s call. 

They’re named chair umpires because they usually sit in elevated chairs, usually at the side of the net. The players’ benches are on either side of the chair umpire.

In addition, the chair umpire calls out the score for the spectators and keeps time to make sure that players aren’t delaying the game.

Referee

You may not have seen the referee when you’re watching a televised match unless one of the players takes a medical timeout.

The referee must escort the medical trainer onto the court as one of their duties. They also act as the supervisor for everyone involved in the tournament, from the players to the fans to the supporting staff.

Another critical responsibility of the referee is to determine what happens in the event of a player challenging the chair umpire’s call. They’re also the sole person in charge of deciding if the game will be suspended because of weather concerns.

With the help of computer systems, the tournament referee is also responsible for deciding on the tournament draw and assigning the players their matchups based on their seed number.

Chief Umpire (Supervisor)

Mainly used in larger tournaments, the chief umpire is the most senior official and is in charge of hiring and assigning the line and chair umpires. The chief umpire is also responsible for collecting the official scorecards and dealing with the media. 

Think of the chief umpire as the supervisor of the tournament or event. You may deal with an area leader or a regional leader for smaller tournaments.

If a player has a problem with something and/or they aren’t happy with a decision from the chair umpire, they can call down the supervisor for a second opinion. Supervisors have the power to overrule a chair umpire’s decision.

Tennis Umpires In The USTA

If you’re completely inexperienced, you can go to the USTA website, become a USTA member, take the exam, and complete a background check. Once both of these are passed, you’re granted provisional status. 

You’re allowed to work provisionally for one year. From there, you’ll take the USTA Sectional Exam and attend a certification school to continue your umpire journey.

To gain your tennis umpire certification through the USTA, you must complete an application process and begin as a Level 1 Roving (or Sectional) Umpire. 

This is an umpire who works at smaller tournaments and is responsible for multiple courts. A sectional certified official must take the USTA test each year and attend a certification school each year.

After three years of experience, a roving official can apply to become a sectional certified referee. This requires that they take both the USTA official test and the USTA referee test each year and attend certification school annually.

Here’s the full “ranking system” for USTA tennis umpires:

  • Provisional Umpire
  • Sectional Umpire
  • USTA Roving Umpire
  • USTA Chair Umpire
  • National Chair Umpire
  • Professional Chair Umpire

College Umpires

If you’re looking to referee college matches, there is an additional testing process. The Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) maintains its testing, and once again, ITA-certified officials need to take the USTA official test and the ITA test annually. They must also attend the ITA-specific certification school once a year.

Certification Schools

Although continuing education is key to maintaining your ability to work as a tennis umpire, the mandatory certification schools usually take place over several days.

A career as a tennis umpire doesn’t need a college degree or extensive months in school each year.

Pay For Tennis Umpires

The pay increases as an umpire advances through the certification process and works at larger and larger tournaments. Some of the most famous and best umpires who work the Grand Slams make almost half a million dollars a year. 

However, an average would be between $70,000 and $80,000 per year for a full-time chair umpire. A beginner line umpire can make between $15,000 and $30,000 a year, depending on how many tournaments they can work.

You can read more about how much tennis umpires make in this post.

Skills Needed to Be a Tennis Umpire

Besides completing the qualifications to become certified, you must consider if you have the other skills needed to be a great tennis umpire.

Great Vision

Most tennis certifications will require that you submit a vision test stating that you have 20/20 vision (with corrective glasses/contacts if needed). 

Excellent vision is a requirement for a good tennis umpire. Even though there is electronic help in some tournaments these days, most tournaments you’ll work on won’t have a sensor to help you out, especially at the start of your career.

Voice Projection

A loud and confident shout is also a must. Umpires need to be able to alert the players and the fans to what’s going on when a ball is out or if a player commits a fault.

Calm Demeanor

In addition to confidence, a tennis umpire also needs to be able to keep a cool head. Any official in sports needs to be prepared that players and fans might not be happy with them, even when they’ve made the correct call. 

Sometimes players can get angry, and unfortunately, the umpires take the brunt of that. Being able to de-escalate a situation and follow the proper protocol is vital for a tennis umpire.

Multilingualism

Going along with that, most tennis umpires learn swear words in multiple languages. As tennis is an international sport, many players may speak more than one language. 

However, cursing on the court isn’t allowed in any language, so it helps to recognize key phrases or words in the languages you may encounter on the court.

Passion

There is no requirement that an umpire must have played tennis at any level, but love and understanding of tennis are fundamental. You’ll be watching a lot of tennis, and if it isn’t something that you enjoy, maybe a career as a tennis umpire isn’t for you.

Focus

Tennis umpires must also be able to sustain deep concentration for extended periods. A myriad of factors determine the length of tennis matches, and the umpires have to be able to perform their duties for the entire match. It takes quite a bit of mental energy to be a great tennis umpire.

SPF and Insoles

The elements are a factor in tennis. While other sports may continue their play through the rain or storms, tennis isn’t one of them. However, you will spend extended hours outdoors with very little shade. 

Especially for roving or line umpires, you’ll also spend a lot of time on your feet, and you must be prepared for that.

Being a tennis umpire is a great way to have a career in tennis. Being a tennis umpire isn’t an easy job, and it takes a lot of dedication and concentration. Those who love tennis and want to be a part of furthering the sport should consider becoming a tennis umpire.

Fred Simonsson

I'm Fred, the guy behind TennisPredict. Apart from writing here, I play tennis on a semi-professional level and coach upcoming talents.

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