As an official gains experience, exposure to correct officiating practices, and additional training, USATF recognizes this skill development through progressive levels of certification:  Association to National to Master.

Association
To become an Association level official, an individual is expected to attend a training clinic, satisfactorily complete an open book examination on the rules of all aspects of the sport, and submit a completed certification form to the Association Certification Chair.

National
After serving as an Association level official (preferably for at least two years), an official seeking the National level must submit a resume listing meets at which he/she officiated during the prior two years, indicate any clinic(s) attended during this period, and meet any Association-specific requirements for attaining National level certification. A National level official should be able to head up an event at a major meet in an Association and work as an official at national championships.

Master
Master level certification is reserved for a limited number of the most outstanding officials who have achieved mastery in a specific area of officiating. Through experience, demonstrated competency, and a commitment to high-quality objective officiating, these officials have developed the skills necessary to serve in a leadership role in their area of specialization at a major national or international competition. To be considered for this level, a candidate must provide two written recommendations outlining their qualifications, one from a current Master level official and one from a meet director or coach. Additionally, a candidate must present a resume listing meets in which he/she officiated during the prior two years and indicate any clinic(s) attended during this period. Prior to submitting an application, a candidate must have a minimum of three years experience at the National level. A candidate will be required to indicate his/her area of mastery from the following categories of officiating:

  • Starting
  • Track Events
  • Vertical Jumps
  • Horizontal Jumps Throws
  • Combined Events
  • Long Distance Running
  • Race Walking

A Master level official should serve in a leadership role to develop other officials in his/her area of expertise. He/she should be able to be a lead official at a national championship.

Master Referee
The Master level certification as a referee is reserved for a very small number of outstanding officials who have demonstrated their ability and competence as lead officials and who have a great deal of technical and practical knowledge of the rules. To be considered for this level, a candidate must (1) take an open-book test on the rules of USATF, the NCAA, and high schools, particularly where they differ significantly from USATF rules; (2) have a minimum of three years experience as a referee in the discipline in which a candidate seeks to be upgraded; (3) have two written letters of recommendation, one from a meet director and one from his/her certification chair, NTO, ATO or ITO; (3) have a resume from the last three years showing assignments as a National level referee. Here are five discipline areas for certification:

  • Track Referee
  • Field Referee
  • Combined Events Referee
  • Race Walking Referee
  • Long Distance Running Referee (includes Cross Country)

National Technical Official
This is an IAAF level of certification that was added in 2002. It is reserved for Master Level Referees who want to become internationally certified to work international meets in the United States. It is the first step in IAAF certification. To be considered, a candidate must be a Master Referee in at least two of the five disciplines (see above) for a minimum of three years in each discipline.
Each certification level is subject to review each Olympiad. Officials inactive or minimally active during the previous Olympiad may have a specific skill area or their entire certification level reduced by one level.