How to Choose the Best Soccer Referee Shoes

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If you’re looking for the best soccer referee shoes, you have a lot of choices that come down to your preferences and what games you’re doing. Here’s what you should look for when choosing your referee shoes.

What shoes do soccer referees wear?

Referees choose many different types of shoes. It depends on what you want from a shoe, what position you’re in, and where you’re working that day.

What are the different types of soccer referee shoes?

Referees generally wear the same types of shoes as players. You have different options for different playing surfaces. You also need to keep your referee-specific needs in mind.


Cleats are the default option because that’s what players usually wear. Cleats can help you with speed and keeping traction on what ground. Players and coaches often give more respect to referees who wear cleats because it’s a playing shoe. The biggest downside is that if you’re doing multiple games in a day, wearing cleats can be harder on your feet and legs.

The most popular referee shoe around the world is the Adidas Copa MundialNike Tiempos are a good budget cleat option.

Running Shoes

Many referees prefer running shoes because they’re more comfortable during a long day. If you’re working lower-level games, wearing running shoes makes it easier to come and go since you don’t need to change shoes. There are also MLS referees and college referees who prefer running shoes over cleats because it fits their running style better.

If you choose running shoes, pay close attention to their material. Some running shoes don’t make good rain gear and don’t dry quickly once the rain has stopped. Some referees also use cleats when the fields are wet and switch to running shoes when things dry up.

Nike Free Runs are popular with refs who prefer running shoes. The Nike Pegasus Trail is a heavier trail shoe that can offer more support.

Turf Shoes

Turf shoes fall in between cleats and running shoes. If you’re doing multiple games, they’re not as hard on your feet. However, you also won’t get as much grip for speed. Turf shoes do greatly reduce your chances of slipping on wet ground or when you make quick cuts as an assistant referee.

Probably the second most popular referee shoe and most popular turf option is the Adidas Mundial Team. Nike Tiempos also have a turf version if you’re looking for a less expensive option.

Indoor Shoes

You’ll see indoor shoes on occasion but should really save them for indoor games or futsal. They don’t offer the traction of cleats or support of running shoes. Most people who wear them outdoors do so because they already had them and didn’t want to look for another pair.

If you do want an indoor shoe, Adidas Sambas are the almost universal choice.

Does it matter what position you’re in?

Some referees pick their shoes based on what position they’re working that day or change between games as they rotate.

  • Center Referee: Since the center referee does the most distance running, you’ll see more refs choosing running shoes in the center.
  • Assistant Referee: ARs need to make quick changes of direction and have a higher chance of slipping on both wet and normal ground. A lot of refs that choose running shoes in the middle switch to turfs or cleats on the line.
  • Fourth Official: If you’re the 4th official on a high-level game, you need the shoes you’d wear if you had to go in. For youth tournaments, most 4ths will switch to runners to give their feet a break or keep on whatever they need for their next game.
  • VAR: If you’re working at a level with VAR, be sure to check the dress code on whether you should wear athletic shoes or dress shoes.

Does it matter what kind of games you’re doing?

The higher the level of game, the more you’ll see refs choose cleats for speed and traction. If you’re working at lower levels or in a tournament situation where you’re doing a ton of games per day, running shoes become more common.

Do soccer referees have to wear black shoes?

Back in the day, referee shoes had to be ALL black. Over time, the rules have loosened up. First, white manufacturer markings, like the Nike check and Adidas stripes, became acceptable. Next, as black ref shoes became harder to find as they fell out of style with players, you could have a little color, not just black and white.

To look the part, your shoes should be:

  • Predominately (mostly) black
  • White (preferred) or color limited to the manufacturer’s logo and minimal trim
  • Solid black laces
  • Clean, not faded, and free of scuff marks
  • Some referees used to polish their shoes, but this isn’t necessary or even good for many modern shoe materials

Should you use your playing shoes?

There are a few things you should think about it you’re thinking about using your playing shoes:

  • Do they meet the requirements of a referee shoe?
  • Are they in presentable condition?
  • Extra wear: Referees do a lot of distance running. Just like you switch to running shoes for conditioning at practice, you might not want to wear out your good playing shoes refereeing.
  • Fit: If you prefer a super tight fit as a player, the extra running you do as a referee could make getting through even one game too painful.
  • If you’re just starting out and have already spent a lot of money on registering and your referee shirt, there is a little more leeway on what you can wear until you decide you’re going to stick with being a referee and start taking more games.


There are a lot of choices for referee shoes, but referees often choose from a select group of shoes. You’ll need to see what works best for you from a refereeing standpoint, sizing, and budget. If you do a lot of games, you may want to have multiple pairs of shoes for different situations.

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