Referee Principles

USTA Tournament Regulations require that every sanctioned tournament have a Referee. While USTA makes no stipulation that this person must hold a current Referee certification, except in the case of National level tournaments, many sections, Including BATOA, do have such a requirement.

In order to hold and maintain Referee certification, an official must pass an annual school taken online. These 'schools' are important for the referee to receive the most up-to-date information on rules and regulations. Top-level referees know that simply attending an annual school and passing tests are not sufficient for maintaining their skills. As with any activity, regular review of applicable rules, regulations, techniques and procedures will not only ensure the necessary base of knowledge, but will also give the referee the confidence that such knowledge can be applied promptly, correctly and effectively.

The qualities and skills held by good referees cover a broad spectrum. Apart from basic knowledge of rules and regulations, a referee needs to develop these particular traits:

  • Leadership. A referee must be able to have the respect of all officials, tournament staff and, most importantly the players.
  • Organization. A smooth-running tournament is the product of preparation and constant attention to detail.
  • Communication. Knowledge of rules and regulations must be effectively communicated. Being right isn’t enough. A good decision that you don’t sell well undermines your credibility.


Some of the basic principles that every referee should know and demonstrate in their referee assignments are:


1.   Exercise general supervision over all aspects of play. This includes the responsibility to work with the Tournament Director to ensure that there are sufficient referees’ assistants (Deputies, Roving Officials, Court Monitors, on-court Officials, etc.) to supervise play on all courts and the orderly assignment of players to courts and recording of match scores.


2.   Be present at all times. Do not accept an assignment as a referee unless you can, with the exception of brief breaks, such as for meals, be at the tournaments. You must also wear the official USTA uniform (Official’s Code of Conduct #1) while serving as a referee. The uniform makes you instantly recognizable to players, coaches, parents, etc.


3.   Appoint a Deputy Referee who must be present whenever the Referee is away from play. There must be clear line of authority of who is performing the duties of the referee whenever the referee is unavailable for immediate on-site rulings.


4.   Meet with the chair umpires, roving officials, tournament staff, etc. Discuss the tasks of each official and the proper use of the players Code of Conduct and Point Penalty System.

5.   Keep players, officials, and tournament staff aware of the daily plan, including number of courts in play and system of calling matches. This is especially important in inclement weather situations.


6.   Utilize good judgement in situations not covered by the rules.  This entails the referee having a detailed knowledge of the tournaments regulations and tennis rules to determine when the situation is not covered by the rules. When a situation isn’t specifically covered by the rules and regulations your word becomes final, which increases the importance of being able to “sell” your decisions


7.   Make the draw publicly with the assistance of committee members. Always ensure that the one official copy of the draw is kept up-to-date and is the only draw copy with official match times. While the regulations require that the draw be made in public, most draws now are made by District or Sectional offices, or by using the TDM program. 

8.   Make substitutions or changes in the draw when necessary. Make player substitutions or match rearrangements or time changes in accordance with the rules and regulations, always balancing the issues of fostering play while being fair to all concerned.


9.   Designate a check-in area and tournament clock. It is important that reporting players and players awaiting their matches have a single place and time that will not cause player confusion.

10.    Schedule matches and assigns courts. The referee or tournament staff needs to have a plan for when and how the matches are assigned to courts. While a computer program can be of major assistance, the referee must be prepared to make decisions on scheduling and court assignments.

11. Check all courts and nets. Do not leave this important task to the last minute when players point out unplayable courts or nets or improperly measured nets or singles sticks.

12.    Call all matches; post the results and record time of match completion. Whenever players have more that one match in a day, it is important that times of match completion are recorded to allow for proper rest periods. While you may delegate some duties to non-certified tournament staff, this area still remains you responsibility.


13. Suspend, postpone, and reschedule matches. On-court officials and roving officials can suspend matches, but only the referee can postpone or reschedule matches.


14. Determine the ball change pattern. Also, check to determine that there are enough balls of the type and brand being used to complete the day’s play and ensure that all officials and staff know the ball change pattern.


15.  Assign and replace officials. The referee or referee-designated Chief of Umpires makes officials’ assignments

16.  Make decisions on points of law in accordance to the rules of tennis and tournament regulations. Remember, you do not rule on “points of fact” when called to the court by players or other officials. You are to rule on “points of law” or tournament regulations only. The referee should possess a good awareness of rule or regulation differences for the specific level or type of tournament being run.

17.    Determine who may enter the playing area. The referee must not allow spectators or others to affect the play of matches.

18. Handle infractions observed in non-officiated matches. This may include imposition of the Point Penalty System, Time Violations, foot faults or overrules of bad calls.


19.   Be patient, fair, knowledgeable, tactful, prepared, and be a good listener.  This about says it all.